Kanye West’s new album “Ye” is the culmination of the most tumultuous stretch of his career — which is saying something.
As West promised, “Ye” is just seven songs long, a drastic change from the 20-song behemoth that his 2016 album “The Life of Pablo” ballooned into after he spent months adding extra tracks. The new album addresses many of the controversies of West’s past few years, mainly his mental breakdown and his recent burst of pro-Trump support, with West refusing to apologize, seeing little value in introspection and declaring on “Yikes” that his bipolar disorder is “my superpower — ain’t no disability.”
And while the combination of “Ye” and Pusha T’s West-produced “Daytona” album shows the rapper is as strong a producer as ever, his ego gets in the way of his hit-making abilities. “Ye” lacks the easily lovable potential singles of West’s past albums. For all of his declarations of his “Ye” era’s “dragon energy” genius, the music is the least impactful of his career.
Many of the most striking moments on “Ye” come in the first two tracks — “I Thought About Killing You,” with West’s spoken-word meditations about suicide, and “Yikes,” which delves into opioid addiction over a radio-ready beat — which suggest an album more honest about his health struggles than the one West actually delivers.
Topical moments show up throughout the rest of the album, to lesser effect, as, on “Wouldn’t Leave,” he mentions the grief that his political outspokenness caused his wife Kim Kardashian. That song turns out to be less an ode to supportive women than it is absolving the misbehaving men by their sides. And West devotes much of “No Mistake” to what sounds like a half-hearted Drake diss. As for the album’s flaccid allusions to Stormy Daniels and #MeToo, West isn’t the cultural critic he used to be.
And even as West’s production sparkles, switching between anxious-sounding, barely there beats and moments of uplifting soul for the album’s lighter moods, he sabotages himself with inexplicable songwriting choices and unnecessary features that weigh down potential hits.
The appearances of featured vocalists sound half-finished, from Jeremih’s mumbled appearance on “Wouldn’t Leave” to the squandered potential of “Ghost Town,” which could have been a highlight had its jubilant instrumentals not been wasted in service of an incomprehensible John Legend intro and an unnecessary, several-minute-long appearance by 070 Shake.
The album’s best featured vocal comes from Dej Loaf, who adds sweetness to the otherwise-misguided father-daughter anthem “Violent Crimes,” the album’s closing track. The song sees West trying to get real about the challenges of parenting a girl, but instead he misfires with lines like “Don’t do no yoga, don’t do pilates / Just play piano and stick to karate / I pray your body’s draped more like mine and not like your mommy’s.”
For a 23-minute album — easily West’s shortest release — “Ye” doesn’t feel concise. And that’s not a good thing.
In its tedium and tonal shifts and verses that overstay their welcome, “Ye” feels longer than an album like “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which flies by in its smash singles and genius-level flows.
“Ye” also drums up nostalgia for “The Life of Pablo,” a release that got mixed reviews but, in retrospect, is a better work of social commentary than “Ye,” and is an infinitely more enjoyable listen.
For fans who are still on board with West’s visions of his own grandeur, they may very well find enough to love in “Ye’s” bright spots, the moments on the album when his discordant creative decisions come together to remind us of the old Kanye.
But for listeners hoping for a work of Kanye West brilliance that might somehow nullify his controversies of the past few months, or even just try to explain them, “Ye” almost certainly will disappoint.