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Do the rapper/producer's raw honesty and still-fascinating artistry justify overlooking his more reprehensible traits?
Before being assigned to review it, I had decided I wouldn’t be listening to Ye by Kanye West.
I have seen virtually every tour stop he has made in Toronto since 2005’s Late Registration and have listened to and studied his records extensively, including 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which stands as one the finest albums released this century.
But somehow, through willful blindness, I have ignored his more reprehensible traits, including his rampant misogyny and ableism. And for what? Hot beats? Some witty raps? His rebelliousness, idiosyncrasy, and artistic vision? Was all of this really worth his clear douchebaggery?
Beyond the aforementioned attributes, West’s appeal is his raw honesty as fans, it often feels like we have an unmediated, direct line to his psyche, for better or for worse. But lately, it’s all been worse. West’s support for Trump (in such denial, I almost wrote “apparent support”) and damaging socio-political betrayals (“Slavery was a choice” he recently told TMZ) have rendered him a cultural write-off.
And so, with that said, I listen to Ye and find Kanye at his most open, raw, dark, sensitive and unhinged. The music is generally sparse, a mix of solitary beats and understated distortion that reflects the stillness and the dancing within his mind.
In his gospel-hip-hop mode of late, he proselytizes about the inevitability of death and addresses his own bipolar disorder by saying it’s not a disability, but a superpower. He raps about “titties” and a paranoia about being “Me Too’d,” but then he also praises his wife, Kim Kardashian West, for standing by him during his low points, and later, because they have a daughter, he attempts to repent for all of his objectification of women, hoping she avoids any perverts like her dad.
But does all of this fascinating, hypocritical, polemical substance amount to a great Kanye West record? At seven songs, there is a surprising amount to ponder if you can stomach your way into pressing play. Before doing so myself, I had to pause: his persona and statements had triggered a flicker of anxiety at the mere idea of hearing his disruptive voice. But his pain, on full display, is also still relatable.
Kanye West has always been a troll but there was once an empowering, heroic quality to his narcissism. As he struggles to find his footing in a strange new world, there is still merit in a work like Ye if you can somehow look past the self-destructive celebrity behind it.
Top Track: Violent Crimes
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