Two Kanye albums, released within a week of each other, vastly differ in quality.
Honestly, I’m shocked these two albums ever came out in the first place, but here we are, and the results are mixed. Both albums were debuted via listening parties live-streamed on WAV, an app that I’d never heard of before Kanye tweeted about it. Despite my reservations about this new MAGA-era Kanye, I still downloaded the app, created an account and waited two hours to finally listen to Ye last week and then did the same this week for Kids See Ghosts, his collaboration with Kid Cudi. The stupid fucking app crashed, and the livestream didn’t play until 1:46am.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is widely regarded as Kanye’s magnum opus, made after the last time the rapper incurred such an overwhelmingly negative public reaction. His solo work since that album has not matched what came before it. I had hope that the public backlash to Kanye’s recent pro-Trump rhetoric would produce another classic album. Disappointingly, Ye is not a classic, but it’s still a decent album. There’s a lot to enjoy about the album, but there are some serious lows that detract from a quality project and just not enough highs to redeem those missteps. According to Kim Kardashian, West had a finished album two weeks ago before its release but scrapped it and started again from scratch. The album sounds hastily put together and that would explain why. The cover art is a picture of Wyoming mountains that Kanye reportedly took on his phone just before the album’s release with the words “I hate being bipolar, it’s awesome,” scrawled over it. That phrase sounds like something you would see next to a minion in a meme that a middle-aged distant relative would post on Facebook.
This album has some of Kanye’s worst lyrics in his career, which undercuts some solid production work. Even worse is the meaning behind some of those lyrics. The worst is his hot take on the #MeToo movement, “Russell Simmons wanna pray for me too, I’ma pray for him because he got me-too’d, thinking what if that happened to me to, then I’m on E! News.” There’s a lot to unpack there. First, Russell Simmons is currently facing rape accusations from two women, among other sexual misconduct allegations, so the fact that Kanye’s supporting him here and makes a punchline out of it is abhorrent. Then, Kanye expresses a fear of being similarly accused of impropriety by a woman. In this current environment, Kanye has more sympathy for men accused of wrongdoing than their female victims. This whole sentiment goes a long way to explaining the rapper’s recent embrace of Trump and the alt-right. Kanye doesn’t care about Trump’s own scandals or the alt-right’s misogyny because he also holds many of those sexist beliefs, as evidenced in this album.
The bad lyrics don’t end there, such as “let me hit it raw like fuck the outcome, none of us would be here without cum.” The rapper who used to make cutting social commentary in his music is now making asinine observations like unprotected sex leads to pregnancy and semen is instrumental in forming human life. Then, there’s “after I hit it, bye Felicia, that’s the way that I’ma leave it up.” Kanye using a meme from four years ago to tell a woman to leave after they had sex is one of the most-Kanye things ever and not in a good way. The whole song “Violent Crimes” has a similarly cringeworthy feel.
For a guy who claims to have been “too grown for high school,” Kanye doesn’t appear to have evolved past the emotional and intellectual development of a teenager. Kanye’s always had an ego and when he was younger and making better music it was fun and endearing. Now, those delusions of grandeur are just no longer appealing, especially when he can’t make the music to back it up. Kanye believes that he’s a genius and arguably he is one, but he’s a musical genius. Kanye’s mistake is believing that genius extends to everything else as well. He advocates free thought, but he is incapable of thinking for himself and as a result is lured into the outlandish narratives of the alt-right. He simply does not have the tools for genuine free thought. As a “proud non-reader of books,” Kanye has embraced his own ignorance and has no motivation to change it. Without a factual and intellectual foundation, Kanye’s free thought is simply contrarianism for its own sake and leads to an embrace of ideas like “slavery was a choice.” The alt-right appeals to him because it reinforces both his belief in his own genius and his need to standout from the mainstream consensus. Its followers are told that they deserve to be successful and nefarious forces are oppressing them, with the only escape being “free thought.” Again, this is all appealing to the rapper. However, in the context of the alt-right, “free thought” really means wild claims without evidence to support it.
Even after all this, I still listened to Ye multiple times in the past week. I have been a Kanye fan basically since I started listening to music and I’ve found it hard to stop being one. There’s a lot not to like about this album or 2018 Kanye West but there are still moments in this album that shine and bring me back, like this consummate Kanye line, “if I wasn’t shining so hard, wouldn’t be no shade.” There simply aren’t enough great parts to this album and some of the best moments come from other people Ultimately, Ye is something to be expected and is at the same level of Kanye’s two previous solo album. They aren’t great, but they are still above-average. The album sounds hastily thrown together to its own detriment. There are songs on the album that I’ll enjoy listening to and there are others that make me cringe and have second-hand embarrassment for the rapper. Ye may represent an artistic low-point for the brazen rapper, but if this is the lowest point that’s still higher than most rappers will ever reach and that’s impressive.
A week later, Kids See Ghosts was released early Friday and I’m shocked at how good it is, especially in comparison to the album that preceded. It’s incredible that the same artist can release two albums that so vastly differ in quality within the span of a week. I guess the difference was Kid Cudi;the guy who is responsible for contemporary mainstream rap. Cudi’s innovative style has influenced everyone from Drake to Travis Scott to even Kanye. He is probably your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. Kanye and Cudi go back over a decade and pair well together, complimenting each other as over-the-top extrovert and relaxed introvert, respectively. They had a falling out a few years ago and both ended 2016 in treatment for mental health issues. Since then, they have reconciled and created an outstanding album that I’m still shocked by.
More than anything, I’m shocked by how therapeutic the album feels. Both meant have dealt with issues both personal and public in the past and it feels like they’re leaning on each other for help through this album. The results are spectacular. Cudi opens the album with a brief hook that sets a haunting tone for the album, followed a Pusha-T verse. “You should quit your job to this,” Kanye raps on “Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)” and it’s definitely an album that could inspire someone to make a big life change. Cudi’s hook on “Reborn” is inspired, “ain’t no stress on me lord, I’m moving forward, keep moving forward, keep moving forward, I’m so, I’m so reborn,” and a personal favorite on the album. The closing track “Cudi Montage,” with its guitar-based beat, begins sounding like a soundtrack to a western starring Ye and Cudi and ends as a prayer to God for salvation. It is a fitting closer for the album.
Three weeks in, Kanye’s five-week GOOD Music release schedule has produced two great albums Daytona and Kids See Ghosts. Ye, while not bad, is just on a tier below those other two projects. Still, Kanye, with the help of Kid Cudi, has made his best album in years. The seven-song standard for the GOOD albums has proved to be genius. It leaves audiences wanting more and lends itself to repeat listens. A typical album would take about an hour to listen all the way through, while one of these albums can be listened to three times in an hour. Looking forward, I can’t wait for Nas’s album next week. His last album, 2012’s Life is Good, was his best in a while (see “Cherry Wine,” for example). “Nas Album Done,” a Nas-featured song on a DJ Khaled album, was released in 2016. The album may not have been done, but if it’s anything like those recent projects, it’ll be worth the wait.