To start Ye, a provocation: “The most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest / Today I seriously thought about killing you.” The words float amid manipulated soul vocals that undulate like sea water around the piling of West’s flat, conversational speech. “I think about killing myself,” he continues, his voice pitching and panning, “and I love myself way more than I love you, so … ” He’s taking to the confessional booth, or he’s performing a satanic ritual in the apse. Either way, something mystical is happening, and we listeners are intruding.
The West of the song, eventually, appears to notice his audience. He muses that if he wanted to be more relatable, he should be delivering a more on-trend call to love thyself, rather than an observation that he might die by suicide in spite of his self-love. As he begins to rap, he promises, “Time to bring in the drums.” They arrive, and the spell breaks: We’re in hip-hop now, and West is in autopilot, making vague boasts and vague swipes over a hard, hollow thwack punctuated by screams. There’s a line he appears to have forgotten to write all the words for, substituting mmms for nouns. I did laugh at one couplet: “Got too many bad traits / Used the floor for ashtrays.” He’s a sinner, he’s a litterer.
The text on the album cover reads “I hate being Bi-Polar it’s awesome,” and it’s a long-awaited coming-out. West has hinted at mental-health issues in song, and plenty of people have guessed that his erratic and emotional public persona showed signs of mania. Over a warm, punkish bass, the chorus of track two, “Yikes,” has him singing of scaring himself sometimes. The verses, twitching with tambourine, offer a collection of psychedelic drug abbreviations—“Tweakin’, tweakin’ off that 2CB, huh? / Is he gon’ make it? TBD, huh”—and the song closes with him yelling about his “bipolar shit” being not a “disability” but a “superpower.” Mental health has, of late, become more common for rappers to address, and 2016’s The Life of Pablo already felt like West’s big statement on this issue, what with its references to the supposed link between insanity and genius.
Ye is a correction from Pablo’s woozy, undercooked ambition, though. Its terse seven tracks put rhythm first and, sadly, don’t often swerve into the what-am-I-listening-to zone. The middle three songs—each of which feature high, soulful choruses and triumphantly nasty verses—bleed together unremarkably save for discrete moments of controversy baiting. “All Mine” continues his career-long meltdown about monogamy, with him somewhat jealously referencing a few instances of celebrity infidelity. “Wouldn’t Leave” describes the fight between him and Kim Kardashian after his recent comments about slavery being “a choice,” and he thanks all the women who stand by their man. On “No Mistakes,” he says, “it’s been a shaky-ass year,” and the unspoken punchline is that this album isn’t likely to steady things.