Roundtable Album Review: Kanye West’s “ye”
(Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)
I’m not big on album reviews. Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one so who is to say what music is good and what is bad… although we can all agree that the Chainsmokers suck.
Speaking of assholes, Kanye West has a new album. I kid, I kid, but it’s true, I mean the part about him having a new album.
A seven-song, comeback album of sorts, ye was born out of a 2016-17 public breakdown that culminated in a hospitalization and bipolar diagnosis. After retreating to his Jackson Hole, Wyoming studio to get back to creating, 2018 is a big year for the pop provocateur who is at the center of a handful of major releases (Pusha T, Kid Cudi, NAS) including his own 8th studio LP.
Since there is no other person on the planet–outside of Donald Trump–that spurs more love, hate and “oh no he didn’t” than Mr. West, I thought I’d open up the ye album review to some trusted minds from different walks of life. The five-person panel are insiders, outsiders, and influencers who I felt could give us different perspectives on an artist and album that no one can agree on.
Meet the panel:
Metty is an LA-based producer, DJ, and member of Overjoy. The Los Angeles group’s latest single recently debuted on KCRW and is now available on Spotify, Apple Music. I did a feature on the trio for Mandatory last year (here).
Charles Gray is a writer/director at Weird Creature Productions. He also works at WAV media, a live stream video and music platform that Kanye personally picked to live stream ye at a listening party in Wyoming.
Randy Wilkins is a three-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker from the Bronx, New York. You can check out his work on his website (here).
Travis Jourdan is founder of Vinylmnky, an Austin, Texas-based vinyl subscription service that connects music lovers with breakout musicians through exclusive artist-driven content. Read more about my experience with Vinylmnky (here).
Mandatory: Charles, you attended the ye listening party in Wyoming. That was a super exclusive guest list that Kanye handpicked. How did you manage to score that?
Charles: WAV Media live streamed the event. I was there to help out, support, and be part of the magic and history. I was at the fire pit right in front of Kanye, Teyana Taylor, NAS, Chris Rock, Jonah Hill, Kim…
You had my curiosity. Now, you have my attention. Please go on.
Charles: There was a fire brewing and it ignited an amazing unity and happiness. Seeing Kanye beaming and smiling was a joy to see. Seeing everyone bop their heads and 070 Shake (Kanye’s Good Music signee) crowd surf in the pit was beautiful. The most surreal amazing experience I have ever been a part of.
Metty: I was was at my buddy’s place with a group of friends listening to that live stream.
What did you all think upon that initial listen to ye?
Metty: I thought it sounded chaotic, random, and moody — all in a good way.
Monique: The first thing I thought during “I Thought About Killing You” was that what everyone was saying about the album was true. There was no substance. That feeling got deeper the more I listened. I realized that Kanye has been in the Hollywood game for too long. He’s forgotten who he was as an artist. It seems like he’s even forgotten the messages he used to promote back in the day, which is not only a shame, but frightening to witness.
Randy: I was shocked at how much I disliked the lyrics. I also wasn’t a big fan of the beats. I always appreciated Kanye’s clear vision with the music, but this one felt indecisive and muddled.
Charles: I thought Kanye’s letting the world know about his inner most thoughts and fears. That was beautiful.
That’s a lot of differing of opinions, but strong responses, which is all an artist can ask for. Are there any songs on ye that standout? Maybe a contender for his greatest hits record?
Metty: I honestly think “Ghost Town” is this fucked up generation’s “Hey Jude”
Charles: “Ghost Town”
I’m with both of you. “Ghost Town” is a standout. It sounds like classic Kanye and that hook by 070 Shake has had an Inception-like grip on me instantly.
Randy: “I Thought About Killing You” because it captures where his mind is at the moment and it’s pretty honest in a way.
Monique: I’d put “No Mistakes” on the list if I had to, simply because of Charlie Wilson. Only Charlie Wilson could make a ridiculous song sound palatable.
