My third impressions of Kanye West’s ye
As I’ve explained earlier, I’m not (real) mad at Kanye West. But in the interest of my heart and mind, I impose limits on how much of my time I can give to him and his art. I’ve listened to ye twice, and I’m about to listen to it a third time to give some of my impressions of this new album. I’m only going to write on each track for as long as it takes the song to play. These are my third impressions in real time.
“I Thought About Killing You”
I’m not normally into Kanye’s speechifying in songs, but I do like the line, “Just say it out loud to see how it feels,” and the repetition of it works. He’s still, after all these years, using autotune better than any of his contemporaries. And the inverted, droning sample that provides the backbone of the song is a beautiful representation of his uncompromised skills as a producer. This is my first time listening to the album with good headphones on, and it seriously improves the experience of the production. “Buckwheat ass nigga / It’s gon’ be o-tay” is an instant classic. Sorry, not sorry. The close of this song bangs harder than I expected. I like it more on this listen than I did my first two times around.
This song feels like an inferior retread of some of the choices he made in “Real Friends” and “Wolves” from The Life of Pablo. That said, the verses are much better than the chorus, especially with the Juvenile-style ha at the end of each line in the first verse. This is one to bump in the car, a little too loud, when you’re out to make some bad decisions. I hope I never outgrow my interest in that kind of Kanye song, but I don’t think “Yikes” is the best version of it.
The chorus on this song, provided by Valee, is perky and trap and silly and probably the biggest earworm on the album. I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that I’ll be rapping Valee’s part to myself and to anyone I don’t mind annoying for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, Kanye’s two verses aren’t as memorable. He’s made much better references to his horniness, and to basketball players, and to unprotected sex. I miss the old Kanye.
Oh damn, here’s that old Kanye, right on time. The hook from PARTYNEXTDOOR, a singer whose name, and my capitalization of it, make me feel seventy years old, is soulful and simple. And for once, Kanye doesn’t undermine these sentimental moments by pivoting directly to his baser instincts in his verses. Relationships are a mystery to every person outside that relationship, but this song humanizes Kanye and Kim Kardashian West by giving us a glimpse into arguments they were having as recently as one or two months ago. There are little synth chord progressions on the verses here that sound reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” which fits perfectly into the wheelhouse of old school R&B that Kanye draws from better than anyone else. Is it weird that Kanye West has never made a misstep when he operates in the gospel genre? That it’s the one space where he bats 1.000?
Here’s one example of why Kanye’s still kind of a genius. He’s had a rough year, been on “50 blogs” as he says earlier in the album. And the hot take machinery, and the culture writers, have spilled thousands of words on his emotional state and his incendiary and misguided opinions on race and politics. But then, he both summarizes and counters all that ink with this line, in the middle of a verse surrounded by two classic choruses from Charlie Wilson and my favorite all-time Kanye collaborator, Kid Cudi:
I have to give props for one of the best deployments of the “HENH” ad-lib in recent memory. Maybe it’s because this is the shortest song on a very short album, maybe it’s the excellent Slick Rick sample, maybe it’s the “ooh-wee/no-way” ad-lib that came back from the early nineties to punctuate that swelling outro, but this is currently my favorite song on the album. The final 40 seconds of “No Mistakes” can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best work Kanye’s produced recently.
On my first listen, this one was my favorite track. It has the gospel flavor that Kanye has mastered, a clean PARTYNEXTDOOR vocal, and vibes of “Runaway.” The ambition is as palpable as the organ chords that lead in to this magnetic outro from newcomer 070 Shake. The beats grow sparse, the organ softens, and the drum fills sound like faraway, bursting fireworks. Shake’s delivery of “And nothing hurts anymore / I feel kinda free” will elevate this song to the one that lingers longest in fans’ memories. It’s an anthem of depression, misspent nostalgia, and self-harm, and it takes up residence on that popular corner in contemporary rap music. As rap gets sadder and more emotionally caught up in the motifs of depression and anxiety, songs like this – songs that feel instantly familiar – should endure.
I can’t stress enough how tired I am of the cultural cliché of men not appreciating the precarious position of girls and women in society until they have daughters. It’s not an achievement to realize women are people after raising a person who will grow up to be a woman. This song has been at the bottom of the heap for me since the first listen, and I think it’ll stay there. As an album, ye would have been better off without it.
- The long album is dead (for now). Long live the short album.
- Kanye can gospel his way back into the good graces of his fans whenever he wants.
- The ability to bring together the right combination of voices to set off a song is still Kanye’s greatest strength. The featured artists on this album are, person to person, the brightest spots in it.
- Women and girls are people, too. Thanks, Ye.
- Scoop-de-whoop. Whoop. Whoop.