Last Friday night, legendary DJ Clark Kent dropped Kanye West’s “XTCY” track at the artist’s behest. On the song, Kanye rhymes rather creepily about wanting to “smash” his Kardashian/Jenner sister-in-laws. The song had a couple clever lines, but ultimately he delivered his lyrics with a ho-hum energy that made one Twitter user surmise that, “I bet Kanye ain’t even listened to ‘XTCY.’”
While Kanye the producer maintains his god-given, self-developed genius, Kanye the rapper hasn’t demonstrated the same vocal conviction and incisive lyricism that once marked him as a musical genius. In 2014, he gave the figurative crown of best rapper to Drake, telling GQ that “last summer was Drake’s” and he’d “never given [the game] up til last summer.” When asked if he wanted to re-attain his spot, he pondered, “It’s a real question for me. Do I want to?”
Since at least 2014, it hasn’t sounded like he has. As his foray into fashion has progressed, the potency of his lyrics have regressed. He separated from previous stalwarts of his creative process such as Rhymefest, Malik Yusef, Really Doe — even Consequence at a point — and his lyrical content started to suffer. His 2015 appearance on A$AP Rocky’s “Jukebox Joints” left a lot to be desired. Ditto his 2016 feature on Schoolboy Q’s “That Part.” 2016’s The Life Of Pablo was a sonic tour de force that evolved at breakneck speed, but save for confessional moments like “30 Hours” and “Real Friends,” it wasn’t as lyrically substantive as his previous work.
Many hip-hop lovers assumed that Kanye needed a break to recollect himself, which he did for all of 2017 after suffering a mental health crisis in December 2016. But on Ye, he still sounds like a rapper for which rap is no longer a priority. Perhaps he hasn’t fully shaken the doldrums of mental illness. He was reportedly so low in 2017 that self-help guru Tony Robbins came to his house and performed an intervention. Robbins asked him to simply yell in affirmation of being, but he was too timid to scream in his own house. He’s noted recently that self-confidence is one of his “superpowers,” and maybe he’s still getting reacquainted with it.
His superpower of producing is still intact though. “XTCY’s” production sounded solid. His work on Migos’ “BBO” was one of the highlights of Culture II. The soundscape on Ye, and the rest of the albums that he produced during his GOOD June of releases was majestic at junctures. For the guy who honed his craft doing “3 beats a day for three summers” like he recalled on his “Spaceship” classic, chopping a sample into a dope beat is like riding a bike. Kanye was clearly in the studio and his eerily taupe mansion working his beat machine to death.
He shook out of his depression by making beats all of last year and earlier this summer. During his recent appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, he said that the process of buying records and making beats was “therapeutic” for him, and reminded him of “being 14-years-old in my mom’s house.” But the actual lyrics for Ye, his major comeback album, weren’t written until 8 days before the album dropped. He told Kimmel that he would give his song ideas to six or seven people then “go to sleep” while they were crafting it, likely tired from his beat-making. It’s a stark contrast to his previous creative process, where he would work together with his lyrical collaborators, judging their contributions on the spot. One would assume he’d painstakingly craft the lyrics to an album that represented his musical crossroads, but the creative solace for him was actually in the beats, not the bars.