Kanye West. You either love the man and his music, hate the man and his music, or separate the two entirely. After much reflection, I find myself between the first and third categories. I do not agree with certain things, and I genuinely love other things. There is often debate over drawing lines between an artist’s content and their actions. Everyone will have their own opinion. Let’s talk about it, shall we? Leave a comment with your ideas on the man, his music, or both. I’d love to discuss over an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. (haha…get it..)
From my perspective, based both on personal preference and the era of music in which I was born into (late ’90s-early ’00s), I believe that Kanye is one of, if not the most established and enduring hip hop artist of my generation. When looking at other artists that some may place in the same category, such as Jay Z or Lil Wayne, neither have the social and musical influence on all age groups that Kanye does. Of course, Kanye’s success would never have been possible without rap legends like Tupac, The Notorious B.I.G., N.W.A., and more. These icons paved the way for artists to come by solidifying a genre that was more than a fad; it was a way of life that would continually change and expand over time.
When looking at artists with such a history in the rap game, it is important to understand the past and present of the artist. In my own life, Kanye has always been present in some form or another. From ages five to ten, I became familiar with Late Registration and Graduation posters in my older brother’s bedroom. I remember making our own music videos to “Stronger”, “Love Lockdown”, and “Flashing Lights”. At age 13, in my catholic school uniform with a Target gift card I somehow acquired at my orthodontist office, I purchased Yeezus. That is one of the first hip hop albums I remember buying with my own money, a purchase my mom did not know about until I accidentally left the CD in her car. Fast forward to 2016, when I neglected one of my biggest tests of high school to see Kanye live at Amalie Arena in Tampa for the Saint Pablo Tour. Worth it. (But stay in school, kids.)
Did not notice the ridiculous amount of reminiscing there, wow. Sorry about that. Anyways, let’s get to the main event. The reason we are here today: ye, Kanye’s new album. The project is Kanye’s eighth studio album. It was released by GOOD Music (Kanye’s own label) and Def Jam Records on June 1, 2018. The album, consisting of seven songs, was premiered at an exclusive listening party in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the location where the album was created and recorded. With only seven songs, ye proves the “strengths (and limitations) of a short album”.
All I can say is wow. My first listen to this song was quite overwhelming. Intro tracks set the tone for projects, and this one begins by taking listeners into a mysterious place that the world can only attempt to understand: Kanye’s own mind. Amidst the many controversies, Kanye’s inner thoughts have become an increasingly intriguing and perplexing concept for most, something under the microscope of many Americans and music lovers.
“The most beautiful thoughts are always inside the darkest” is a loaded line that is repeated throughout the track. Is he trying to convey that many people can’t see his best ideas because they cannot get past his appearance or reputation? This juxtaposition of beauty and tragedy is not a new concept. “Say it out loud, just to see how it feels” This line, some may say, is the epitome of Kanye West. An abandonment of fear and judgement. This is also seen in later lines like “See, if I was tryin’ to relate it to more people I’d probably say I’m struggling with loving myself…But that’s not the case here” One thing nobody can doubt about Kanye is his honesty. Some love it, some hate it. Either way, you gotta appreciate it to some extent.
Kanye speaking freely is the perfect intro to this project. Being that the beat does not begin until halfway through the song, the conversation at the beginning seems like a transparent stream of consciousness. Simply hearing him speak is a perfect intro to hook listeners. This is a strength especially specific to Kanye. Once that beat starts (a hard beat, may I add), Kanye shows off a consistent spread of smart lines. Towards the end of the song, I like how he switched the flow pattern and elongated words between lines. It added texture to an already thought-provoking track.
In a community where the point is to relate to listeners, Kanye clearly does not focus on this. To me, that is a special type of freedom, something he acquired after years and years in the industry. “Wait…so just because Kanye is old means that he’s allowed to make offensive comments?” Well, I guess it depends how you separate the man and the music.
Phew. Time for a breather, and “Yikes” is just that. Although it features a fast paced beat and rhyme scheme, I don’t think there is anything overwhelming or very noteworthy about this track. However, it nicely breaks up the intensity of the first track. For me, it draws some similarities to “Feedback” from Kanye’s last album, The Life of Pablo. The chorus, where Kanye shares, “Sometimes I scare myself”, poses an interesting question: What is Kanye’s relationship like with himself? In part, the verses answer this question by revealing details about Kanye’s drug addictions. Of course, if you listen closely, Kanye doesn’t skip on smart lines either.
3. “All Mine”
This one is up there is my top 3 favorites off the album. I think it caught some people off guard, a more “pop” style hook that we haven’t seen from Kanye in a bit. The track became the album’s most popular song by far, earning over 63 million plays on Spotify, followed by “Yikes” with 43 million plays. While this song has become popular with many non-typical Kanye fans, “Ghost Town” (track 6) still seems to be the project’s most prominent track among Kanye fans. West enlisted some help from rapper Ty Dolla $ign and singer-songwriter Ant Clemons, friend and collaborator of Jeremiah. The sounds from all three artists mesh together very well, with styles that contrast one another while creating complementary levels.
