While writing for The Odyssey a few years ago I penned an article titled “In Defense of Kanye West.” My fair share of parental figures and other ‘adults’ were quick to question my own sanity, let alone that of Mr. West.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t have Wi-Fi for these last few months Kanye has been teasing fans and haters alike with a barrage of big talk and questionable tweets, interviews, and soundbites, all surrounding the “surgical summer” (as Pusha-T put it) of albums he has been producing. Now even diehard fans cannot defend some of his latest thoughts and actions, i.e proclaiming that “slavery was a choice.” But as someone who is a fan of all things creative and artistic, I found myself anticipating his latest album more than the next headline that he would be featured in.
And so, on Friday June 1st, 2018 Kanye West dropped his highly anticipated album, originally believed to be titled “Love Everyone.” He ended up changing the title, finally settling on “ye” with the phrase “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome” adorning the album cover. This album is certainly different than any of his previous work, and will most likely be remembered as the most polarizing (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) since his shocking and spellbinding, “Yeezus.”
In my original article I left anyone who was kind enough to take the time and read it with a quote from Mr. West himself, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy?” And I couldn’t think of anything better to describe his latest project of insanity, beauty, and genuine humanity.
The opening track, “I Thought About Killing You,” is definitely the most daring on the sparse 7-track record. Kanye’s first lyrics are, “The most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest,” and that really sets the tone for the track. There’s really no way to cleverly describe the song – look no further than the title. Kanye details both homicidal and suicidal thoughts, all centered around the fact that, “I think about killing myself, and I love myself way more than I love you, so…” Its a grandiose introduction to the rest of the project, giving listeners a glimpse into his manic behavior that is to come on the rest of the 23-minute-long record.
“Yikes” is the next track, further emphasizing his bouts with depression and the pollutive thoughts that come with it. “Sometimes I scare myself” rings in your ears over and over, as Ye takes us through some of his most wild and scattered thoughts and beliefs. He even goes into detail about going on and off of different medications, further diving into the bi-polar tendencies that he has been living with, presumably, since his last album release. Its a dark, brooding song, that very much may be what he has heard before in his own mind when face-to-face with some of his most disturbing and frightening thoughts.
“All Mine” sounds less like an apology for his recent behavior and more like a satire on the multiple scandals he’s been involved with and the ease at which his name alone can create buzz across the globe’s media outlets. He’s kind of asking ‘what should I do next to make even more people mad at me?’ The next song, “Wouldn’t Leave,” has Yeezy talking very candidly about his wild beliefs that have plastered every newsroom for weeks. He goes into detail about upsetting Kimmy K-W, but from a PR standpoint much more than the moral high ground that almost everyone of us would be standing on. Its like he’s coming down from a bout of mania while still holding onto a bit of his ego. This is followed by “No Mistakes”, what I can only interpret as an apology to his wife for the whirlwind storm he’s pulled her through for the last few months. Its full of bravado, too, as only Kanye could produce.
“Ghost Town” is next, and is one Kanye’s best tracks in years. It’s easily the most ‘listenable’ to people not looking to invest a lot of energy into interpreting the rest of the album. It feels like a love letter to the isolation that comes with manic behavior, whether its legitimate or simply imagined. Ye uses a lot of techniques that feel reminiscent of 808’s and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kid Cudi leads the chorus, singing, “But everything I try just takes you further from me.” A ode to the steps one may take to ‘get better’ while only further distancing themselves in the process. The song ends with the lyrics, “And nothing hurts anyone, I feel kinda free / We’re still the kids we used to be, I put my hand on a star to see if I still bleed.” It is crooned over a bright electric guitar and spacey sounds that feel like they came from one of those Yamaha keyboard presets for ‘alien.’ Its strange, abstract, and vague – but entirely beautiful. Like he is coming to terms with the limitations of his mental space, while also embracing the new heights he has been able to reach in his creative process because of it.
The album wraps up with “Violent Crimes,” a tantalizing love letter to his daughter. “Don’t you grow up in a hurry,” West warns, proclaiming the lengths he will go to in order to keep his young daughter safe in the future. At times he opens up about his own indiscretions and past behavior towards women, warning his daughter to avoid guys like him. Its a very somber look into the cocky and egotistical aura that Kanye often lives in. Its a nice way to end the diary-turned-album, with Ye promising that no matter where he is in life, no matter what he is going through, his family will always be able to pull him out of it. Priorities, I suppose. Its a haunting track either way.
Now its difficult to interpret this album and even write about it, further influencing someone else’s view on what seems more like a diary confessional than a true album. My interpretations can be entirely different than yours. And the fact that this album is so personal and raw and dark and introspective only lends to the fact that maybe sometimes art doesn’t have to be inspected with a microscope to uncover hidden meanings. Maybe art, like this album, should simply be listened to and appreciated without looking into it too greatly. After all how can anyone say for certain that someone else’s mental behavior/ status means one thing or another, let alone their art?
This album is not always easy to listen to. Its not accessible like Dark Fantasy, its not startling like Yeezus, and it doesn’t necessarily feel as compete as Pablo. But I don’t believe that it should feel like any of those things. This record is a personal look into the mind of one of the most creative and polarizing artists alive today.
His work is not going to be universally loved, let alone his personality and behavior. But judging this project strictly on the music held within its walls it is hard to feel anything other than respect for Mr. West as an artist and creator. Mental health and manic behavior is, unfortunately, mocked and appropriated on a daily basis by countless people in search of the most ‘likable’ or ‘relatable’ tweet. I, myself, am not immune to this. Maybe our society today has just become immune and desensitized to it, I don’t know.
At times this album soars as high as any of West’s previous work. At others it dips lower than most of us want to go when using music as an escape. But, perhaps, what West does best is make us realize that sometimes you can’t just ‘escape’ your own thoughts and urges. Yes, there is certainly a difference between embracing your true feelings and throwing away all self-control one might have when it comes to public or private behavior. But its a bold and daring project nonetheless. Its polarizing yet approachable, scattered yet guided, and at times wild while still entirely human.
But what art isn’t a bit out-there? What artist isn’t a little unhinged? What genius isn’t, at least a little bit, crazy?