NEW YORK (THE WASHINGTON POST) - Rapper Elahe Izadi Kanye West released his first solo album in two years last Thursday night (May 31). It's simply titled Ye.
The period between albums has been quite a roller coaster for Kanye, who cancelled his 2016 Saint Pablo tour following hospitalisation and a mental breakdown.
Then, several weeks ago, he returned to Twitter after an almost year-long hiatus by spouting mindfulness mantras ("when you first wake up don't hop right on the phone or the internet"), before joining the pro-Trump internet and telling TMZ slavery sounded like "a choice".
Many of his fans, and several of his famous friends, felt conflicted about it all. A bunch of people on Twitter said it was time to #CancelKanye. Some of that recent drama made its way into lyrics on Ye.
The album, now available for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal, contains only seven tracks and is the shortest in Kanye's catalogue. Featured artists include Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson.
Kanye flew a few hundred industry insiders, musicians and random famous people to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for last Thursday night's listening party. Regular folks could watch a stream of it all on the WAV app.
The rapper apparently didn't address the crowd, and comedian Chris Rock did the honours of introducing the album. "Hip-hop is the first art form created by free black men, and no black man has taken more advantage of his freedom than Kanye West," Rock said.
The party included Kanye's wife Kim Kardashian as well as musicians Pusha-T, Kid Cudi, 2 Chainz (and his dog), Nas, Dame Dash, Jonah Hill as well as conservative commentator Candace Owens. Kanye's admiration of Owens, expressed via Twitter, started all the recent controversy in the first place.
"Artists are expected to be liberal, but there is an underground railroad of conservatives in Hollywood," Owens said at the listening party. "People are worried they will get ex-communicated, and he made people understand that they aren't alone."
A lot of people get name-checked on Ye, including Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who alleges she had an affair with President Donald Trump and Tristan Thompson, who got caught up in a cheating scandal just days before Khloe Kardashian gave birth to their child (both in the track titled All Mine).
Also name-checked is music mogul Russell Simmons, who, after Kanye's comments about slavery to TMZ and to Charlamagne Tha God about a mental breakdown, said: "Kanye is suffering, he is unravelling in public." Simmons exited his companies after being accused of sexual misconduct, though a lawsuit against him has been dropped.
On the track Yikes, Kanye raps: "Russell Simmons wanna pray for me too / I'ma pray for him 'cause he got #MeToo'd. / Thinkin' what if that happened to me too / Then I'm on E! News."
Kanye also raps that being bipolar is his "superpower" and alludes to his previous admission of an opioid addiction (Yikes). The opening track, I Thought About Killing You gets into, well, that, but also his own suicidal thoughts.
On the fourth track, Wouldn't Leave, Kanye addresses the fallout from his slavery comments. He raps:"I said, 'Slavery a choice.' They say, 'How, Ye?'/ Just imagine if they caught me on a wild day.
"'Now I'm on 50 blogs gettin' 50 calls / My wife callin', screamin', say, 'we 'bout 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."
Wouldn't Leave, he raps, is for men who have ever messed up and "embarrassed their girl", or "embarrassed their wife", and for the women who stayed during the best and worst. "She told you not to do that," Kanye raps. "But you ain't wanna listen, did you? Now you testing her loyalty."
He's no stranger to controversy for name-dropping famous people in his music after phone calls to clear the usage. So maybe that's why Violent Crimes, which includes a Nicki Minaj reference, ends with what sounds like a phone call with Minaj rapping those same lines West had rapped earlier. "I don't know you saying it, but let 'em hear this," she then says, concluding the album.
Back in April, Kanye tweeted that the album cover would feature a photo of plastic surgeon Jan Adams, who operated on the rapper's mother the day before she died.
Instead, he went with a very last-minute option that included the phrase "I hate being Bi-Polar its awesome" in neon green.
Just last month, Kanye received blowback for the album cover of Pusha-T's latest, Daytona, which he produced. Kanye had apparently paid US$85,000 (S$113,000) to license a photo of late singer Whitney Houston's drug-littered bathroom counter to use as the cover for that album, drawing condemnation from Houston's estate and family.
"To do something for a publicity stunt to sell records, it's absolutely disgusting," Houston's cousin Damon Elliott told People.