After potentially the worst album rollout in the history of album rollouts, Kanye West released his latest album, Ye, on Thursday in a remote location outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After taking multiple listens—which wasn’t time-consuming, because Ye is only 24 minutes long—the Ringer staff offered their thoughts on the new songs, the Old Kanye, and the artist’s messy legacy.
1. What is your tweet-length review of Ye?
Andrew Gruttadaro: An album that is both not good enough to gloss over all of the nonsense that preceded it, and not bad enough to ignore altogether.
Matt James: Ye is unlike any other Kanye album in that it’s the first that doesn’t attempt to break any new ground. This is a therapy session from a man yearning to find comfort in the familiar. He’s shook from his fan base’s backlash. But how is Ye doing? He’s surviving.
Richie Bozek: It was 80 degrees this weekend, and listening to “No Mistakes” and “Ghost Town” felt right.
Justin Charity: Each Ye song is a feeble bootleg of some other, prior, superior Kanye West song.
T.C. Kane: Ye is too short, but I also wouldn’t really care to hear a longer version of it.
Donnie Kwak: A moment that wasn’t really a moment.
How is Ye such a lazy project and Daytona such a precise one. How Sway— Victor Luckerson (@VLuck) June 2, 2018
2. What’s the best song on the album? The worst?
Gruttadaro: The best is “Yikes”; the worst is the song where Kanye realizes for the first time that all women are human beings and deserve to be treated as such.
Charity: The “Yikes” hook is the only competent songwriting on the album.
James: “Ghost Town” is an instant classic for me. “We’re still the kids we used to be” is a mantra for a generation suddenly and exhaustingly burdened by divisiveness. This is 070 Shake’s debut in the spotlight and triggers memories of Nicki Minaj introducing herself to the world on “Monster.” You’ve got some peak Kid Cudi on this track, and yet everyone is talking about 070 Shake.
I think everyone can agree that the worst track on the album is “I Thought About Killing You.”
Kane: “Ghost Town” is the best song, but that feels like the default answer because it’s the only song that seems to have commanded Kanye’s full effort and attention. “No Mistakes” is the weakest link and the least essential; it’s a two-minute-long half-baked mishmash of ideas that he’s executed better in the past.
Luckerson: Kid Cudi slurring “I’ve been trying to make you love me” like a years-in-the-making drunk dial on “Ghost Town” is the highlight of the album. “All Mine,” a Great Value version of “I’m in It” off Yeezus, does nothing for me.
Bozek: By show of hands, who agrees that “Ghost Town” is the song that stands out on this album? Everybody’s hands are up, right? Least favorite is “Yikes.” It stresses me out.
Peters: The best song is the one where PartyNextDoor says that someday he’d like to lay down like God did on Sunday. The worst one is the one where Kanye earnestly asks his daughter to do karate instead of yoga so that she can better fend off boys. “As a father of a daughter” raps are the absolute corniest.
Kwak: Every song is a strong 6 or 7—there are no really great songs and no really terrible songs—but the two I keep coming back to are “All Mine” and “No Mistakes.” Yeah, the lyrics on “All Mine” are profane and juvenile, but so are some of my favorite Ye verses of all time. Let’s not pretend the dude was ever Kendrick. Charlie Wilson elevates “No Mistakes,” and I love Ye’s sneaky “Calm down you light skin” jab at Pusha’s rival at the end.
3. What’s the most surprising part about this project?
Charity: The emerging consensus of Kanye fans who insist that “Ghost Town,” an unsolicited ripoff of Fun.’s “Some Nights,” is an astounding, or even good, song.
Peters: 070 Shake subtly having the best “verse” on it.
Kane: The staleness. The only moment that sounds unique from the rest of Kanye’s discography is the hook on “All Mine,” and that says more about Valee’s originality than Kanye’s.
Bozek: No voicemail from Trump on the album! But in complete seriousness, 070 Shake’s feature.
Kwak: 070 Shake’s star-making “Ghost Town” outro was probably the most unexpected revelation, but I was also surprised that Kanye didn’t really go in-depth on any of his recent controversies. That’s a good thing. We can now fling “Ye vs. the People” into the sun and never, ever listen to or talk about it again.
