Review: Kanye Pulls Off Messy, Majestic Triumph With ‘Yeezus’ Album
The daring Yeezus finds Kanye nailing his greatest stunts
You don’t become the most polarizing pop star this side of Rihanna by playing nice. Indeed, Kanye West is not the easiest soul to love. Pissing off Presidents. Trolling a country music sweetheart during an awards speech. Comparing being barred from a fashion show to joining a civil rights sit-in. That’s all surface shit. West does most of his trolling on his own fans. Let’s recall how the Chicago born MC and producer—who was knighted as the savior of digging-in-the-crates hip-hop with his earnest 2004 debut The College Dropout—embraced the enemy when he hooked up with T-Pain and went all Auto-Tune on our asses. Followers who were ready to proclaim West as the Brian Wilson of the rap world after the genre-twisting brilliance of 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (some critics even started throwing around the G-word: genius) were perplexed when ‘Ye started breaking bread with trap star general 2 Chainz and chick-obsessed protégé Big Sean.
Even West’s front page union with reality show queen Kim Kardashian has provoked a collective side-eye; an interesting move from a notoriously private individual that in the past has publicly expressed his disdain for the TMZ/US Weekly brigade (yeah, good luck with that). And yet West continues to get away with it all, often times with messy yet stunning results. It’s that same need to buck complacency that fuels his latest work Yeezus, a sneering statement that challenges listeners to erase all previous notions of what hip-hop should be. On this brave, economic assault everybody—politicians, racists, ex-girlfriends, religious fundamentalists, fellow artists and even Kanye himself—gets it.
“How much do I not give a fuck?” West tosses off on the Daft Punk produced “On Sight.” Apparently not much when he’s raging over a track that sounds like Kraftwerk on mushrooms. There’s not so much a beat here, but bleeps, blips, synth keyboard stabs, and the kind of unmitigated disdain that Johnny Rotten could get behind. “Real nigga back in the house again/Black dick all in your spouse again/And I know she like chocolate men/She got more niggas off than Cochran, hanh?!”
“Jesus Walks” it ain’t.
West then goes full blown race man on the volatile “Black Skinhead,” a socio-political kissing cousin to Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People.” “Stop all that coon shit,” he angrily commands over war drums. “If I don’t get ran out by Catholics/Here come some conservative Baptists/Claiming I’m overreacting.”
And on the explosive “I Am A God,” West takes on detractors who question his hip-hop credibility: “Old niggas mentally still in high school/Since the tight jeans they never liked you/Pink-ass Polos with a fucking backpack/But everybody know you brought real rap back…” Reggae dancehall chants, 808 bass that bruises and batter—West is not a bromidic host. And that’s the point.
There’s a throw-it-all-out-the-window energy that permeates throughout Yeezus. Whereas on past albums West made it a point to present compositions that jumped from populist productions to lush, over-the-top orchestrations, his sixth solo release has an impromptu, unfinished feel. The ghost-in-the-machine sound is mostly linear, a fact that is even more impressive when you factor in West’s number of studio collaborators and producers (In his world, Rick Rubin, Hudson Mohawke, Mike Dean, Lupe Fiasco, RZA, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, King Louie, and the aforementioned Daft Punk can all sit at the same table).
Yeezus is not merely the ramblings of an asshole that equates Godliness with material wealth or status. It’s a record that could be heard as the diary of an artist who is well aware of his immense influence and the spoils that come with it, but is not exactly comfortable with the deal. That point of contention erupts on the Frank Ocean assisted “New Slaves” on which West juxtaposes the segregated past of his late mother (“My momma was raised in the era when/Clean water was only served to the fairer skin…”) with today’s era of private prisons and a culture that has become a slave to conspicuous consumption (Bentley’s, furs, drugs, diamond chains, Alexander Wang…).
But before you start expecting the same introspective, lyrically sharp Kanye West that carried Jay-Z on The-Throne team-up, you won’t find him here. This is stream-of-conscious ‘Ye. When ratchet rascal Chief Keef anchors the nihilistic hook on the dark “Hold My Liquor,” the fellow Chicago MC is merely an extension of West’s self-destructive path. Alcohol-induced car crashes, one-night stands, blackouts and hangovers. Even the aunt of ‘Ye’s latest conquest sees the writing on the wall when she tells her niece, “Baby girl, he’s a loner…Late night organ donor/After that he disown ya/After that he’s just hopeless…”
Unfortunately, the raw nature of West’s songwriting at times becomes disjointed and even cringe-worthy. The sexual debauchery fueled “I’m In It”—arguably Yeezus’ most impressive production with its warped Art of Noise meets Mike WiLL Made It mash-up—gets dragged down with sophomoric lines like, “Eatin’ Asian pussy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce…” And whoever thought it would be a great idea to waste a flawless sample of Nina Simone’s take on Billie Holiday’s haunting, anti-lynching protest song “Strange Fruit” on the otherwise trivial “Blood On The Leaves” (West rebukes “second string bitches” on Instagram “tryna get a baby”) needs to go to rehab.
Thank, um, Yeezus that Yeezus closes out strongly offering the nearest thing to head knock music as you can possibly get on this set. The euphoric “Send It Up” thumps with a piercing noise that could be mistaken as a siren for an impending riot as a bold West surmises, “It’s so packed I might ride around on my bodyguard back like Prince in the club!” And the soulful, dusty Blueprint-feel of “Bound 2” will no doubt become a rhyme-along favorite, even down to the abrupt Charlie Wilson breakdown.
Yet there’s a reason why Yeezus so far stands out as Kanye West’s most divisive work (it has officially surpassed 2008’s emotional opus 808s & Heartbreak).This is electro progressive punk masquerading as a rap album.
West even admits that not everyone will be in for the ride when he lifts these telling words from gospel choir Holy Name of Mary Choral Family: “He’ll give us what we need/It may not be what we want.” So, the next time you find yourself shaking your head at what you perceive to be West’s latest douchebag antic, remember: The sensitive jerk in the leather kilt just may be the most important artist of his generation. Ain’t that a bitch. —Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)