The second track, “Yikes,” shouts out The Life of Pablo on the chorus with the slightly autotuned vocals and deep wavering synths, but the verse evokes a vibe closer to the production on DAYTONA. At its core, it’s a direct and bombastic pop-rap banger, and I enjoy the charisma that Kanye gives his trap rap-derived style, although the insistent “ay” sample gets pretty obnoxious by the end of the song. The song serves as a paradigm of the double-edged sword that this album represents through its ability to have that classic Kanye charisma, yet fall short in concept and execution.
This brings us to one of the worst moments on the album with “All Mine”, featuring a ludicrously annoying Ty Dolla $ign feature on the chorus, attempted to be made up for by some solid bouncy, bassy production on Ye‘s admittedly funny verses. “Wouldn’t Leave” is a more introspective cut, again with a sound that calls back to The Life Of Pablo with a sparse, moonlit nocturnal beat. It backs the lyrics fantastically about the pressures of Kanye’s life, the numerous people that depend on him, and his uncertainty about the existence of an afterlife. The song does a solid job of conveying his financial struggles, calling back to when he announced that he was around $50 million in debt in 2016. While it might be easy to belittle such a struggle as millionaires boo-hooing in their mansions, the sentiment is captured quite realistically and relatably, ending the track with Kanye shouting out women that stick by their man through thick and thin even when the money gets tight.
After that cut comes “No Mistakes”, a grander sounding song with a really lush, soulful beat that calls back to the days of Graduation, but the cut is way too short and just feels unrealized. It could’ve easily been fleshed out a lot more with a bridge with a nice key change, or some substantial lyrics that dive further into Kanye’s bittersweet past instead of the really meandering, unfocused verse that is presented. This song makes way for easily the most experimental cut here, “Ghost Town”. The track opens with a 70’s soul-turned 2010’s alt-R&B monologue from PARTYNEXTDOOR, leading into some melodramatic, throaty singing from Kid Cudi. The guitar samples on the track are well-produced, and the female vocals cut right to the listener’s core with a strong, androgynous tone, but Cudi‘s sections are agonizingly bad. It’s really a wonder how such an ear-piercing, obviously off-key vocal got cleared. It’s miserable, and the timing of the female vocals on the back end, while I love the lyrics, is completely clunky and distasteful, which is a shame.
The record ends off with “Violent Crimes”, a somber closer with a fantastic meditative beat that backs Ye‘s detailed, vivid lyricism. G.O.O.D. Music signee 070 Shake takes on the intro and chorus, and works smartly to simultaneously promote the song’s forlorn tone as well as offer inspiration and hope for a better future. All in all it’s probably the best song on the album at nailing the record’s intent, but even with that and the intriguing songwriting credit from Kevin Parker, the Nicki Minaj segment was completely unnecessary and added nothing to the album. It actually leaves a bitter taste in the listener’s mouth, that such a momentous and introspective song, and the closer to the whole album no less, would end off after the incredible closing lyrics “Reality’s upon us, colors drippin’ off” with such a vapid and pointless voicemail. It really just leaves the album off with a giant question mark, a blemish on an otherwise really well-executed closer.
Overall there are certainly gems here, but the album feels extremely rushed, maybe even a bit forced in its worse moments, and could’ve been a much stronger effort given a more patient schedule of release with more time to smooth out the cracks. It’s really a shame, because a lot of the fantastic, ingenious moments on this album are instantly muddied minutes, sometimes even seconds, later by terrible ideas on the same song, making each cut an inconsistent and wholly unsatisfactory listen. It’s a nice trinket for devoted Kanye fans to get the slightest glimpse of the man behind the mirror, but outside of that and some flashes of genius there’s not much to take away from this. It’s too messy, too inconsistent, and the album’s concept, with it’s muddy, shallow lyrical approach, is wasted potential. Could it be seen as Kanye‘s point, to make such a thrown together album without thinking about it or hesitating to really put his true self out there? As with most things about Kanye West we’ll never know, even if he said it himself. But ultimately the true bipolarity of this album lies not in its questionable sentimentality but rather in its unwavering inconsistency.