Def Jam Records
Whatever you think about Kanye West, he’s always made interesting art at the end of the day. After a year full of controversy for West, he leads his album by addressing many of his statements while delivering his typically hilarious and thoughtful lyricism. Where the album often falls flat however is in the inconsistent backing tracks, that can feel like filler for Kanye’s vocals at their most bland. While West is still showing a fearless mix of production and wit, it just doesn’t shine as consistently or as surprisingly as many of his previous albums. And if you were hoping for an updated take on the baffling verse of “Lift Yourself,” you’ll be waiting for some time coming.
Though he often mixes a sense of grandeur in his writing, Kanye gets very direct on ” I Thought About Killing.” His murderous ramblings in the track are often just as comical as they can be haunting and at times feel too honest to be innocent. There’s a beauty to the warped vocal sample that loops behind him, and one that gives his random singing breaks a real sense of spontaneity. Probably the most brilliant part of the song is when West elaborates on his toolset as a lyricist, and talks about trying to relate murder to a mainstream crowd. Unfortunately the later shifts in tone in the track just don’t match the level of lyricism around them at all.
Through ominous backing tracks, “Yikes” comes in like a furious battle cry as Kanye reflects on how out of control he can get. Next to his track about killing someone there’s a meta feeling to it, but one that feels more relevant to his recent controversial friendship with Donald Trump. As blown out as much of the bass is, much of the production is only interesting in its small details rather than as whole. All things considered however, it is pretty awesome to see West framing his bipolar “disorder” into a superpower and valuing what makes him unique.
If you have the patience to hold through “All Mine” the track’s overtly soft tones slowly ramp up into something abrasive and memorable. The real meat of the track however is Kanye’s dense raps, that tie his own family into verses that are so clever that you’ll probably need to Google a lot just to realize where Kanye’s coming from. At the same time, the song’s creepy falsetto feels mostly too vulgar while somehow fitting medulla oblongata into a rap. As the production gets more and more in-your-face West’s wordplay goes as far as to play on how his sexual urges actually helps him multi-task.
The most controversial track on the record however will likely be “Wouldn’t Leave” where West tackles all the backlash his recent outlandish comments. As intriguing as it is for West to offer the view of freedom of expression, he also suggests he could have been way worse. Interestingly however this track offers a much heartier track full of booming bass and tempered drums, which leave room for the boisterous vocals to rise with religious grandeur. However, this make’s the mumble -heavy delivery of Jeremih’s verse bafflingly indiscernible, especially considering the voice behind them. As heartwarming as Kanye’s message to the partners of crazy men is as the track closes out, it once again feels quite secondary to what he’s said.
A lush vintage piano roars through “No Mistakes” where Kanye decides to look back on his career in strange spirals of rhythm. The track takes a creepy turn into dark verses full of mini samples, as West really keeps listeners on their toes. While the return the chorus is even more satisfying with all these shifts, the track does feel a little half-baked in the scheme of West’s usual writing.
However something like “Ghost Town” proves the manic beauty that Kanye can bring when he is firing on all cylinders. Through a warm R&B sample we see all of West’s conflicting personalities played by Kid Cudi, 070 Shake and West himself. After Kid Cudi’s depressive side to West, Kanye himself rides the track’s uplifting energy as he brings a level-headed look at success with some truly brilliant wordplay. Through the soaring guitar lines however it’s 070 Shake’s verses that really stand out as West’s manic side is shown in all its frantic glory. This ballistic kind of production within the context of the song’s main hooks creates a surprisingly potent climax for a track with a gripping sense of dynamics.
The soft pop energy of “Violent Crimes” lets Dej Loaf’s verses open the song with a mediating sensibility. This creates a nice transition as West describes his progressively shifting views on women, that can be summed up when he hopes his daughter will “Be like Nicki, but not having menages.” As he fears his own past for his children’s sake it does feel nice to hear Minaj herself closing the track to show the humanity behind what West is saying.
Words by Owen Maxwell