On the cover of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, there is a photo of wedding party, a photo of a woman from behind, and the phrase “WHICH / ONE.” At the time of the album’s release, I saw this as some kind of absurd, aesthetic ‘Kanye stuff,’ but as time passed I realized what it meant. The wedding party was Kanye West the husband and father and the woman represented Kanye West the illustrious artist and celebrity. Thus, Kanye was attempting to decide to which he should devote himself. Which one? The family man or the man who does ‘Kanye Stuff?’ Ye is the brief, personal, and artful representation of the way this struggle to decide has affected Kanye West, rather than exploring the dichotomy as the prior record had.
“Wouldn’t Leave” is the most clear encapsulation of this struggle. There’s no need to remind anybody of the sheer amount of stupid things Kanye West has done, but it’s for that familiarity with Kanye West’s antics that it becomes so interesting to hear how it impacts his personal life. The track is a heartfelt ode to his wife, and the sincerity of Kanye’s feelings on this song are part of a pattern of deeper introspection than anything we’ve seen from the Chicago native in the past few years. “Ghost Town” and “Violent Crimes” are a continuation of this pattern. The former is possibly the most poetic Kanye has come through since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, communicating this struggle to earn the love of both his family and the public while also expressing himself the way he does. It’s a beautiful song accompanied by well-executed vocals from Kid Cudi, John Legend, and 070 Shake. The production also suggests Kanye West’s rebirth as a producer with help from Mike Dean, Benny Blanco, and Francis and The Lights. “Violent Crimes” is perhaps the sweetest piece of music Kanye West has created since “Hey Mama.” It sounds overprotective and overbearing, but it’s clear that this is the result of Kanye’s love for his daughter and this deeper insecurity about his limitations as a father. That bar courtesy of Nicki Minaj is rather impressive as well.
However, this album is just as much about Kanye West’s demons as it is his angels. The spoken word poetry of “I Thought about Killing You” reminds you of this. Kanye bounces back and forth between self-love and self-destruction, a verbal back and forth which he clearly intends as a metaphorical representation of his Bipolar disorder. Kanye becomes skilled at these musical interpretations of his mental space, particularly in the song “Yikes.” The song is so off the wall, as Kanye comes in with a somber tone to his voice, describing how his mental illness affects his outlook on himself, only to break away into an aggressive set of brag-rap bars that also manage to contain moments of personal tragedy and fear. It’s impressive the way he is able to so clearly communicate the erraticness of his own mind. That’s his superpower. He’s a superhero. AH!!
Amazingly, even at his most introspective, Kanye finds time to do ‘Kanye Stuff.’ “All Mine” is the prime example of this, as it deals with infidelity in the most Kanye way possible, name dropping famous men in cheating scandals and dropping some funnier bars about sex. It’s a catchier moment on the record, and in a way a needed break from the heavier subject matter. “No Mistakes” serves much the same purpose despite being a little more forgettable. It’s a ray sunshine though, featuring a very grateful Kanye to those who stood by him. That perfectly rounds out the twenty-four powerful minutes of ye, a Kanye record with somehow more Kanye and less Kanye at the same time. It’s all killer, no filler.