On Friday, Kanye West released his eighth solo album, ye. It’s one of 2018’s most divisive albums, and for good reason. Here, two Vinyl Me, Please staffers try to sort out how they feel about the album.
Andrew (Friday Afternoon): Michael, I convened this discussion between us because it feels like if we don’t talk about ye, we’re not doing our jobs. When we were out in Denver for your first week (happy first month, by the way), there was a lunch discussion between our co-workers (or at least some of them) that was basically titled We Need To Talk About Kanye (no Tilda Swinton) that both of us elected not to attend, because we wanted to “remove ourselves from that narrative.” Back then, we were in the middle of all of the things that have made this Kanye album cycle, for the lack of a word that means as much, problematic.
In the off chance you’re (you, the reader) reading this without knowing the backstory, here it is in broad strokes: In April, Kanye returned to Twitter for a couple blissful days of DMTweets before he spent significant time tweeting about Jordan Peterson (your favorite Incel’s favorite fake smart person), Candace Owens (I admit, I had to Google her), donned a MAGA hat, and talked a lot about how he “loves” Donald Trump, because he can see the good in all people. Also somewhere in there he went on TMZ and said slavery is a choice. I’m not near the smartest person to offer a take on this, so instead I’d direct readers to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ piece in The Atlantic.
Publicly admitting you love Kanye West and think he makes the best music always came with some baggage — it opened you to Facebook comments from white men in their 30s telling you his music wasn’t even music; it also willfully played “you can’t see me!” with his painfully unwoke lyrics about women in his life — but now saying you love ye comes with taking the whole kit and kaboodle. Loving ye means you’re at some level OK with the MAGA hat, the slavery quotes, the horrible fast fashion clothing. It’s been a shaky ass year.
And that’s why I wanted to talk to you here: I think I actually kinda like ye. The crux of the Coates piece is that Kanye wants to have the average-ness of white male freedom where you can say dumb ass shit and keep your career (see: Mayer, John), and it took me to hearing PARTYNEXTDOOR singing over twinkling keys on “Wouldn’t Leave” to forget everything, even if he literally mentions his TMZ quotes in his first couple bars on that very song. Despite me wanting to stay resolute in the face of the bullshit, I’ve listened to “Ghost Town” like 30 times already, and it makes me think the Kanye-CuDi album on Friday is actually going to be a masterpiece. Kanye still makes the music that sounds the best, even if everything else is insidious.
It turns out my ability to separate the artist from the art — which after being staunch in the belief of the need to separate, I’ve been convinced that’s ultimately a position of privilege; if you can separate art and artist you often have not been targeted by their crimes/diatribes/lyrics — is iron-clad when I hear Charlie Wilson doing his thing over Kanye soul chops. Kanye’s greatest strength, all along, has been his ability to pull in tons of people/collaborators/performers into his orbit, and playing them perfectly; his use of Ty Dolla $ign is more virtuoustic than anyone’s use of a guitar right now.
I guess I’m saying I like ye. All told, it’s probably his weakest album, but I think that could be a problem of scale; Kanye’s albums have been bloated and unwieldy in the past, which led to a higher hit ratio than he can get close to here with 7 songs (two of them are genuinely bad, “Yikes” and “I Thought About Killing You,” which means a literal third of the album’s run time is lost to the sauce). What does this become if instead of splitting off the CuDi album, he just sandwiched them together, you know?
So, what say you? What do you make of ye? Why do you think Kanye has been un-cancelled, or has he? What do you make of the Zazzle T-shirt album art? Does the album erase the bullshit that’s accompanied its release, including the Wyoming press junket? Did it color your ability to enjoy this?
Michael (Sunday Morning): Before I enter the ye album, I must address the moment, for not doing so has proven impossible. The current Kanye moment for me, a longtime fan through all other spats and faux pas, is… dry. I’m tired of thinking about him. I’m tired of not feeling anything he’s said on wax in 2018. I’m tired of the man resorting to elementary push-button provocation that should prove gravely unnecessary for someone of his stature, let alone a self-proclaimed genius of his ilk. And including Kanye, but toward most rich artists in general, I’m tired of rich muhfuckahs just doin’ shit halfway and tolerating it when they’ve had the resources to consistently manifest ideas of a higher caliber. (But did I just place expectations on the rich to be good at what they do? Boo Boo the Fool over here, my guy.)
