Kanye West is surely pop culture’s craftiest puppet master in the Age of Outrage. Here is a man who knows how to stir exactly the right amount of controversy and work it to his favour each and every time, and has forged a legendary rap career as much from being an outspoken asshole as he has from being a fantastic producer.
The latest Kanye controversy, for anyone who missed it, was his vocal support for Donald Trump and the ‘Make America Great Again’ movement, as well his statement that 400 years of black slavery ‘sounds like a choice’. The general consensus seemed to be that he had gone too far this time, and was out of touch.
‘Nobody walks the tightrope between juicy scandal and career immolation with more finesse than Kanye West’.
But the truth is, almost nobody is more in touch with the world in 2018. We are living in an era where controversy is the essence of fame itself, and nobody walks the tightrope between juicy scandal and career immolation with more finesse than Kanye West. Any publicity is good publicity, and you know that every single person who said Kanye went too far was listening to his new record the day it dropped.
Did I mention he released an album? Yes – in the eye of Hurricane Kanye is his new record, titled ye – seven tracks long and only 23 minutes, much like Pusha T’s recent DAYTONA, which West produced. It deals frankly with mental health issues and contains heartfelt songs dedicated to his wife and daughter. It’s also probably his worst album to date.
Kanye’s recent output has been very inconsistent both in terms of style and quality. 2016’s The Life of Pablo was an erratic and messy album which Kanye put together quickly and then spent many months publicly revising, uploading new versions and songs to streaming services and digital stores. Ye feels just as scattershot, but at a third of the length its highlights are fewer and further between, while its lowlights are more unavoidable.
File ‘Yikes’ and ‘No Mistakes’ under highlights: the former contains a catchy hook on top of a moody bassline and some ghostly vocal samples, while the latter is a brief, two minute slice of vintage soul Kanye. It contains some of the album’s most memorable bars, too: ‘I got dirt on my name, I got white on my beard / I had debt on my books, it’s been a shaky-ass year / Let me make this clear, so all y’all see / I don’t take advice from people less successful than me, huh?’
‘It’s hard to hear Ye as anything more than a rushed and very inconsistent record’.
But then there’s the ridiculous, high-pitched, mumbled hook on ‘All Mine’. The eye-rolling monologue that makes up the majority of ‘I Thought about Killing You’. And worst of all – the Kid Cudi feature on ‘Ghost Town’, in which he sings the hook like a cat in the process of being strangled. I literally cannot hear that line – ‘I’ve been tryyYYYYYyyyYYYinnnnng to make you love me’ – without physically wincing and skipping the song. It’s that bad.
Ye should be commended for the frank manner in which it deals with mental illness, but it can be difficult to treat these issues with the seriousness they deserve when Kanye rhymes ‘hurt so bad, I go numb’ with ‘I called up the Muslims, said I’m ‘bout to go dumb’.
In the end, it’s hard to hear Ye as anything more than a rushed and very inconsistent record. While DAYTONA felt short for the purpose of filtering out the imperfections and removing the filler, Ye feels short because it was put together in a month. But even though, in my opinion, Kanye’s music has been on a downturn ever since 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the man’s intuitive grasp of the mechanics of fame is sure to keep his name on our tongues at least until the next album rolls around.