Only a Kanye West album release could make you download a whole new app you’ve never used before and might never use again, just to watch strangers, competitors, and colleagues freeze in the Wyoming cold while huddled around a tiny campfire waiting for a known troll like Kanye to show up and play his new tunes.
Only Kanye would ask for such a thing, for journalists and influencers to hop on flights to a remote location in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night to hear his latest. Only Kanye would insist that his audience indulge him to engage with his music in the meaningful, communal fashion that’s become so commonplace in recent years, it’s almost mandatory.
If you didn’t hear it on release night, did you even hear it? If you want to know the answer, you have to tune in, on Kanye’s terms, on Kanye’s time. It’s his gravity, it’s his magnitude within music. Will it cause a seismic shift or will it simply become another footnote in the bizarre, winding tale that is the story of Kanye West? Maybe there isn’t an answer, but you can’t take your eyes off him.
At nearly 12 o’clock on the dot, comedian Chris Rock found an elevated position to introduce Kanye, shout out the assembled guests (which included Nas, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, Pusha T, Lil Yachty, and others), and wax philosophical about Kanye’s legacy within hip-hop while revealing the album’s title as Ye before the album listening kicked off in earnest. Ironically and appropriately, the first song began with a long-winded rumination on self-love, wherein Kanye worried the refrain of “I love myself way more than I love you” like a dog with a bone. We know, Kanye, we know.
Watching and listening remotely via mobile app WAV, there was an odd sense of disconnectedness; Kanye bopped along in the center of the crowd, surrounded by his closest associates reacting accordingly, but the outskirts of the circle seemed unmoved. The middle strata seemed to be comprised of people trying to get video with their phones, while the fringes appeared more interested in the screens of their own devices. The effect was disconcerting; Kanye’s listening as experience — you had to be there, you had to see it, you had to Instagram it, Snapchat, tweet it. Yet, no one really looked like they actually cared about the music itself, without so much as a head nod.
As far as that music is concerned, Ye is very much classic Kanye West, all swirling synths and emotive drums, with guests galore and all of Kanye’s off-kilter, at times inappropriate humor. The samples are back in a strong way, making this his most soulful album in years, even before the addition of a singer on nearly every song crooning melodic hooks and anchoring the sound firmly in the sounds that originally made Kanye West a household name. It’s almost enough to make me forget the content of his rhymes continues to make light of his recent trolling.
Jokey references to recent drama abound; at one point he touches on Russell Simmons’ recent accusations of sexual assault: “Russell Simmons wanna pray for me too / Wanna pray for him ’cause he got MeToo’d.” He dances and dodges around addressing his controversial statements like “slavery is a choice” without really clarifying, justifying, or even defending them really. He simply recounts them, as if just the act of garnering attention is a flex in itself. Maybe it is, at least for him. Crude lines like, “I love your titties cause they prove I could focus on two things at once” don’t really help his case either. He’s a father of three who’s matured enough to at least acknowledge his issues like drug abuse, yet he still frustratingly refuses to grow up.
At the much-touted seven-track length, it seems like Ye would make for a focused, concise statement, if only Kanye West himself knew what he wanted to say and took as much care with his words as he did with his beats. The legends of Kanye West tweaking and adjusting and rearranging single drums are plentiful and renowned, yet when it comes to his raps, he still seems like he’s grasping for attention more than anything else. It’s a shame, because the people still clearly care about Kanye. They flew, they downloaded, they tuned in, they set aside their morals and hurt feelings. It 2018, it seems like that relationship has become more one-sided than ever.
Ye is out now via GOOD Music and Def Jam Recordings.