James: The brevity of this project is the most surprising part. The Life of Pablo almost never ended, and now all of a sudden less is more to Kanye. I think Kanye was looking for a quick win after taking so many Ls this year.
Luckerson: That Kanye has now released three slapdash LPs in a row. The freewheeling brashness of Yeezus ended up being part of the appeal. As a messy survey of a legendary career, The Life of Pablo sort of worked. But this album feels way less polished, lyrically coherent, and sonically dynamic than those projects. I’m surprised that the perfectionist responsible for the arduous Twisted Fantasy recording sessions would put out something this scattershot.
Gruttadaro: That after “poop-di-scoopty,” there’s still a shred of the Old Kanye dwelling in there somewhere. That, in a lot of ways, is somehow also the most disappointing part about this project to me.
4. How do Kanye’s antics—the tweets, the hat, the TMZ interview—change the way you listen to this album, and all of his music?
Peters: I’m less inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt? Ordinarily, I’m looking for reasons to love a Kanye project, whereas this one had to argue a case for itself.
Charity: I have long argued that fans should take any given celebrity’s politics way less seriously, not more seriously. So, I don’t really care. Also—to be clear—Kanye’s “antics” were regressive long before he endorsed President Donald Trump. In several regards, Kanye has always been a loudly reactionary guy.
James: It changes everything. In the timeline of Kanye’s career, his Trump support is a dividing line—there’s Before Trump and After Trump. We’ve witnessed the ignorance and obliviousness of an isolated man in an ivory tower surrounded by yes men, and it not only colors the art he’s releasing in 2018 but the entire back catalog. Perhaps I’m still giving him too much credit by claiming that he’s oblivious rather than mean-spirited and recklessly insensitive. I’ve spent most of my life reciting Kanye’s words (aside from the occasional lyric about rectal vanity) and now that I’m vehemently opposed to some of them, I find myself reconsidering all of them.
Gruttadaro: His antics have turned each spin into a moral conundrum between the fan who wants to pretend that it’s still 2010 and the person who knows that the only way to truly punish Kanye for his behavior is to stop listening.
Bozek: I felt anxious listening to this, but in a different way; more nervous than excited. It made me listen almost cautiously, like I was watching a horror movie waiting for a jump scare.
Kane: I used to think Kanye had the potential to be profound, but his recent behavior has clarified just how gleefully uninformed he is. I don’t feel outraged about his comments, but I do feel like I can’t take what he says or does seriously anymore. He’s always had playful moments, but for the most part Kanye albums are supposed to be artistically weighty affairs, and I’m not buying it this time around.
Kwak: Nope. I listen to music in a very uncomplicated way. Kanye West didn’t represent my values before the furor, and he certainly doesn’t now. But I’ve always appreciated his emotional vulnerability.
Luckerson: The easiest way to square MAGA Kanye with The Old Kanye™ is to view him as a man who commoditizes “free thinking” as an aesthetic. Wearing polos and rapping about college put him outside conventional pop culture boundaries once upon a time. Endorsing Trump does the same thing today. Perhaps his entire career—the wired-jaw rapping, the Auto-Tuned wailing, the lily-white ballerinas, the reckless “Strange Fruit” sample, “[Slavery] sounds like a choice”—exists only to reinforce his own identity as the provocative outsider.
Through his endless controversies, the thing that has always saved Kanye is his ability to mythologize his own evolution in real time (never forget the premiere of “Runaway” at the 2010 VMAs was a self-aggrandizing non-apology masquerading as a mea culpa, and it was perfect). It’s the very core of his genius and the through line that has kept me enraptured for 14 years. But the fact he couldn’t or wouldn’t articulate the thinking behind his latest transformation on Ye diminishes him in the moment. I’m still working through what it means for his legacy.
5. What do you make of the Wyoming aspect of this whole project?
Gruttadaro: A message to all (aging) men: THE WOODS ARE NOT THAT DOPE.
Bozek: More like Why-oming, right?
