On ‘Daytona’ and ‘Ye,’ Kanye West Proves the Strengths (and Limitations) of a Short Album
At first, Pusha-T wasn’t on board with the idea. Kanye West pitched him on a series of albums from their artists on G.O.O.D. Music: An album every week, for five weeks, each with only seven tracks. Pusha’s would be the first to be released, and the seven track limit would mean cutting songs that were ready to go for King Push, his long-awaited follow-up to 2015’s King Push — Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. But the idea was simple: “I think, in seven songs, you can get everything you want off, and we can have the most concise, strongest project ever,” is what Kanye told Pusha, according to a recent interview with New York Magazine. “Oh, I’m the guinea pig?” Pusha recalled.
The gambit worked. Last Friday, Pusha-T released Daytona, a tightly wound piece of lyricism over seven of West’s best beats this side of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Since its release, it’s been hailed as the sharpest version of Pusha-T to date, his best work (at least as a solo artist), and likely the best rap album to be released so far this year. It contains two decades of continually sharpened skills that, due to its short runtime, are honed to a devilish point. By jettisoning any flourishes, anything unnecessary at all, Daytona is an artistic statement boiled down to its purest distillation, and feels longer than its tracklist suggests. “I was very wrong about the seven not being enough,” Pusha went on to tell New York.
If Daytona feels like the platonic ideal of a laser-focused statement album, Kanye West’s seven-track solo effort Ye – which was livestreamed last night and released this morning – feels like the opposite. It’s a stream of consciousness exercise rather than precisely weighed storytelling. Daytona sounds like it took 20 years to make; it’s clear Ye was made in the past month. When it occasionally touches on real world events, Ye is a light apologia for his controversial, Donald Trump-courting run-up to this release, an attempt at explaining himself and disclaiming his critics, often in the same breath. At just 23 minutes, it not only feels like Kanye’s shortest album (it’s about half the length of Yeezus), but his slightest.
While Daytona felt impressive from its first listen, Ye’s abrupt 20 minutes provide a different advantage: you can listen to it quickly. Kanye albums have always rewarded repeat listens. On Ye, he’s found a way to supercharge that quality.
Though the first listen felt lukewarm at best, having the opportunity to listen to it three times an hour has helped Ye immensely. It’s a general rule that the more you listen to an album the better it sounds (though this rule has plenty of exceptions), and Kanye, true to form, has provided enough on Ye that multiple listens are rewarded. It’s still too early to make a qualitative judgement on an album like this after a matter of hours, and there may not be enough to uncover here that will support the weight of months of listens, but the fact that I’ve been able to run through it tens of times in a matter of hours has pushed my opinion in a positive direction every go-around. And, in that sense, even more than Daytona, Ye feels like an antidote to the streaming-induced bloat that’s become the norm for topline hip-hop albums in the few years.
Other albums from this year, like Migos’ Culture II and Rae Sremmurd’s SR3MM — both clocking in at over 20 songs and 1:40 runtimes — defy the idea of an album made to be listened to in a single setting, opting instead to take a scattershot approach to hitmaking that puts the onus on the listener to find what they like, and discard the rest. The best way to listen to these albums is to listen once, make a playlist, and include the songs you liked best, culling the output into something manageable. Streaming-optimized listening for streaming-optimized albums.
With its short runtime, Ye doesn’t make that an option. Instead, it neatly makes the easiest way to listen to it just keeping it on repeat; it ends so suddenly every time that searching for something else to listen to seems like a waste of time, and album opener “I Thought About Killing You” is its strongest track, the easiest sell when it starts up again. I listened to the album twice in full on my commute to the office this morning without any hesitation.
While the album itself is light on explanations for its creator’s past six weeks, its repeatability has proven that there’s more to find here than shock and outrage. Presumably, by the time I’ve listened to Ye 30 or 40 times, the correlated rise in esteem will taper off, but for now it’s a refreshing feeling to put an album on repeat, if only for a day.
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