By Alexzia Shobe
Before delving into the album, we need to address the artist. Kanye West is one of the most prominent, innovative, and brilliant musicians Hip Hop has ever known. That is a fact, not an opinion, and if you don’t know the numbers are all available online (record sales, awards, the 21 Grammys he’s probably got stuffed in a broom closet, etc). No matter how much he’s wildin’ out, or whatever crazy discombobulated nonsense falls out of his mouth, no one can take that away from him.
Kanye has always been first and foremost concerned with being different and the best. He has an insane work ethic. We know this because in 2002 Kanye was in a nearly-fatal car accident which resulted in him needing reconstructive surgery on his jaw, but that didn’t slow down his grind in the slightest. He wrote and recorded his hit single ‘Through the Wire’ with his jaw wired shut! Then went on to complete his legendary album The College Dropout from his bedroom while in recovery. That album dropped in 2004, which was the era of the pink polo. Kanye was rocking pink polos in 2004, before we were all so P.C., back when everyone was calling everything gay! He did it because no one else was, and it got people’s attention. Kanye flipped a style that was seen as hyper-feminine and corny and made it one of the hottest trends in that time.
The “old Kanye” was a revolutionary artist preserving the old-school flow of hip hop and enhancing our culture. We lost that Kanye when he lost his mother, got into that car accident, and began to spiral out of control due to his mental illness (he wasn’t diagnosed or treated with bipolar disorder until the age of 39 in 2017). The Kanye we see today may not be the same Kanye we fell in love with, but he’s the man who has evolved from that point and who has persevered through years of hardship.
Ye allows us to see him raw and unfiltered. Kanye had been working on an album for a year, but he scrapped it a month before it was supposed to be released and completely reworked it. When asked why he would start all over and rush himself like that he said, “I wanted to match the energy the universe was giving to me.” Kanye reduced the number of songs on the album to seven, because seven is a number that represents completion and is recognized as a holy number: the Book of Genesis says that Man was created on the 6th day, but God rested on the 7th. The title of the album also had religious significance; “ye” is the most commonly used word in the Bible. In Biblical context, “ye” means “you,” so the album’s focus shifts from Kanye, who is one of a kind, to “ye” which is a reflection of all of us as people.
The first song on Ye is named “I Thought About Killing You.” Kanye does not ease us into this album, he shoves us straight into the depths of his dark mentality. He confesses to thinking about killing someone he loves and having considered suicide. It’s unclear whether he was talking about his wife Kim Kardashian West, Jay-Z, or someone else, but that’s not the point. The point of this song is not to internalize your dark thoughts. When you internalize your feelings, they just worsen and grow more dangerous, and Kanye faces that reality. He also mentions vaguely that he does cocaine, which will not surprise anyone who knows anything about bipolar disorder. Many people with this disorder resort to substance abuse in attempts to soothe their emotional turmoil. Cocaine often triggers manic episodes in bipolar users, just as often followed quickly by deep depression and psychotic symptoms.
“Yikes” displays more of Kanye’s vices: the psychedelic drugs 2C-B and DMT, and of course, women. He is clearly self-medicating, and the song’s hook seems to be a warning to himself that things could get much worse if he does not get the professional help that he needs. Women are just as easily available as drugs and he shamelessly references cheating on Kim, “Told my wife I’ve never seen her. After I hit it, bye Felicia, that’s the way that I’ma leave it.” Kim may not be willing to put up with his chaotic behavior, but Kanye points out that there are plenty of girls who will take him on or off meds. Kanye begins to talk in third person after his last verse, which was not something he had written into the song. He ends this track by saying bipolar isn’t an illness, it’s his superpower, and he is a superhero. Seeing as mania does allow him to stay up, energized, and uniquely creative for long periods of time, he has a point. It sets him apart from other artists and feeds his work, but as much as it has the potential to be a “superpower,” it can be his kryptonite.
When listening to “All Mine,” you may think that it’s just a radio hit with a dope beat and the same sexual messages every other rapper is putting out. Nope! Kanye has never just made hits for radio; his songs have messages that speak to his life and our society as he sees it. The line, “Get to rubbin’ on my lamp, get the genie out the bottle” in the chorus reflects the fact that many naïve young women believe that sleeping with rich celebrities can make their dreams come true. Influential men will often take advantage and entice women to have sexual relations with them via promises of fame and fortune. After listening to this album, it’s safe to say Kanye has cheated on Kim several times, and he understands the prevalence of men cheating on women in our society which he brings up in the line, “All these thots on Christian Mingle, almost what got Tristan single. If you don’t ball like him or Kobe, guarantee that bitch gonna leave you.” He brings up a good point that cheating is an unacceptable and unforgivable transgression to most women, but if you have a $15.3 million salary like Tristan Thompson, it will be much easier for a woman to forgive you.
