Westworld: ‘Ye’ better than an A

2018 release an incredible experiment in minimalism and intimate songwriting

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Braden Hajer, Copy Editor & Columnist

TL;DR

“Ye” is an album that I’ve always loved but realized I somehow managed to underrate it regardless. It’s uniquely personal and a more subtle masterpiece than some other projects of his. I’ve realized writing and listening to it once again that it needed to be moved to S-tier, so it has been. Its succinctness is breathtaking, its production truly as good as it gets. It really is a stunning work.

Rating: upgraded to S (superior) after an initial A rating

Favorite Tracks: “I Thought About Killing You,” “Wouldn’t Leave,” “Ghost Town,” “Violent Crimes”

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“ye” was my first ever Kanye album. I actually listened to it upon its release, a surefire sign we’re quite close to the present. I’m sure all of you remember the  2018 “drama” surrounding West when this project dropped as well as I do  — the “slavery is a choice” comment, calls to abolish the 13th Amendment, etc.

And it’s within perhaps his darkest hour that Kanye West gave us one of his finest projects. Somehow, he managed to give us a thematically brilliant, consistent yet varied album with some of his absolutely finest production, two of his best tracks ever AND his best verse ever… on a 7 song, 23-minute album. To create an album with more punch than his 70 minute albums in a third of the length is one of the most astonishing feats of refined minimalism I’ve ever seen.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. “ye” is Kanye West’s most intimate project. It’s the most explicit look into his world and mindset he’s ever created, a time capsule to remember an irreplaceable and dark moment in his life. He directly references the aforementioned comments in his lyrics. The emotional rawness present on this album is unforgettable and critical to the experience.

Similarly, the album’s structure clearly reflects the album cover, which reads “I hate being Bi-Polar/It’s awesome.” The first three tracks contain darker instrumentals, while the following three have much lighter, grander instrumentation, with the final track wrapping it all together. This thematic decision gives “ye” a sense of direction that makes such a short album feel like a much bigger, longer project.

“I Thought About Killing You” is my favorite opening track to any Kanye West project, and it isn’t particularly close. The instrumental is ethereal and haunting, chilling yet fluid. It serves as the perfect backdrop to Kanye’s solemn, evocative, explicit and truly poetic lyricism. To transcribe it would suck the impact out of the words like a Dyson.

Kanye’s production elevates this poem to an opus. Interjections of humming in between certain lines adds a level of asymmetry and makes the perfectly-rhythmic beat stagger in its cadence. The sudden and continuous lowering of his voice as he says “But sometimes I think really bad things/Really, really, really bad things” adds to his words a crushing weight.

Eventually, he starts actually rapping. The bass comes in, though it does little to lighten the mood as West speaks of dying too young, going numb, losing his voice from screaming and any other number of disturbed thoughts. Then, suddenly, the instrumental completely switches to something indescribable but tonally equivalent to before. It didn’t have to be done, but it adds a certain crestfallen energy to the track that can only ever be felt.

“I Thought About Killing You” moves to “Yikes,” a much more energetic and less disturbed track. It’s far from happy but it has an actual beat and bars are spit. It’s an empowering anthem, but to one man alone  — West himself. As he says at the end, “I’m a superhero! Aaaaaaaaaagh!” It’s my least favorite track on the album but it definitely still slaps. It just stands out the least across the tracklist.

Following it is “All Mine,” a song that’s pretty much just bonkers. The instrumentation is extremely minimalistic, which is certainly not a bad thing. The chorus is pretty much unintelligible without the lyrics open, but its delivery and flow is unmistakable and it somehow manages to be unnecessarily catchy anyways. I have no idea how they did it.

Lyrically, the song is extremely sexual. It’s also hilarious, but I’d probably get suspended for quoting a single line. The second verse has this crazy percussive sound that almost sounds like a vocal sample but I really can’t pinpoint exactly what’s going on. It adds a great energy to the verse though and makes the song have a feeling of evolution to it.

