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Music Review: Kanye West's New Album: 'Ye'


I think it's safe to say Kanye West is one of the most celebrated rappers in hip-hop today. In recent months, though, he has been making headlines for things that don't have anything to do with music. He caught some intense backlash from fans for suggesting that, quote, "slavery was a choice," end quote. Some fans have also been angry that Kanye has been supporting President Trump. Today, we can bring the conversation back to music because Kanye has finished a new album, and he previewed it last night. It is called "Ye."


KANYE WEST: (Rapping) Oh, I got dirt on my name. I got white on my beard. I had debt on my books. It's been a shaky [expletive] year. Let me make this clear so all y'all see. I don't take advice from people that's less successful than me.

GREENE: All right. Rodney Carmichael from NPR Music has been listening to the record, and he's here with us to talk about it. Hi, Rodney.

RODNEY CARMICHAEL, BYLINE: Hey, David. How are you doing?

GREENE: I'm good. That sounds like Kanye, doesn't like any big departure from the Kanye we know, but it comes, you know, in what has been a pretty wild year for him. Does that tension and everything you see in the headlines, does it come across in the new music?

CARMICHAEL: Very much so. This music, these lyrics sound a lot like his tweets, you know, they've been kind of scattered. He runs through and name drops a lot of hot-button issues from Russell Simmons and his Me Too lawsuits to other things, his own mental health issues. It's a lot going on in this album. And this next song that we're going to hear is actually in reference to his wife's response to his really controversial comments about slavery.


WEST: (Rapping) I said slavery a choice. They said, how, Ye? Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day. Now I'm on 50 blogs, getting 50 calls. My wife calling, screaming, say we about 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.

GREENE: Wow. So he really takes it on - head-on - some of the stuff that's been really controversial. So what do you think? Do you like this music?

CARMICHAEL: Well, hey, I'm a real music journalist. I got to spend time with this music, David. It's a quick overnight thing. But I will tell you that it is very beautiful sounding music, kind of returns back to his old soul-sampling template. In terms of the sonics, it's hard to be mad at this album.

GREENE: Well, the new album, I guess, we're in a day where you don't just drop a record. I mean, stars look for some splashy, creative way to release a record. He held a massive listening party overnight in Jackson Hole, Wyo. What was that like?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah, and I actually got an invite.

GREENE: You did?

CARMICHAEL: Yes, I turned that invite down. You know, this was an all-expenses-paid trip for more than 100 journalists and radio people to come out and experience this almost kind of an old-school listening party, right. It's outside. There's a bonfire and big speakers. And Kanye and all of his invited guests, they had a big party with it.

GREENE: So I guess ethically you as a journalist decided you didn't want to go on an all-expenses paid...

CARMICHAEL: Exactly, kind of compromising.

GREENE: Well, I guess the last question is, I mean, do you think this album could win back some fans he's lost in recent months?

CARMICHAEL: So here's the thing. If you come to this album expecting rational explanations for a lot of the irrational stuff you feel like Kanye has been saying in the past month, you're going to be disappointed. If you come to this album expecting to hear beautiful music that you feel like will redeem him in terms of his abilities as a great producer, then you might be excited. But I think that this is going to be the most polarizing album of the year because there's this real odd dichotomy between this beautiful music and this messaging that, you know, is not going to sit well with a lot of people.

GREENE: Rodney Carmichael, I will let you get back to listening. Rodney writes about hip-hop for NPR Music. Thanks a lot.

CARMICHAEL: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he helped document the city's rise as rap's reigning capital for a decade while serving on staff as music editor, culture writer and senior writer for the defunct alt-weekly Creative Loafing.