Asking anyone for a thoughtful review of Kanye West’s Ye, which came out this morning, is like asking Kanye for the key that will fix all the damage the U.S. is doing to itself and the rest of the world. If you’ve somehow made it till this year still imagining Kanye as some sort of savior, he should’ve disabused you of that since April: despite the American right’s overt hostility to people of color, he’s put on a MAGA hat, cozied up to bigot in chief Trump, and come out as a fan of right-wing commentator Candace Owens. I won’t pretend to know exactly what’s going on with Kanye, and the vulnerability he’s already displayed in his music convinced me years ago that he’s just a regular human. Nor will I pretend to know everything about Ye less than 12 hours after he flew a crop of journalists to Wyoming for a celebrity-stacked outdoor listening party in Jackson Hole.
On my first pass through Ye, I hit some potholes I don’t relish revisiting. The gratuitous Stormy Daniels reference on “All Mine,” in particular, reminds me of the shittiest aspects of Twitter, with people desperately trying to co-opt trending topics regardless of whether they have anything to add—it almost makes me feel sorry for peerless Chicago rapper and GOOD Music signee Valee, who’s also on the track. Ye features Kanye’s sui generis production, though he only occasionally manages to summon the otherworldly, atmosphere-shifting feel of his best work.
I imagine my impression of Ye will change after this is published. It’ll change after today, and after this year. But right now, Ye doesn’t feel as vital as much of his previous work—it’s missing that immediate gravitational pull. And that’s as much due to what Kanye has done in public as it is to what he’s recorded in private. It’s a lot to ask of a celebrity or musician to uphold the same values I hold dear, but I can acknowledge that and still find it tiring to read or revisit Kanye’s recent string of statements supporting a president whose long list of cruelties and bigotries include turning the rapper’s hometown into a scapegoat. And if it’s possible to untether that from the album before me, I haven’t managed it yet.