Throughout the course of his legendary career, Ye (formerly known as Kanye West) has always gone against the grain to create some of the most memorable moments in music history. From his recent Thursday 1 displays in massive stadiums where he would play the bare-bones versions of his tenth studio album, to his genre-defying work on albums like yeezus and 808s & HeartbreakYe has always been one of the most creative and experimental artists of our time, constantly working to push the culture forward.
In recent years, Ye has shifted his focus to embellish many other elements of the human experience. There are prototypes for a Yeezy Toothbrush that is presently being developed, and the artist is also developing a dome-like housing initiative that is meant to be both futuristic and sustainable, among other projects that will be rolled out in the coming years.
Ye’s latest experiment comes in the form of Yeezy Tech’s first official product release in collaboration with Kano: the Stem Player. The $200 device is a tiny, tan puck computer that is much more powerful than it looks. When it’s not powered on, the minimalistic design doesn’t lend many ideas to one’s imagination. However, once you press the power button, a world of opportunities opens up.
The Stem Player is capable of isolating four specific elements of a song (vocals, drums, samples, and music), also allowing users to loop specific sections of a track, add samples, control speed, pitch, and much more. This is a DJ’s best friend but for the everyday consumer, many of these functions will go unused and overlooked.
Regardless, producers and music lovers will get a real kick out of the Stem Player when they start testing out everything that the tiny computer can accomplish. Even if you’re only getting the Stem Player because Thursday 2 is presently exclusive to it, your first listen to the album will be a special experience, unlike any other album listening session you’ve had in the last few years.
Going against the norm yet again, Ye chose to release the skeletal version of his eleventh studio album, Thursday 2, only on Voice Player. The album is clearly not finished but it will be updated over time as he continues to work on it. On some songs, there are open verses and sudden changes in mixing volumes that disrupt the listening experience. There are specific songs that sound like voice memo demos that would live permanently on Ye’s phone, while other records appear to be fully mixed, mastered, and ready for public consumption. This review will dive into the potential of each song, moving through the sixteen-song tracklist as a preview of what’s to come in this next chapter of Ye’s historic career, but it is important to remember that this album is changing every single day and we are seemingly still in the infant stages of Thursday 2†
Ye has previously stated the importance of his album openers and on Thursday 2, he kicks off the journey with “True Love” featuring XXXTENTACION. The late Florida rapper’s hauntingly emotional vocals create the perfect first-time experience for anyone just powering up the Stem Player. Playing around with the touch-sensitive controls as X sings, “True love shouldn’t be this complicated, I thought I’d die in your arms,” is one of the most rewarding parts of the listening experience, inviting experimentation and remixing on the part of the listener. The process continues on “Broken Road” with Don Toliver, which is another finished record that shows the album’s potential.
After the first two songs, a four-song stretch weakens the first-listen experience with “Get Lost,” which recalls the creative experimentation from 808s, “Too Easy,” which is one of the most disagreeable songs on the album, and “Flowers,” which has a strong melodic blueprint but fails to deliver in its current form. From there, we’re led into “Security,” which is definitely an interesting song, to say the least. Coming across as somewhat of a threat to his ex-wife Kim Kardashian (“Never take the family picture off the fridge/Never stand between a man and his kids/Y’all ain’t got enough security for this”) Ye walks a very thin line between being creative and downright menacing. He previously stated that he was simply expressing himself artistically by decapitating Kim’s new boyfriend, Pete Davidson, in an animated music video for “EAZY,” but hearing a 44-year-old man tell the mother of his children, “I put your security at risk/I make your security acquit/Like, ‘We don’t get paid enough for this,’” isn’t very comforting at all. In fact, it’s quite dangerous.
A feature from Migos on “We Did It Kid” helps put the album back on the right track, bringing us into a celebratory vibe that we love hearing from Ye, similar to “Champions.” While it certainly feels more like a Migos song in its current state, with the right vocal mixing and a lyrical rework of Ye’s verse, this could end up being one of the strongest songs on the entire album.
Unfortunately, we take a wrong turn again with “Pablo,” which features Future, who sounds more at home on the beat than Ye does. It’s on songs like these that the vocal isolation (and muting) feature comes in handy.
The next song, “Louie Bags,” is touching as a tribute to the late Virgil Abloh, who was a close friend of Ye’s but, once again, the song lacks creativity as Ye finds himself repeating the same bars over and over to the point where they become unbearable. Jack Harlow is featured, performing a strong verse but even he can’t save the song, which is a shame considering this is the first time they have worked together.
We move ahead with “Happy,” which, once again, sounds more like Future’s song than Ye’s. Then, we reach “Sci Fi,” which starts with a sample of Kim Kardashian hailing her ex-husband as one of the greatest artists to ever live, and the richest Black man in America. The intro is great, but once the disgusting Morgan Freeman lyric hits in Ye’s first verse (“When you laid down and I gave you the semen, I swear I heard God, the voice of Morgan Freeman”), it sours the rest of the song and leaves the listener in shock. This could eventually become a strong record but right now, the song’s repetitive chorus (“Welcome to the Sci-Fi/Make a choice, oxygen or WiFi”) reads like a weak “phone = bad” commentary and makes the song feel incomplete and corny. And that Morgan Freeman line needs to go.
We hear from XXXTENTACION another time on “Selfish” before Vory steals the show on “Lord Lift Me Up.” “City Of Gods” follows and sounds absolutely beautiful on the Stem Player. Playing around with the drums and isolating Alicia Keys’ vocals in the chorus was a highlight during my personal listening experience. And once again, Fivio Foreign proves that he can stand tall as Ye’s current right-hand-man.
One of the strongest points of the album happens at the very end, surprisingly with Soulja Boy’s verse. After a failed attempt to get on the first Thursday album, Big Draco looks to have earned his spot on the second go-around, delivering one of his strongest performances in years. Ye has always been able to bring the best out of his collaborators and Soulja Boy definitely came to impress and prove that after all these years, he can still fit in on one of the year’s most anticipated albums.
It’s important to remember that this album is clearly a work in progress, and so it may prove inutile to critique any of the songs. This is not the final version of Thursday 2 – it’s only what the artist has created to this point. As it stands, this is one of the weakest additions to Ye’s discography but as time passes, the ever-evolving piece of art will hopefully redeem itself. Many songs need to be reworked and we might only hear the final product in a few months, but with the Stem Player being the only place we can hear it, this release remains a big win for Ye, who is reshaping the release experience for artists .
If you’ve checked out Thursday 2 on Stem Player, let us know what you think of the album in the comments.