And yet, I can’t look away… I was the dude who defended The New Kanye, or at least told folks to let him cook. Granted, my Kanye awareness didn’t come into full bloom until the Graduation vs. Curtis moment, so I don’t necessarily have the same threshold of betrayal his fans — specifically his Black fans — feel from the vantage of watching him since The College Dropout. But through the Twitter faux-deepness I generally ignored, to the TMZ slavery ting, all of it… I can’t look away from Brother Kanye. And he knows that shit about plenty of Black folks who’ve given him chance after chance to fuck up in public. That’s why he’s gonna clear 750k equivalents this week when half the timeline was ablaze about how he’s outta here.
I wasn’t exactly in the latter category, I just kept it quiet and hoped for the best. Now what’s in this ye album? The shit you’d expect: A1 production quality, the features outshine Kanye through and through, and Kanye’s at his worst lyrically with the proven ability to mask it in convincing delivery. He left TMZ, scrapped his whole shit and did this. One wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find a bar that’s “Wolves”-level bad — “You left your fridge open, somebody just took a sandwich” — but we kinda came here for something different, no? MAGA Ye: Decoded? A portrait of how he’s struggled with mental health, addiction, parenthood, forgiveness, moving on? Kaufman comparisons confirmed as a ploy to tug at conservative heartstrings for more clicks? Maybe we’re watching a calculated self-destruct to remove himself from the celebrity that’s consumed everything Kanye loves?
Twenty-three minutes later, this ain’t it. It’s the most laborious Kanye West listen I’ve had ever, and writing this feels like homework cuz I’m tired. He pulled our cards, perhaps for the last time. Storf, you may hate the first two joints, but I’m the complete opposite: they lay the foundation for an album that should’ve been here if he took his time. But he Ye’d it: He tiptoes toward transparency, only to skirt accountability and tack on a buncha corny shit. “Yikes” makes for two straight weeks where a #MeToo punchline don’t make no damn sense and adds nothing to any attempted message within. (Push offers a cursory explanation of his “Hard Piano” quip to Sidney Madden of NPR, but it remains foolishly misguided at best.) By the time we get to “Wouldn’t Leave,” any passing acknowledgments of his wylin’ are reduced to footnotes, then matched with a token for our cancellation as he posits: “Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day!” Like, nigga… what? He’s real-timing (FaceTiming) the bars in and they’re not hittin’ the way they should: What kinda Drake jab is that when Aubrey said you don’t even do shit in the studio? Not to mention how “Violent Crimes” is a field day in and of itself, but I’ll direct y’all to Hannah Giorgis in The Atlantic on that because I can’t go in like she did. Damn the “respect women only once you raise them” trope to hell and have mercy for how it’s impacted us men. If you’re reading this, read what women think of this album; especially Black women.
So, what else do I like about ye? Can I get a muhfuckin’ uhhhhhhhhhh Slick Rick sample that hasn’t escaped my head? May I thank the likes of Uncle Charlie Wilson for doing the damn thing on “No Mistakes” as he does? At press time, we’ve yet to confirm whether or not that’s Valee on the hook of “All Mine”; I’m holding hope he floated and it’s not Jeremih like it probably is, but the hook’s not about going to Miami, so I’m probably wrong. I’m still unsure how long it’d take to bleed from a burnt hand on the stove, but 070 Shake on “Ghost Town” damn near stole the album no matter the error! (That’s her on Push’s “Santeria” as well, by the way.) CuDi floated on that shit, too; enough to give me hope for this collab album if he keeps that energy. The little blips of hope ring off in my brain like any good Kanye moment can, but I’m neither pressed off it nor upset about it. You know what really blew me? How you finna rip the Pi’erre Bourne bass hits — like everyone else producing right now, forreal — and not even master them shits correctly? Like I said, cuttin’ corners on the shit that matters!
