Is it safe to comment on the totality of Kanye’s summer yet?
He originally announced five consecutive albums, so you’d think it would’ve been safe to start discussing their value as a whole after the release of the fifth, Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.
And look at that, it would’ve been!
But after the number of surprises contained on these collections seemingly around every turn, I half-expected another surprise package to arrive in my streaming stocking at some point over the last few weeks.
Alas, it was not to be, even though the last ended on a (musical) note that would’ve resulted in an even superior outing.
Upon further re-listens, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to rank all five albums. They each boast individual strengths, none more impressive than the others; whichever you prefer will probably be based on what mood you’re in, and will thus change. And that’s why they’re the most remarkable achievement in music of 2018.
But in my current mood, I’d probably rank them like so:
Kanye’s solo enterprise is so low because, when comparing albums of comparable quality, I’ll usually go with the one I can dance to. ye’s aspirations are not meant to be evaluated within such conventional parameters, but so it goes.
Also, his +1 adventures constitute his ideal arrangement: letting him primarily rely on his greatest strength — producing — while popping in now and again with a verse, the perfect dose of his immediately-flavorful musical persona. When allowed to dominate a track, his vocals can become cornily overbearing in both sound and substance, boasting too much flavor (also, also, flow ain’t his strong suit).
As much as I love to wax poetic regarding the many layers of potential meaning underneath Kanye’s artistic antics — which are by no means confined to his actual art — he’s best when not heard, i.e. when he’s sitting behind the mixer, not rapping. His wordless artistry contains multitudes often forsaken by his shallow lyrics. Some artists just excel in certain mediums; his inferior rapping in no way diminishes the otherworldly level of his producing acumen.
Kid Cudi’s soundtracked sexy times ever since he broke onto the scene, and KIDS SEE GHOSTS would be another notch in the sensual belt of his smooth, sultry, dulcet tonal flow…if not for the profound unsexiness of Kanye’s voice; to the latter’s credit, his art is so expansive that his very being now comes with too many associations that are many things, but being a turn-on is not one of them.
Since it seems like he’s contemplated every aspect of his 2018 output, every component of his artistry can be interpreted for intentional meaning. As such, it can’t be a coincidence that the titles of his four “guest” albums are capitalized while his solo venture went with lower-case, even the first letter!
Theory: it’s an implicit suggestion that crafting an identity for someone else — what else is an album title but an description of its identity — is easier than finding your own, a theme backed up by the identity-questioning artwork that adorns ye, not to mention in practically all of its lyrics. “Bi-Polar” suggests a duality, and is this split-identity referring to his public and private self? Is there a way to access the private through the public, including through their art? And how can we know an artist, or anyone famous, for sure if they’re not sure they even know themselves? Since most artists intrinsically define themselves through having an audience — can there be art without an audience? — doesn’t the audience, specifically our perceptions, affect an artists’s identity? The audience’s identities become intertwined with the artist’s. As such, it’s understandable for an artist to lose their sense of self, since so much of it is tied up in their audience’s unknowable conceptions.
That’s one of the many reasons Kanye may be the 21st century’s Andy Kaufman, without even necessarily needing to know it, or even be consciously playing the part. Because when you’re aware that you can’t even know yourself, every behavior becomes a sort of performance. If truth and authenticity are the opposite of illusion, and if we do not contain a truly authentic self, then every identity we shuffle through, based on environment and context, becomes a sort of performance. We choose who to be; we choose what script to play today.
All of this can be true without being THE truth.