Kanye West on Thursday night released his first solo album in two years. It’s simply titled Ye.
The period between albums has been quite a roller coaster for the rapper, who cancelled his 2016 Saint Pablo tour following hospitalization and a mental breakdown. Then, several weeks ago, he returned to Twitter after an almost year-long hiatus by spouting mindfulness mantras (”when you first wake up don’t hop right on the phone or the internet”), before joining the pro-Trump internet and telling TMZ slavery sounded like “a choice.”
Many of his fans, and several of his famous friends, felt conflicted about it all. A bunch of people on Twitter said it was time to #CancelKanye. Some of that recent drama made its way into lyrics on Ye.
Here’s what to know about the album:
Your eyes are not deceiving you: The album indeed only contains seven tracks, which actually makes good on Kanye’s April promise. And it’s now available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal.
Artists featured on the album, the shortest in Kanye’s catalogue, include Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson.
About the listening party
Kanye flew a couple hundred industry insiders, musicians and random famous people to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for Thursday night’s listening party. Regular folks could watch a stream of it all on the WAV app.
The rapper apparently didn’t address the crowd, and Chris Rock did the honours of introducing the album: “Hip-hop is the first art form created by free black men, and no black man has taken more advantage of his freedom than Kanye West,” the comedian said.
Also there: wife Kim Kardashian (duh), Pusha-T, Kid Cudi, 2 Chainz (and his dog), Nas, Dame Dash, Jonah Hill and conservative commentator Candace Owens. (Kanye’s admiration of her, expressed via Twitter, sort of started all this recent Kanye controversy in the first place.)
“Artists are expected to be liberal, but there is an underground railroad of conservatives in Hollywood,” Owens told Pitchfork at the listening party. “People are worried they will get ex-communicated, and he made people understand that they aren’t alone.”
A whole lot of people get name-checked on this album, including:
— Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who alleges she had an affair with President Donald Trump. (”All Mine”)
— Tristan Thompson, who got caught up in a cheating scandal just days before Khloe Kardashian gave birth to their child (and spent Thursday night playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals). (”All Mine”)
— Russell Simmons, who, after Kanye’s comments about slavery to TMZ and to Charlamagne Tha God about a mental breakdown, said, “Kanye is suffering, he is unravelling in public.” Simmons exited his companies after being accused of sexual misconduct (though a lawsuit against him has been dropped).
On “Yikes,” Kanye raps: “Russell Simmons wanna pray for me too / I’ma pray for him ‘cause he got #MeToo’d. / Thinkin’ what if that happened to me too / Then I’m on E! News.”
Kanye also raps that being bipolar is his “superpower” and alludes to his previous admission of an opioid addiction (”Yikes”). The opening track, “I Thought About Killing You” gets into, well, that, but also his own suicidal thoughts.
On the fourth track, “Wouldn’t Leave,” Kanye addresses the fallout from his slavery comments: “Even if, publicly, I lack the empathy / I ain’t finna talk about it, ‘nother four centuries.”
Elsewhere in the song, he raps:
“I said, ‘Slavery a choice.’ They say, ‘How, Ye?’/ Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day.
“Now I’m on 50 blogs gettin’ 50 calls / 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.”
“Wouldn’t Leave,” he raps, is for men who have ever messed up and “embarrassed their girl,” or “embarrassed their wife,” and for the women who stayed during the best and worst. “She told you not to do that,” Kanye raps. “But you ain’t wanna listen, did you? Now you testing her loyalty.”
He’s no stranger to controversy for name-dropping famous people in his music after phone calls to clear the usage (cough, Taylor Swift, cough). So maybe that’s why “Violent Crimes,” which includes a Nicki Minaj reference, ends with what sounds like a phone call with Minaj rapping those same lines West had rapped earlier.
“I don’t know you saying it, but let ‘em hear this,” she then says, concluding the album.
The album cover
Back in April, Kanye tweeted that the album cover would feature a photo of plastic surgeon Jan Adams, who operated on the rapper’s mother the day before she died.
Instead, he went with a very last-minute option that included the phrase “I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome” in neon green.
Just last month, Kanye received blowback for the album cover of Pusha-T’s latest, Daytona, which he produced. Kanye had apparently paid $85,000 to license a photo of Whitney Houston’s drug-littered bathroom counter to use as the cover for that album, drawing condemnation from Houston’s estate and family.
“To do something for a publicity stunt to sell records, it’s absolutely disgusting,” Houston’s cousin Damon Elliott told People.