As thoughtful and as personal as this may have been, it’s an example of execution not meeting the level of the idea. Not that it really matters to this review, but that’s essentially Kanye West in a nutshell.
Anyways, this album tries very hard to bend the rules of the genre and create a unique space for this personality and individualism to exist. The problem with that in this instance is that it jumps right to manipulating the big picture, surface level projection of itself without finding any engaging core in the musical substance. It’s more of a successful advertising tactic than it is a worthwhile musical experience. It’s very top heavy, with the weight of the work found in the abstract song forms, the short length itself, and the organization of lyrical emphasis. Those are aspects that hit listeners right away in musical experiences, and that’s seemingly where all the musical effort was put, so that the album may come across as something special and worthy of attention. Those aspects also hold no real musical quality to them.
This album crumbles into nothing memorable because it isn’t built on purposeful ingredients and substance within the medium it’s presented in, instead trying and failing to grow out of the medium, which is both rather self-centered and ill-sighted. The ambition should be found in the music itself and not placed anywhere else, such as personal image or cultural impact. Save that for the fashion industry. With the way the music is layered and presented here, everything hinges on the solo voice being able to captivate.
Unfortunately, as evidenced here, Kanye West is simply not a good rapper. His bars have obvious and annoying ABAB rhyme schemes and rhythm is a complete afterthought. What’s used as the memorable motivic factor, or the glue that gives things connection, is basic word repetition. From line to line, or even verse to verse, repetitions of words or phrases were used to beef up the storytelling and make it sound like intricate word play was at work, when it actually bogged down much of this main, exposed layer and sounded quite amateur.
Straight up, it’s just not entertaining to listen to. It sounds like an actor trying to convey heavy emotion through a poorly written script. Perhaps the music could have salvaged something on this end if the words were more poetic or used broader vocabulary, but it was like a double negative; the music tried to be very deep and introspective through small basic quips and little rhythmic development. It’s set up to captivate those who care more about getting an inside look on a singular person than they are experiencing the potential power of music.
This was saved from being an outrageous bore thanks to several decisions in the underlying chord/pedal tone structures that gave a decent amount of drive and direction to get by for a few minutes, like the song “Yikes” and “No Mistakes”. Those songs also showed relative success in two opposite timbral foundations and purposes, the former being a simple no-nonsense groove by an uplifting repeating synth, and the latter being more texturally diverse and spacious with additions of backup vocals and an acoustic band finding a calm, balanced sound.
While those were two highlights, they only reached a level of nonchalant basicness, and the timbre on the rest of the album was rather unsettling and awkward in leaving an uninteresting voice completely out in the open without much more than a slow beat and a quiet, underused piano. Nothing got as bad as the first track, “I Thought About Killing You”, which was just a mess of ugly vocals, uninteresting bass, and a late ordinary beat slapped on with no directional purpose.
I did enjoy the brevity, not because I just didn’t care for the music that much, but because it was one artistic decision to go against the grain that felt organic and well defining. I’ve always thought albums inherently flow better when longer than this due to it being a series of beginnings and endings, but if it’s all the artist has to say, or it’s all they have done and presentable, that’s perfectly fine. The shorter album could be an up and coming revolution. The work certainly has influential power, but remove the name from it, and it’s pretty lame all the way around. If you love the musician more than the music, I feel a bit sorry for you. Besides, I have yet to be convinced that Kanye West is a legitimate musician anyways. He’s an artist with big picture ideas, but this hasn’t been a fruitful role for him in a while; in fact, he’s been pretty awful. This could actually be the best thing he’s done as a rapper in 10 years or so, but it’s still not worth your time.