Clemons’ chorus has been stuck in my head since my first listen, and Kanye’s first verse is genius. (That Tristan Thompson line is my personal favorite.) Kanye also finds every opportunity to pledge his loyalty to Adidas, the brand that supports his own clothing line. “If you drivin’ ’round in some Dri-Fit, I’ma think that you the type to dry snitch…If I see you pull up with the three stripes, I’ma **** around and make you my *****”
This track is very interesting. It made me ask the question, “Is there a threshold within Kanye’s relationships? What constitutes as “too far”? The song seems to be dedicated to his wife Kim Kardashian West. It is a another example of Kanye’s vulnerability and honesty. He references past mistakes like the famous TMZ interview, a rant on Sway in the Morning, and a large debt. Through these struggles, his wife has stayed with him. The song is an ode to her, and the many women that have stuck with their partners in times of conflict and strife.
From the jump I love the samples in this track. One comes from Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World” and the other from “Children Get Together” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers. Also, that “Haan?” in the first verse? That got me real nostalgic. Kanye’s classic ad-lib coming back to life. This track dives deeper into into Kanye’s struggles both mentally and financially, giving listeners a somewhat raw picture of Kanye’s reality. The song also features Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson, both of whom Kanye has collaborated with multiple times in the past. 8 days after ye was released, Cudi and Kanye dropped their collab album KIDS SEE GHOSTS.
6. “Ghost Town”
This is the one right here. My favorite track on the album. There is something about this track that is so special, it is impossible not to physically feel it. Off the bat, Kanye uses another old sample, this one from Shirley Ann Lee’s “Someday”. In Kanye and Cudi’s KIDS SEE GHOSTS, a conversation from this same Shirley Ann Lee track is sampled on the song “4th Dimension”. (Which also happens to be my favorite track off of that project.)
Before listening to the track, I heard a lot of hype from friends. I was worried it might not live up to my high expectations. Maybe, reading this, you have the same fear. All music is experienced differently by different people, but there are some things about the song you cannot deny. The beat and that distorted guitar give the track a beautiful base to be built upon. The minute I heard Cudi’s voice I immediately felt even more nostalgic. Kanye’s flow is honestly quite beautiful with his half rapping/half singing. For a rapper who has never been praised for his abilities to hit high notes or sing riffs, I think his voice sounds pretty good. The singing is raw and real, diverting from the old “Autotune Kanye” that many non-fans may remember him as.
Finally, we need to address 070 Shake. She is a 20 year old rapper and singer based out of New Jersey. I had initially been exposed to her sometime last year, when her track “Honey” found its way into my Discover Weekly on Spotify. She is featured on “Ghost Town” and “Violent Crimes”, and absolutely steals the show on both tracks.
Finally, I think “Ghost Town”, for me, can be summed up by a note I jotted down during my initial listen:
“You know those songs with certain chord progressions that just hit the right spot? Like they were meant to fit together in that very pattern because they just feel so good to the ear? This is that.”
The conclusion of ye, “Violent Crimes” falls right behind “Ghost Town” as my second favorite track. 070 Shake picks up right where she left off the track before by keeping listeners totally engaged with the powerfully dreamy intro vocals. Contributor Elizabeth Milch on Genius.com noted that Shake’s introduction resembles a lullaby, which is fitting for a song dedicated to Kanye’s own daughters. Kanye reveals his fears for his daughters, specifically the terrors of the real world they will inevitably face as they age. “They gotta repaint the colors, the lie is wearin’ off, Reality is upon us, colors drippin’ off” He is confronting the reality that these children cannot be protected forever.
Kanye lies his beliefs and fears on the table in one long verse. Within this verse, Kanye touches on everything from the over-sexualization of women, being an overprotective father, and even references Nicki Minaj multiple times; Ye hopes his daughters can find success and strength in their own identities just as Minaj has, while maybe avoiding a sexually promiscuous history. The idea that having children can shift the perspective of a male rapper is no new idea, and Kanye has addressed women in strictly sexual ways like most other rappers today. However, I think this track shows that Kanye is self aware, both in his behaviors and his internal struggles.
I quickly thought of Kanye’s song “Only One” when hearing this song, another track centered around the fears of parenthood dedicated to his first child, North West. In “Only One”, a song I believe to be pretty underrated, Kanye is a new parent, seemingly attempting to protect North from all evil. Now, three years later, it sounds like he has accepted that it is impossible to shield your children from hurt, fear, or danger.
While I think Kanye could not have selected a more perfect song to conclude the project, I’m not a huge fan of Nicki Minaj’s sample at the very end. I admit that her feature, speaking the song’s lyrics through a phone, is fine and connects with Ye’s earlier references to the female rapper, I think it leaves the track sounding incomplete. This otherwise would not be too noticeable for me, but the fact that these two lines are the last two of the entire album left me feeling a bit confused and underwhelmed.
Overall, I am very happy with this project and have been listening nonstop. I think I will forever connect it to the summer of 2018. Give it a listen. Let me know what you think.