Rapper, producer, fashion designer and nutter, Kanye West, drops his eighth record. Is it his Kanye best, or is it a Kanye mess?
Kanye’s last album The Life of Pablo took forever to be released. After a year of hype, we finally got the album and it still felt unfinished – so much so that the rapper went back and edited the album after its release because some tracks weren’t up to spec.
Contrastingly, Ye seems to have had a rather speedy promo campaign. Much of the media attention beforehand was less to do with the album and more to do with Kanye’s typically controversial antics, confessing his love for Trump on Twitter and blurting out that ‘slavery was a choice’ in an interview. The fact that he mentions the latter in the lyrics of the album shows that this record must have been put together fairly quickly.
It certainly doesn’t feel as elaborate as his past works. At 23 minutes, it’s barely an album and more like an EP. The beats meanwhile are very minimal. ‘I Thought About Killing You’ is practically a cappella for the first 2 minutes, whilst the instrumental of ‘All Mine’ is just a vocal sample and a couple 808s.
But despite its brevity and relative sonic simplicity, this is probably the best Kanye West album I’ve heard thus far. It makes up for its short runtime and sparse instrumentation with some of the rapper’s most intimate and intricate lyrics. There are no cornballs this time around. The lyrics that try to be funny are genuinely funny such as when he rhymes ‘outcome’ and ‘without cum’. Meanwhile, the more introspective bars are packed with hidden meanings as he covers personal topics such as his negative media attention and its impact on his relationship with Kim on ‘Wouldn’t Leave’, his newfound respect for women now that he has a daughter on ‘Violent Crimes’ and his battle with mental illness on ‘I Thought About Killing You’ (which I interpret as a battle with his public and private self – hopefully he’s not referring to Kim!).
Kanye is still a raging narcissist and he clearly feels he’s misunderstood. But there are glimpses of insecurities that show that perhaps there’s another sensitive side to the confident persona that he won't let us see. It’s a voyeuristic look into the rap superstar’s psyche, which we've all been trying to pick apart for years. I’m reminded a lot of Jay-Z’s recent album – an equally personal record from a once arrogant rap veteran that’s as stripped back as it is full of meaning.
The choice of guest vocalists is probably my only gripe with this album. ‘Ghost Town’ could have been the best track on the album, featuring some incredible bars about Kanye’s struggles with being understood and some triumphant gospel-flavoured chords – but the singing from PARTYNEXTDOOR and Kid Cudi is almost unlistenable. PARTYNEXTDOOR’s mumbled crooning sounds like a dying sheep and Kid Cudi’s moaning sounds like a kid on the edge of tears. It makes Kanye’s sung verses sound good, and even they’re a little shaky.
The vocals could have done with some tweaking in the studio (or perhaps he should have hired singers rather than rappers to do the singing). Otherwise, I’m glad much of this album has been left rough and ready. It’s an outburst of Kanye’s feelings and had he spent too long in the studio tweaking the lyrics and the beats, he could have ended up taking away some of the exciting rawness. It frustrates me that so many other reviews on the web are letting Kanye’s political views distort their views on him as a musician – particularly considering the lack of politics on this album. Kanye’s cryptic personality has always been the most interesting thing about him, and its fascinating to see him looking inwards rather than outwards.★★★★☆