Which makes me wonder… is Brother Kanye the corner we must cut?
Andrew (Sunday Afternoon): I want to address what you said a couple times up there: that you’re tired of Kanye. Because that’s what the reaction to this album, has been, right? We’re all tired of this; tired of the Tweetstorms, tired of the MAGA hat, tired of the endless dispatches from media in Wyoming (none of whom admitted to working for places that ran “Kanye is done” thinkpieces in their dispatches from the private jet), tired of all the bullshit, tired of Kim Kardashian publicly flaying Rhymefest, tired of the singularity our feeds become when Kanye is Kanye-ing. The reaction to this album — and I’ve strapped myself into the void to read all the takes since Friday — has been “it’s not worth it” and pieces grappling at depth with the lyrical content, which Kanye has been saying since 2013 he never thinks about anymore (which makes the thinkpieces about his lyrics feel really important, because when you’re writing lyrics last-second that’s probably what you believe in your gut). But I think the best piece of criticism I’ve read about the album — and the one that fucked me up the most — is this tweet:
It didn’t occur to me till this tweet that it’s not just us who’s tired; Kanye is too. Kanye has clearly been dealing with issues more vast than any of us will — and should — ever know. Through Yeezus (and I’d even throw in Life of Pablo, though I know I’m in the minority there), he left one of the most peerless catalogs in the history of American music; he’s not the best at rapping, but he’s the best rapper of all time, you know? Like Kiese Laymon above, I wish he didn’t want to be validated, and instead would just batten down the hatches and produce the shit out of a Valee album. I wish he and JAY-Z would make up. I wish I didn’t have to side with him in a beef centered around a charity for kids, because Rhymefest could somehow be more wrong than Kanye weeks away from publicly siding with Jordan Peterson. I wish he and Kim would focus on raising those kids, and he’d stop rapping about them and she’d stop using them in Tweets aimed at shitting on a charitable organization. I wish that Kanye could finish an album without rapping five things that make your stomach hurt and make you shake your head vigorously.
But here we are with ye, an album that it feels like as a music fan, you have to reckon with. I don’t think Kanye set out to make an album that could provoke the deepest art vs. artist debate ever, but he accomplished that here. Not listening to ye is in itself, a take. For me, as a 32-year-old, white cisgender man, it’s also viscerally forced me to consider my privilege in a way I often never have to; what does it mean that I didn’t pick up on the grossness of “Violent Crimes” until I read that piece in The Atlantic when you texted it to me yesterday? I think like a lot of Kanye listeners, until the hat, and the slavery quote, and the Candace Owens shit, I never had occasion to think anything Kanye did/rapped was fucked up, and I’m realizing now how good I had it back then, and how much work I need to do now.
And the thing that’s perhaps most upsetting about this is that there are at least three more weeks of this, and four if Drake decides to drop his album after the G.O.O.D. Music crew has its Surgical Summer (I’ve heard some speculation that Kanye asking to stop the Pusha-Drake beef is because Drake has a file on Kanye, which… yeah, so do we all). Next week we get the CuDi/Kanye album (which, as we’ve both said, has us more excited than any other out of Wyoming), the week after a Nas album (I wonder if a consideration of what it means to like Nas now, knowing that Kelis alleged physical abuse throughout their marriage, will get even 1/10 of the ink Kanye got), and a week after that a Teyana Taylor album. All of them entirely produced by Kanye, all of them bearing the same stink of “Slavery was a choice.”
Part of me is convinced that this seven-song album circus, back-to-four-other-backs method might actually be the most effective way of dealing with how people consume music in 2018. Everyone gets all hot and bothered for 72 hours, and by Monday morning, everyone has moved on to the next album, the new flashy object. Instead of padding out these hype machine albums with 35 tracks (what’s up Sr3mm?), Kanye and company know you’re only listening to any piece of music for 25 minutes before you change it up. When the catalog of Spotify is as vast as it is, you’re not going to sit through a 78-minute from Kanye anymore; 23 minutes is bingeable like The Office. I mean, shit, I’ve listened to ye four times in the time it’s taken me to craft this response. I’m still fairly convinced “Ghost Town” is one of the best songs of 2018; and still fairly convinced “I Thought About Killing You” is one of the worst.
