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The dilemma with Kanye is always this: the more he abstracts himself into his own iconography, the more he raps about Kanye West, thus, the less relevant he becomes. His desire to ‘crack the pavement’ as he put it once and do new things can become slightly impeded by his self-declared God status. It is no coincidence that the album of his to have the greatest ripple across the industry, 808s and Heartbreak, is the one you would be most hard pressed to pull out of a line up.

Thankfully though, in ye (GOOD Music, Def Jam), the same Kanye who has recently courted controversy on twitter is viewed only in glimpses. With the exception of an ill-advised jab at MeToo, he manages to get through the whole album without saying anything too embarrassing or attention-seeking. Even more encouragingly, the Kanye of this album seems to accept that Kanye West the cultural icon exists in relation to other people, with ‘Wouldn’t Leave’ a genuinely touching love song to his wife and ‘Violent Crimes’ a letter to his infant daughter. Compared to the time he featured God (as in, actual up-in-heaven God) on ‘I am a God’, this feels almost humble.

This is one of the most exciting albums of the year

The response to this album, however, has proved it was always going to be difficult to escape the shenanigans of the last two months. The immediate pressure on the album became for it to be ‘redemptive’ in the way My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF) was redemptive, a comparison so Herculean almost anything would pale next to it.

It’s one Kanye has subliminally encouraged himself though. Like MBDTF, Kanye retreated to seclusion for the recording of this (to Wyoming this time, rather than Hawaii) and summoned various features and producers to work under the umbrella of his ‘Creative CEO’ role. Nicki Minaj famously opens MBDTF with an affected English accent impersonating children’s author Roald Dahl, she closes this album with a message to Kanye’s infant daughter.

This album is short, however (just over twenty minutes), whereas that Maximalist masterpiece pushed seventy. It’s refreshing Kanye hasn’t joined in the gaming of streaming services, where elongated records like Drake’s Views sit perched at the top of the charts simply because they’re so long, but it also means there simply isn’t enough there for this to be in Kanye’s truly top tier as a standalone project. This is one of the most exciting albums of the year and should easily make any self-respecting top ten rap albums of 2018 list, but the tragedy of Late Kanye is it has to be compared to other Kanye.

Even within this artefact of an album, though, we’re given a number of twists and layers. After the dense, mesmerising ‘I Thought About Killing You’, is ‘Yikes’, probably the standout of the piece. The words sticking in your head after a single listen, the chorus of “menacin’, frightenin’, find help” combines with an addictive hook among Kanye’s best. The best moments of this album reach similar heights, the rock chorus of ‘Ghost Town’ with 070 Shake almost breathing into the mic ‘I feel kind of free’ is probably the most exhilarating moment from anything in the last few months. Only Kanye can do this.


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It’s a shame that not all of it is quite at this level. Despite the thrill of his opening with a bellow ‘get the roof off let the sun come in’ on ‘No Mistakes’ and the tune coming off as a feel good piece, it’s unlikely we’ll return to this in a couple of years time and not be tempted to skip.

The album’s cover art, taken on the way to the listening party which launched it, features scribbled in green ink ‘I hate being bi-polar it’s awesome’. More than just a cover gimmick, this mental duality courses through the piece and is the most interesting thing about it. The line that’s stuck with me the most over the past few days is ‘the most beautiful thoughts are always besides the darkest’. Kanye, who usually likes to have voices on top of voices in a Gospel-esque effect, continues to contradict himself with ‘They take me on meds, off meds’ and ‘I put my hand on a stove, to see if I still bleed, yeah/ and nothing hurts anymore, I feel kind of free’.

Overall however, ye casts a more subtle and more interesting effect than The Life of Pablo. The previous album felt like the musical equivalent of mood swings, lurching from the ridiculous to the sublime sometimes within the same song or even bar, but the condensed nature of ye makes it feel more restrained. The differing shades of Kanye are peeled back from the mind explosion of his last offering into a more tapered balance that makes this, despite its brevity and inevitable drop-off compared to by this point fifteen year discography, a worthy achievement in itself.

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