The title of Kanye West’s eighth studio album ye refers to “Ye,” Kanye’s nickname, but it can also be read as “ye,” the old English pronoun for “you,” which can mean either one person or a group of people. It’s an interesting ambiguity, one that gets directly to the heart of his recent work: it brings up the relationship between the singular and the plural, the alienation between the individual and the world, the friction at the intersection of Kanye and everyone else. This double meaning of “ye” asks a crucial question that’s haunted most of Western civilization’s Kanye discourse for the past decade: What’s the difference between Kanye and the rest of us?
In Kanye’s music, the Other has always appeared to him as something about himself that seems alien, untenable, out of control. If Yeezus was about experiencing the Other and The Life of Pablo about trying to grasp the Other, ye is about accepting the Other. His new album is, in other words, about reconciliation. It’s about trying to understand what kind of person he is and what kind of person he wants to be. It’s about parsing out what his real commitments are. In many ways, ye is a reckoning with the fact that there are people in Kanye’s life who do accept him: his wife, his children, and many of his fans. In a review of “Wouldn’t Leave” for Pitchfork, Jonah Bromwich said that Kanye should know that he doesn’t deserve Kim’s forgiveness. But what does Kanye need to be forgiven for? Having his own opinions? In a sense, he’s fulfilling and negating the image of the “free artist” that society presses on us every day in advertisements for liberal arts colleges and in AT&T commercials. Be yourself, they say! Find yourself! Get a scholarship! Subscribe! But don’t forget to read the rules and regulations — if you don’t meet them, your contract will be voided.
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