“Wouldn’t Leave” pays homage to Kim, thanking her in his own way for standing by him through the good and the bad. Everyone in America has an opinion on the Kardashians, but no matter how fake you may think they are, there is no disputing that Kim is a great wife to her husband. If she was with Kanye for money or fame, she would have left him long ago. Kanye was $53 million in debt in 2016, and recently his social status has taken a huge hit due to the several controversial remarks he has made, most notably his comment that slavery seemed to be a choice. He addresses the impact the backlash from that comment had on his wife on this track, “My wife callin’, screamin’, say we ’bout to lose it all. Had to calm her down ’cause she couldn’t breathe. Told her she could leave me now, but she wouldn’t leave.” That’s real love, not reality TV!
In the chorus Kanye references two other influential women in his life, his mother and his daughter, “Butterfly in my wrist, you make pretty women out of my skin.” This most likely references the Butterfly Project and tattoos of the birth dates of his daughter and deceased mother that are on each of his wrists. The Butterfly Project encourages people to draw a butterfly on their wrists when they feel like cutting themselves and name the butterfly after a loved one, and if you cut, the butterfly dies. Kanye has publicly confessed multiple times to having suicidal thoughts. He ends this song with the line, “Through the best times, through the worst times, this is for you,” which is a perfect transition into the next track. Kanye has always been incredible at plotting out his albums.
“No Mistakes” touches on the beef between Drake and Pusha T, and yet again his unwavering love for his wife. Combining those topics doesn’t make much sense, but the tune flows really well. The opening lines are “Believe it or not, make no mistake girl I still love you.” Even though Kanye has cheated on his wife multiple times and repeatedly ignored Kim’s advice regarding his messages to the masses, he loves her unreservedly. He acknowledges that he’s had a rough year and been on a low, but he’s on his way up again. Then Kanye throws a few lines Drake’s way assuring that “Ain’t no love lost, but the gloves off.” Pusha T isn’t holding back any punches, and neither is Kanye; they go further into the feud on their track “What Would Meek Do” on Pusha T’s album Daytona. This song ends with Kanye calling out, “Calm down you lightskin!”
“Ghost Town” touches on Kanye’s personal aspirations and his struggles. He starts the track off with PARTYNEXTDOOR and Shirley Ann Lee singing, “Someday I’ll, I wanna wear a starry crown. Someday, someday, someday, I wanna lay down like God did on Sunday.” Kanye wants to be remembered forever like Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. He hopes to be immortalized through his music, not his mistakes. When Kid Cudi sings the chorus, “I’ve been trying to make you love me, but everything I try just takes you further from me,” it opens itself to two popular interpretations. Kanye could be addressing his fans, and perhaps even society as a whole. One of his downfalls is the need to be liked and admired. Many people heard this line and believe it was written by Kanye for Kanye, but I disagree with this theory since Kanye has always been very open about the fact that he loves himself above all others. Although no one loves Kanye like Kanye, he still experiences the dark phases of depression that come with bipolar disorder. He gives us a glimpse of this with the lines, “Baby don’t you bet it all on a pack of Fentanyl,” and, “I put my hand on a stove to see if I still bleed, yeah, and nothing hurts anymore. I feel kinda free.” Fentanyl is the prescribed drug Kanye was taking, and eventually became addicted to, after being hospitalized in 2016. The legendary musician Prince and the popular Swedish-American rapper Lil Peep both overdosed on it. Many people suffering from depression resort to drug abuse or self-harm to feel something other than the numbness that depression can cause.
The grand finale of this album is “Violent Crimes.” The first minute and ten seconds is the intro and chorus performed by 070 Shake. The intro’s tone creates a soothing lullaby vibe, fitting for a song about his love and worry for his daughters Chicago and North. In this story we shift from the prevalent “you” in this album and now hear Kanye address “she.” He shifts from introspection to protectively cautioning his daughters to the dangers of our man-ruled world. He adamantly warns the listener that men are savages, pimps, players, and pervs. He admits to knowing this because he used to treat women disrespectfully too, until he had daughters of his own, and that is another key point in this song illustrated by multiple lines. Kanye is haunted by his past and has trouble coming to terms with the way he treated women in the past, and we are reminded that he is a man who was raised up to be a God-fearing Christian in the line, “Father forgive me, I’m scared of the karma. ‘Cause now I see women as somethin’ to nurture, not somethin’ to conquer.” Kanye has changed, but that does not change his past. He has disrespected and mistreated women, so even now that he has changed his ways he will still be a sinner and a hypocrite. This concern is shown in the line, “But how you the devil rebukin’ the sin?” Kanye has had a tumultuous past, and present, but he is trying to be a good father and husband. That isn’t something that comes easily to anyone, let alone someone suffering from a mental illness, so I commend him for constantly striving for growth.
After reading this, you may be wondering why you should care. The demonization and ignorance surrounding mental health and disorders is a toxic aspect of our society. If a man like Kanye gets labeled as crazy and an outcast, you can only imagine how a normal civilian will be treated if they are suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness. Rather than write people off, we should be trying to support and help each other, so we can improve our community as a whole.
Kanye’s record sales are still doing extremely well, so we haven’t completely given up on him. He explained this best in his early June 2018 interview with Big Boy when he said, “The reason the world won’t let me go is because I’m a family member. They might disagree with me on some things, but I’m their family.”
Alexzia Shobe is a screenwriter and journalist. Her writing has also appeared in The New School Free Press. Follow her on Instagram at @lexzi97.