Hip-hop has, any traditionalists will tell you, been playing with willful incoherence in other ways lately, too. As “mumble rap” rises, so does the importance of the ad-lib (catchphrases and onomatopoeias blurted in the margins). West, hearing the braps, skrrts, and yughs of his peers, has responded with baby talk: scoop! Which fits with his general childishness kick of late. One recent tweet: “We’re trying new ideas without the fear of not being perfect … It’s just a gut feeling sometimes … just making stuff with your friends … ” Another: “We’re still the kids we used to be.” That last line quotes from Ye’s “Ghost Town,” the song that’s both the outlier from and decoder for this phase of West’s music. It is his big rock-and-roll coming out; it is his declaration about what, precisely, all his recent imprecision is about.
“Ghost Town” starts with one of West’s patented soul samples, but rather than having it lock into an 808-steadied loop, the arrangement opens up with languid, warm guitars and organ. West and his collaborators then take turns singing hoarsely, imperfectly, the way someone might at the end of a concert where they’ve been screaming along in the crowd. The lyrics imagine feeling so good that it’s dangerous. The rapper/singer PartyNextDoor: “Now that I’m livin’ high, I do whatever I wanna, oh yeah.” West: “Sometimes I take all the shine / Talk like I drank all the wine.” The groaning voice of Kid Cudi, quoting the Vanilla Fudge tune the song samples, offers a contrast: “I’ve been tryin’ to make you love me / But everything I try just takes you further from me.”
The climax—immediately ranked by fans as a top-tier Kanye West musical moment—comes from 070 Shake, a New Jersey newcomer to hip-hop. With her rasp presented in multi-track, she sounds like a jubilant crew of friends—or an individual’s inner chorus—rather than just one woman. Around her, zipping guitar lines and reverberating drum hits alternately seem to afford her miles of open space or else lift her off her feet. “Whoa, once again I am a child,” she begins, and the vertigo of that whoa is convincing. “I let it all go, of everything that I know … And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kinda free.” The free is drawn out, sounding a bit like a steam whistle, and releasing pressure like one too.
That same word gets stretched in other directions on “Freeee (Ghost Town, Pt. 2),” off Kids See Ghosts. The song is a highlight on what’s generally a more successfully experimental album than Ye, and it builds on a crunchy funk-rock tune from the producer Mr. Chop. When the rapper Ty Dolla $ign and the soul veteran Anthony Hamilton harmonize their I feel frees, it’s like they’ve assembled a meditation circle, blissful and serene. Thrillingly, it gets trampled—ambushed—by the riff. West’s version of I feel free is entirely different: a campy Vincent Price or George Clinton bellow. This delivery has annoyed some listeners; to quote a hater on Reddit’s Kanye West forum, not everyone sees “the rich artistry behind singing ‘freee’ like a big spooky ghost lmaoo.”