Jeneé Osterheldt

Hear Ye, Hear Ye: Kanye West's new album 'Ye' is a problematic alarm clock

I listened to Kanye West so you don't have to if you don't want to.
I listened to Kanye West so you don't have to if you don't want to. AP

Keep your side-eyes. I owe you no apologies.

While many of you are trying to cancel Kanye West for being a Trump fanboy, I listened to his eighth solo studio album, "Ye," on Friday.

So many of you are worried about why so many of us didn't chalk him up to "cancel culture" and banish him. Instead, why don't you spend more time amplifying Gregory Hill Jr.?

He was killed by a white cop in Florida in 2014. A black father of three, he was listening to Drake a little too loudly in his garage. A neighbor called the police. Hill, who was drunk in the comfort of his own home, opened the garage when he heard knocking. He saw police and closed it.

Cops claim they saw the man holding a gun. So Deputy Christopher Newman fired shots through the closed garage door, fatally hitting Hill in the abdomen and head. There was no exchange of fire. No threats. The officer shot four times within 1.2 seconds.

An unloaded handgun was found in Hill's back pocket.

On Thursday, while music critics and celebrities were descending upon Kanye's listening party in Jackson Hole, Wyo., a lawyer for the Hill family talked to the media about the jury finding Hill 99 percent responsible for his own death. The jury awarded $1 for funeral expenses and $1 for each of his three children. Because a toxicology report showed Hill was drunk, the jury reduced that $4 to 4 cents.

Because #BlackLivesMatter in pennies.

Remember when Kanye cared enough about us to say, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on national TV while raising money for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina?

I miss that Kanye. Since the death of his mama, Donda, Kanye has been on a beautiful, dark and twisted path. And we've consumed him like ice cream, devouring every rant and shocking soundbite like sprinkles and whipped cream. So here we are.

Between his MAGA hat, Trump love and dangerous rhetoric about slavery being a choice, Kanye has gone from artistic provocateur to perilously problematic. He hides it under the guise of free-thinking.

“No black man has taken more advantage of his freedom than Kanye West,” Chris Rock told the crowd gathered in Wyoming Thursday night.

I guess — if that means trying to stretch his hands into the realm of white supremacy. But Kanye is still a black man. And this album is a few dubious diary entries of his life.

"Ye" is 23-minutes of spastic conversation, singing, rapping, howling. Don't look for verbal dexterity. Expect Ye as unapologetically himself — brash, contradictory, soulful, brilliant and bad.

Her fans will hate me for this unpopular opinion, but it reminds me of Lauryn Hill's "MTV Unplugged 2.0."

She was raw, honest and exhausted. Rumors swirled of her self-imposed exile. It was the start of her disappearing acts and late starts to her shows. She could barely play the guitar. Her voice was raspy. She was both guarded and vulnerable. She cried. She was on- and off-key. Lauryn Hill — whom I love — was tired of fame.

Ta-Nehisi Coates nailed it. Kanye West is suffering from the weight of celebrity. There's no liposuction for it. But there's his music.

The cover art of his new album: an image he shot on his phone. Wyoming mountain peaks loom behind lime-green letters reading, "I hate being bi-polar. It's awesome."


Bipolar. Manic depression. A disorder that causes happy or hysterical highs and lethargic, life-threatening lows. On "Yikes," Kanye refers to himself as a zombie. He talks about being on meds, off meds and tweaking off that 2C-B — a hallucinogenic drug.

He calls his bipolar condition a superpower. "I'm a superhero," he declares, before howling from a place that hurts my heart.

I'm not a doctor. I'm not here to unpack the mental stability of Kanye West or to misguidedly paint mental illness as the cause of his problems. We know he's rapped about Lexapro and Xanax. He's admitted to an opioid addiction.

"I thought about killing myself," he matter-of-factly says on the album opener. "And I love myself way more than I love you. So, today I thought about killing you."

The most beautiful thoughts, he says, are always next to the darkest. He insists we have to say things out loud just to see how it feels.

Unlike Kanye, I've never doubted the horrors of slavery. I can't fathom fixing my lips to turn and twist to say that our ancestors chose oppression.

But I can say here in 2018, we're not choosing grace. We throw people away when they don't say what we like. Kanye is problematic, but he's no Woody Allen or R. Kelly. We leave little room for nuance. Our love is conditional. And we spend more time lifting the names we claim to ban than those who need our attention, like Gregory Hill Jr.

We say our lives matter. But we spend an awful lot of time policing one another. I'm concerned not just if Kanye actually loves himself, but if we love ourselves as much as we say we do. And when I say we, I mean as a people.

"I've been trying, to make you love me," Kid Cudi belts from the deepest part of his belly on Ye's "Ghost Town." "But everything I try just takes you further from me."

As we push forward in this fight for freedom and this need to stamp our favorite celebrities as problematic, we're losing ourselves.

And this album, though it's my least favorite Kanye of them all, captures our unraveling. I listen to him and know we can't ignore our fear, pain and anger. We can't sleep on the power of loving us.

Lorraine Hansberry was right. There is always something left to love.

In "A Raisin in the Sun," she wrote, "Child, when do you think is the time to love somebody the most? When they done good and made things easy for everybody? "Oh, no. It's when he's at his lowest and he can't believe in himself because the world done whipped him so. When you start measuring somebody, measure them right, child. You make sure you take into account the hills and valleys he's come to, to get to wherever he is."

None of us can say exactly how Kanye got here. But there's still something left to love.

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, with children Saint and North. Kim Kardashian Instagram