After this point, “ye” does a complete 180. Where before it was raw and dark, it now becomes unapologetically beautiful. I’ve thrown around that word quite a bit across all these reviews (it’s a lot of words to not repeat myself eventually), but I’ve perhaps never meant it more sincerely than right here.

The first track in this second leg is “Wouldn’t Leave,” a song that subtly has Kanye’s best production of all time. If you can manage to pull your attention away from the gorgeous chorus and Kanye’s emotional lyricism to pay attention to the unbelievable intricacies of the song’s musical bed, you’re in for a treat. There is so much happening across this track, most of it you only ever feel and don’t explicitly notice.

As a transition out of the first half, “Wouldn’t Leave” cannot be topped. From the very first line of “I don’t feel that she’s mine enough,” you can sense the complete change of attitude and approach, one that manages to be both significant and logical. The second round of the chorus is purely angelic, from the powerful vocals and harmonies to the aforementioned phenomenal production. “Wouldn’t Leave” is a quiet masterpiece, tranquil yet enthralling.

“No Mistakes” is great for all of the same reasons as “Wouldn’t Leave,” though it’s a much more energetic and grand song. The chorus is catchy and powerful, Kanye’s verse equally so. 

In the second half of the song, the instruments cut completely out before slowly beginning to build back up. The off-kilter bass line and vocal sample match against the metronome-like piano to create an ever-so-slightly disorientating but mostly anticipation-building experience that creates the perfect lead up into the soaring second rendition of the chorus. As great as “No Mistakes” is though, it’s about to be completely overshadowed.

“Ghost Town” is easily a five star Kanye West song. It legitimately gives me goosebumps listening to it. It’s the climax of the album, and I really don’t know how to begin. Lyrically, it’s haunting yet disgustingly-catchy. But really, it’s the performance of these words that makes them so iconic in my mind. PARTYNEXTDOOR’s slimy performance of the opening verse contrasts against the accented electric guitar in a remarkable way. Immediately following is Kid Cudi’s chorus, which is simply delivered masterfully. The line “But everything I try” is delivered with a purposeful, incredible dissonance that cannot be mimicked. 

That’s all well and good, but the final two minutes of this song, led by 070 Shake’s vocals, is my favorite section of any Kanye West track. This is the goosebumps moment. I tried writing this whole big section where I analyzed all of the sublime decisions and moments, but I had a “Runaway” moment where I realized… It’s majesty I cannot verbalize. 

While reviewing Kanye West’s “ye,” Braden Hajer decided the project was being undersold, resulting in this updated chart that elevates “ye” from an A to an S rating. Graphic by Braden Hajer

One thing I will say about it is about the theory. To not get too deep into it, 070 Shake’s melody never actually resolves musically. The song’s in F, but the melody ends on an A. It’s an amazing decision that thematically makes sense  — it reflects the seemingly unresolvable torment of Kanye West’s mind. You wouldn’t ever notice it, but it’s decisions like these that make “ye” such a special project.

And somehow, Kanye manages to follow it with a song that’s easily top three. “Violent Crimes” is a breathtaking conclusion to a breathtaking album. The instrumentation is gripping, from its tender pads to its minimal, soft percussion to the whimpering piano. The chorus is lyrically catchy yet melancholy, musically enthralling and beautiful.  

“Violent Crimes” also has the best Kanye West verse of all time. It’s the only one where I know almost all of the lyrics to heart. It’s the most personal moment on his most personal album, brutally honest and self-aware. The flow, delivery, lyricism, emotions… It’s almost too perfect.

And that album’s 23 minutes long. How Kanye managed to pull off such a miracle is truly beyond me. For the first time in this series, I’ve realized I need to change my tier list. “Ye” deserves, and frankly demands, an S-tier ranking.

With this personal interlude past him, Kanye’s ready to dive headfirst back into the Wack Zone. Come back next time for my review of “Kids See Ghosts.” And tell me what you think about “ye” on Twitter. Do you agree that this is among his greatest works? Find me @bhajerCT or @centraltimes to let me know. Use the hashtag #Kanyewestworld.

Happy Listening!

Audio and video clips contain explicit content and are property of Universal Music Group, 2018.