Travis: “All Mine”, but it wouldn’t make the B-sides of a greatest hits record. I was hoping for a glimpse of Kanye before The Life of Pablo.
Speaking of, where does ye fit and/or rank in the Kanye discography?
Travis: At the bottom. His other work is tough to compete with.
Metty: It’s at the top for me. I love the ups and downs. I will follow him anywhere musically.
Charles: Maybe around fifth. Only thing that hurts this album is the fact that it’s only seven songs.
Monique: The main reason ye is so short is because Kanye literally has nothing to say. Everything he’s rapping about on the album is stuff an addled, bored mind thinks about. He has no connection to the outside world, and he’s forgotten what he used to represent, which was the mindset of young black listeners who leaned more towards the alternative, consciously aware side of things. The tragedy is that he thinks he’s being consciously aware now. But, declaring his idea that slavery was a choice our ancestors willingly made? That’s a bridge too far.
Okay, that brings up the Kim Kardashian butt in the room. Travis, you’re on the sales side of music. Will Kanye’s controversial statements have an effect on how the album is perceived?
Travis: Absolutely. It’s gotten to the point where we have to separate the artist and their work. Kanye’s on that sliding scale.
Charles: It will only matter to idiots.
Monique: For the true hypebeasts, it won’t matter. Kanye has his loyal fans just like how any other problematic person has their loyal core who won’t challenge them on anything or excuse away their bad behavior. Seeing how the album’s currently at No. 1, it seems like nothing’s affected him at all in the short run. It’s in the long term where I think Kanye will see the most challenge. It’s an album that has become discussed for all of the wrong reasons. Many of us who have already backed off don’t see how we’ll ever return, that’s how much he’s ruined his brand.
Randy: I think there are a bunch of people who spoke that game and didn’t follow through, but I know people that refused to listen and remained steadfast in it. I think any artist has the right to say whatever he or she wants. I prefer honesty and authenticity over appeasement. I do think that if you’re going to go public with the comments you have to be aware of the repercussions and consequences especially nowadays where everyone feels like a moral thermometer for everything.
Monique, you’ve been pretty outspoke here. As a lifelong Kanye fan, what has changed for you?
Monique: We’ve seen an artist lose himself over the course of a decade. Much of that, I feel, has to do with his mother’s death. I don’t think he ever recovered. He claims its bipolar disorder, and from some of his raps in Ye, it sounds right; his penchant for grandiosity does seem like he suffers from bouts of mania and depression. It could be that he’s still suffering from grief. I think it’s clear he’s someone who’s wrestling with some emotional hardship and personal demons, such as his dependency on a rich and famous lifestyle the old Kanye would have thumbed his nose at.
So let’s go back to the Kanye we fell in love with. Favorite song ever?
Randy: I’m going with a deep cut for me: “Late” off Late Registration.
Charles: “The Good Life”
Travis: “Through the Wire”
Monique: “Roses” for sentimental reason. It’s not braggadocios rap. He’s simply relaying a story of his grandmother on her deathbed. As Kanye says in the song, the family didn’t need flowers “’cause we the roses.” That line has always gotten to me, but it especially does now since my maternal grandmother died last year.
Whether you love or hate the man, there is no denying that Kanye is one of the most important artists of this generation. Metty, as a musician, what makes Kanye’s music so endearing?
Metty: Kanye pulls no punches and fully dives into the art and I love that.
Let’s wrap it up. Overall, Ye is ______ (fill in the blank).
Metty: My favorite Kanye album because he stuck to his guns and made a great new album to add to his discography. I like where he is currently at musically.
Randy: Meh. Underwhelming. Disappointing. Scattered. Alarming.
Monique: A lazy record that shows a bored artist repeating himself. Kanye has become a snake eating his own tail at this point, and he doesn’t even realize it.
Charles: Ye is a period of Kanye’s life where he’s a father, a husband, a man aging in the rap world, but he is a man at the peak of his genius. It’s a genius that has come with age so it’s a subtle genius that still pierces through ever so gently.