Kwak: I thought it was an interesting choice of environment to debut a new project. I also thanked god that I no longer cover rap for a living.
Luckerson: I was ready for a bunch of campfire jams like “Only One.” “Ghost Town” should have been the most upbeat song on an album filled with weeping guitars and somber pianos.
James: I’ve always been a sucker for the romanticization of an album’s recording location. I think it adds context and character to an album when you make the location part of the conversation. If I had Kanye’s money and I made an album, I’d love to fly a ton of people out to a remote field, light some fires, and have a listening party. I’d like to do that even without an album of mine to play.
Charity: It’s hilarious watching Kanye and his fandom mythologize Jackson Hole—a ski resort—as some sort of rugged American Valhalla.
Kane: Wyoming gave us Ye and Hawaii gave us My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the quality of the albums correlates pretty strongly with how much you’d want to visit each of those states.
6. Is seven songs a good length for an album? Is it even an album?
Gruttadaro: What even is an album, bro, when you really think about it? Seriously though, a seven-song album is like if Michael Bay released 55 minutes of footage and called it a movie. Just because you call it a movie doesn’t make it a movie. (Ten songs remains the ideal length of an album.)
Peters: All else equal I think seven songs is an EP, but seven songs is a good album length if you can articulate an idea in that amount of time. For instance, seven songs felt the exact right length for the Pusha-T record. But for Ye, which is much more scattered, it seems simultaneously too long and not long enough.
Kane: Seven songs can definitely be an album, but each track has to justify its inclusion more than individual tracks do on longer albums. Ye sounds like seven songs randomly plucked from a 15-song album rather than a 15-song album pared down to its most essential tracks.
Bozek: I’d rather have a compact seven-song album to listen to than have to listen to a project multiple times just to remember maybe a quarter of the songs (see: SR3MM, most recently).
Kwak: If the one industry takeaway from the GOOD Music siege is that less is more, then it’ll be a positive trend moving forward. I still haven’t been able to get through Culture II or SR3MM, and I probably never will.
James: Seven songs is a good length for some albums and a bad length for others. There are no hard rules for how long an album should be aside from “Culture II was too long.”
7. Provide your Kanye album ranking.
Bozek: If MBDTF isn’t no. 1, I can’t relate.
James: I’d sooner publicly share my social security number than my Kanye album ranking.
1. Late Registration
2. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
3. The College Dropout
4. 808s & Heartbreak
7. The Life of Pablo
Gruttadaro: To make this simpler: MBDTF is first by a lot, and Ye is probably last by a lot.
Kwak: Everything started going left after MBDTF, so I’ll just say that Ye is the best since then, but still not touching what came before.
Luckerson: The College Dropout > My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy > Late Registration > Yeezus > 808s & Heartbreak > The Life of Pablo > Graduation > Ye
Peters: I refuse to rank the rest, but Ye is definitely at the bottom.
Charity: Why do people compulsively rank Kanye albums? It is the most tedious quarterly exercise in the history of the internet. The worst Kanye album is Ye. The best Kanye albums are the friends we made along the way.
8. Does Kanye West matter anymore?
Peters: He matters enough to get people to fly out to Wyoming to hear an album mere hours before it’s publicly available. Will something similar happen again? After this album? I’m not so sure.
Kane: Yes, but not nearly as much as he thinks he does, or as much as he could if he cut out the worst parts of his persona.
Kwak: C’mon, fam! In rap music, of course he does. You’re lying to yourself if you think otherwise.
Bozek: Even with (or maybe because of, who knows) his recent controversies, Ye was no. 1 on iTunes this weekend. It’s hard to see how Kanye, especially with the impact of his past projects, will ever not matter in one way or another.
James: Even after the fallout from his political statements, I don’t think you can argue against Kanye being a major influence on American culture. If you don’t care about him, though, I no longer care to try to convince you otherwise.
Luckerson: Kanye has been simultaneously chasing and fleeing celebrity since “All Falls Down,” but on Ye, it feels like the race is over. The fame monster devoured him. Without that tension, he’s an old man tweeting at the clouds.