I guess my final question is what happens next? Are you looking for a new Kanye West album in 2020? Do you think Pusha, Nas, CuDi and Teyana make it out of this maelstrom alive? Do you think any of the Kanye circus stink gets on them? Pusha’s been able to skate, mostly because he murdered Drake before the tide could turn to considering that. Do you think anyone will even care about ye by Wednesday?
Michael (Sunday Night): Before the madness, I was convinced Kanye West had one more fantastic album in him, and once he got that out the way, he’d rightfully take a long overdue rest. I’m not talkin’ sabbatical as rollout like his mentor… I envisioned a bow out, a final peak before he left us forever. Maybe it took him, Hov, Tribe, Missy, a few in the pantheon to confirm why we shouldn’t excommunicate our elders by the time they hit their 30s. Kanye turns 41 on Friday: His omnipresence, somehow leaving a fingertip on the pulse of youthfulness a decade-plus in, remains an undeniable catalyst in dismantling the “young man’s game” motif. And my extended investment in Kanye West, The Cultural Product, has me scrambling to rationalize these perilous public moments, to empathize with the ongoing suffering clearly leaking from all this. The former comes from that investment, my passive protectiveness of a wealthy Black figure who’ll never need my protection, but the latter’s surely true no matter how graphic the wyle out. Unparalleled egoism aside, the power of celebrity has left him this way, too. Can you survive such a thing without an ego like his?
We’re watching the public smite him with the hand they knighted him with; or maybe not, considering that 760k sales projection off the strength of the weekend alone. That’s the whole kill for me: Who were some of us performing for with the cancellation talk when these numbers still lookin’ the way they do? Either the MAGA hat ploy had him tapped into a completely new demographic that replaced a broad swath of folks who already gave a fuck and no longer do… or the brand is strong. I’m going the latter, because everyone loves Kanye, which renders the whole stuntman technique even more empty and the fallout even more disappointing. You had to play with Trump to push an album when we already love you enough to tolerate you through the sustained dickheadedness? What did Chris Rock say at the Wyoming ranch? Something about Kanye pushing his freedom more than any other Black man has before?
Guess we proved him right.
This cycle will pass and I won’t rush to play this album again. We’ll draw our lines where we see fit and shift them as we please. Floating icons on a scrolling timeline will tell us we’re foolish for taking this long to reconcile something so simple, even blame us for feeding Kanye’s nonsense by thinkpiecing this to death. They’ll look right at that moment on the screen for faceless numbers, then all those folks will consume something unethical, or uncouth to the public, in their spare time. Some folks don’t let some shit go, and I can’t fight that to feel right anymore; I’ll draw my line and meet y’all where y’all at. I’m not throwing The Old Kanye away for none and I’ll take some of The New Kanye with me as well. I played “All Mine” at the homies’ kid’s birthday party in the park today; a few of us mumbled the hook with a smirk. We all decided “Ghost Town” was the one, because we’ve all heard the damn album anyway. We’re all… varying levels of done. I don’t pray, but I truly hope Mr. West finds the peace that eludes him.
I think of our role as writers in this machine: the term “writer” is a given, the term “journalist” feels generous when one glimmer of a truth too deep, one opinion too thorough, and it’ll become routine for folks to tell you no. You won’t make the shortlist for the Wyoming flight. The exclusive listening parties with catered salmon and flavored vodka will elude you. Our communities should discuss what a divestment from celebrity culture entails, but where will our jobs go? We’ve spent nearly 3,500 words attempting to cover seven songs that dropped three days ago, slinging our takes over a decade of someone’s public life. There’s value in what we do, there’s value in critique and discourse over art, but the fact remains: Kanye West said he felt like slavery was a choice if enslaved Africans outnumbered the white folks who enslaved them, and here we are on this ye shit. He’ll never achieve the whiteness Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks of, but with American celebrity and a few rehashed ideas, he won’t need it.
With our machine, he won.