Kanye West Is a Bipolar High Roller on ‘Ye’

Kanye West has been hinting at a new album for a while, and he came through on May 30, inviting his music industy associates and various media to a ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, out of all places, to hang out with him around a camp fire. Jackson Hole is where he recorded his new 7-track album, “Ye,” and where he held the listening party to celebrate the album’s release. Kanye was introduced by none other than the legendary Chris Rock, who showed no qualms about raising expectations. He told the audience, “Remember this rap music, hip-hop music, is the first art form created by free black men. And no black man has taken more advantage of his freedom than Kanye West.” Considering the recent controversy of Kanye’s divisive comments, Rock added, “Listen without prejudice.” Kanye was in the crowd, smiling and vibing perpetually. Aziz Ansari’s account of Kanye listening to his own music, and saying “These beats are dope!” now seems even more believable than it already was — not that there’s anything wrong with that. The beats last night were dope, and Kanye is above feigning modesty for social propriety. In fact, hip-hop as a genre is above that; Ye simply exemplifies it.

The first track, “I Thought About Killing You,” establishes immediately that Kanye has no intentions of tempering his eccentricity. He raps, “Today I seriously thought about killing you / I contemplated, premeditated murder / And I think about killing myself, and I love myself way more than I love you.” This is definitely the same Ye that famously declared “I am a god.” He goes on, however, to add “You’d only care enough to kill somebody you love.”

The appropriately titled “Yikes” deals with drug addiction, a subject that Ye is as openly vocal about as any other subject. An especially memorable line is “hospital band a hundred bands, fuck a watch.” Kanye has had meltdowns and been hospitalized, but he’s focusing on the generally acknowledged fine line between insanity and genius, and using every example of the former as evidence of the latter. He goes on to brag about being bipolar, conveying the idea that deviation from the norm might actually be an attribute rather than a disability, then declaring, “I’m a superhero.” It’s very Charlie Sheen. But you’ve got to hand it to Kanye. He owns every aspect of himself, never apologizing for anything, and as crazy as it may be, it’s pretty badass.

“All Mine” is the raunchy number of the album, with lyrics like, “I love your titties, ’cause they prove / I can focus on two things at once.” Absolute brilliance. Valee starts the song off, doing the ubiquitous, falsetto sing/rap thing possibly better than anyone else in the game. Ty Dolla $ign chimes in at moments, and the chemistry is perfect. There’s a levity to the music that is very appealing. You can tell that Ye and crew are just having fun. Kanye eventually delves into more serious subject matter, rapping about infidelity, name-dropping scandalous celebrities, straddling the line between empathy and criticism. The resounding message is basically that we’re all susceptible to our animal instincts. Kanye shows no restraint in calling people out completely though, with lines like, “All these thots on Christian Mingle, almost what got Tristan single,” exposing Cleveland Cavalier Tristan Thompson, who cheated on Kanye’s sister-in law Khloe Kardashian.   

In “Wouldn’t Leave,”, Kanye addresses his recent controversial comment that slavery for 400 years seems to him like a choice. It seems like what he meant was that 400 years is plenty time to rebel and get things together, but of course, in typical Kanye style, he said it crudely and stupidly, and ended up alienating millions. Just as you’d expect, he has no apologies. He says, “I said, “Slavery a choice”—they said, “How, ‘Ye?” / Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day.” Another striking line is, “Thinking like George Jetson, sounding like George Jefferson.” Kanye is proud to be black, and he represents it by embracing things like ebonics, but doesn’t feel compelled to conform to a stereotype regarding politics, fashion, or really anything. He does whatever he wants, and that’s largely what makes him so appealing. PARTYNEXTDOOR sings on the track, in a loosely structured manner that fits with the casual sound of the album. Having made a name for himself as a master producer, it’s only natural that Ye is no longer impressed by gloss and sheen. Rawness and unpolished immediacy has seemed to strike his fancy since “Life of Pablo,” and this album continues the trend, sometimes to ludicrous extents. Kanye sporadically starts humming in several songs. When rapping, he often sounds a bit like an overly enthusiastic karaoke performer with a few drinks in his system, and the mic a little too close to his mouth. It’s a bit like punk rock, an aesthetic based on distaste for professionalism, and celebration of amateurism — but by design. Actually, we can’t be completely sure it’s by design. Kanye might just be being lazy, and he might have just lost it completely. Consider the cover art, a picture taken on the way to the listening party, in comparison to the $85,000 picture that he just purchased for Pusha T’s album. Perhaps this is just Kanye being bipolar: all or nothing. The shabbily scrawled words on the album cover read, “I hate being Bi-polar its awesome.” That pretty much sums up the bipolar mentality. Kanye nailed it. Was the missing apostrophe an expression of the manic instincts to throw caution to the wind? Was it an affectation for street cred? Was it illiteracy? Kanye keeps us guessing, as always. Is he even Kanye, or is “Ye” the alterego, one half of the bipolar dynamic duo? It would make sense, as there’s hardly any detectable trace of the signature, classic, soul-sampling, detailed beat work with which Kanye made a name for himself.

“No Mistakes” samples Slick Rick’s distinctive voice, saying “Believe it or not.” Whatever the song may be about, these words get the point across. Is this really happening? Is Kanye really this crazy? Believe it or not. Charlie Wilson and Kid Cudi sing a saccharine chorus, repeating “Make no mistake, girl, I still love you” a few too many times. At one point, Ye says, “Calm down, you light skin!” We can only speculate about whom this is directed towards, but it seems like Kanye has stumbled upon a brilliant strategy. Having offended black people with the slavery comment, throw a few jabs at white people too, and it’s all even. All things considered though, he’s just talking shit at the spur of the moment like he always does, and it would be profoundly foolish to get provoked by anything he says.  

“Ghost Town” has some old-school Kanye flavor, with soulful vocal samples. There were also clips of distorted rock guitars. PARTYNEXTDOOR and Trade Martin start off the track, slurring their words excessively, giving the track a jokey feel. Kid Cudi picks up, and sings in a drunken-sounding lagging croon, off key and sloppy enough to clarify that this shabiness has to be affected intentionally. A female vocalist sang the word “free,” with such extended drawl that it seems meant to capture a certain absurd confusion. One striking lyric is, “I put my hand on the stove to see if I still bleed.” Needless to say, the obvious answer is “yes.” Ye goes on to affirm, “We’re still the kids we used to be,” and at least, he speaks for himself.

“Violent Crimes” features ulta-Auto Tune singing from 070. Kanye reflects, “Niggas is savage, niggas is monsters / Niggas is pimps, niggas is players / ‘Til niggas have daughters, now they precautious.” This is dad rap. A principled devotion to getting mad bitches suddenly gets confusing when you have a daughter, and Kanye is attempting to make sense of the conundrum in real time. Nicki Minaj makes an appearance at the end, speaking, “I’m sayin’ it like… / I want a daughter like Nicki, aww man, I promise / I’ma turn her to a monster, but no menagés / I don’t know how you saying it, but let ’em hear this.” Perhaps you know how she’s saying it. At any rate you’ve heard it.

At seven short tracks, “Ye” is hardly an album, more like an EP. But this is Kanye, so you never know what you’re going to get. At any rate, it’s wildly entertaining and unfiltered. In the world of formulaic, predictable, and generic mainstream hip-hop, Kanye West is a beacon of light — a glaring, gaudy blacklight in an after hours club with no legit liquor license, but with an entry line spanning six blocks.       

Ye” is available June 1 on Apple Music.