[Music] Yeezus – Kanye West [2013]


Album: Yeezus

Artist: Kanye West

Released: June 18, 2013

Rating: 8.16/10

Kanye West’s much anticipated, but little loved sixth solo album Yeezus puts his fan base in a strange position. They are like children on Christmas eagerly awaited their yearly gift, expecting a PS4 or (knowing kids these days) a cell phone. Instead, they receive a snake (as a pet, not a twisted assassination attempt). The vast majority will just be thinking, “What the actual fuck, Mom/Dad” and won’t really know what to make of this ‘gift’ but there will be a certain segment that will think that this is the coolest gift ever and proceed to assault their friends with it. Kanye fans always anticipate Yeezy season, as much as if not more than, Christmas but Yeezus is as odd a gift as they could get. It is by no objective means a bad album, but it is such an extreme departure from the rich melodies of its much acclaimed and much loved predecessor that those who were expecting more of the same can’t help but feel let down by this album, which takes a sharp 180 from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and goes for a significantly darker, almost manic depressive tone with stronger electric, acid house and dubstep influences. Thematically, Yeezus picks up where My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy left off, but shifts focus from the inside of Kanye’s mind to the outside world, picking up on the social injustices that Kanye perceives but also returning in the second half of the album to a much more personal and intimate level as we go even further into Kanye’s troubled relationships. There are moments of intense anger and energy which are then juxtaposed by moments of quiet lethargy and melancholy. The whole album reminds of nothing so much as a rough night in – as the liquor starts hitting you, you alternate between moments of sudden energy and longer, heavier moments of deep depressive lethargy. For that reason, more than any other, the album resonated with me, but it is entirely possible for me to imagine others not being able to appreciate or fully understand that aspect of it – and therein lies the album’s greatest flaw. Unlike Kanye’s previous efforts, this album is almost homogenously dark – there are barely any lighter moments and by the end of the album the gloom is not only very perceptible, it is overwhelming. On the other hand though, this new direction is exactly what makes Kanye such a fascinating artist to follow. The whole album feels like him lashing out against the music industry, making Yeezus not only ‘un-commercial’ but actually anti-commercial instead. The first track ‘On Sight’ begins with sounds that can safely be categorized as organized noise more than anything else. There is a rhythm to it, a pattern to its madness, but it can never be described as pleasant. How do you rate something that is intentionally grating? Do you judge it a success because it does what it was supposed to? Or do you condemn it because it is simply unpleasant to listen to? While I have described the album thus far as having a rather limited, negative set of emotions attached to it, there is in fact a reasonable amount of variation within that limited set. The track ‘I Am A God’ has a raw energy and arrogance,  while ‘New Slaves’ begins with Kanye seemingly very focused on the points he’s trying to make but progressively getting angrier and angrier to the point that he is essentially just ranting. On the other hand, ‘Hold My Liquor’ and ‘I’m In It’ are both less angry but no less dark as Kanye switches topic from society’s problems to his own, detailing his alcohol fueled misadventures and sexual exploits. It is there that the album begins to lose me a little – Kanye tries so very hard to make his music sound like nothing we have heard, but yet he so often and so easily lapses into the same tired ménage-a-trois clichés that the rest of the genre relies on that it spoils the uniqueness of what he’s trying to create. Yet, it might not be possible for him to divorce his sexual anger from all the other emotions he’s pouring into this album, leading to lines like this:

“Put me fist in her like a civil rights sign”

And

“I’d rather be a dick than a swallower”

Lines like these aren’t exactly what you hear on the radio – the usually censored lyrics on the radio are offensive but almost casually, devoid of any real malice behind them. Kanye’s lyrics in Yeezus not only seem to intentionally offend, but seem so personally directed, so in-your-face that it can be a little troubling. Part of this comes down to his new flow and delivery in this album – trading speed and flow for a more deliberate, measured style that almost forces him to emphasize every line that comes out of his mouth. In most cases this works well – ‘Bound 2’ for example. In other cases, like in the first and only real verse in ‘Hold My Liquor’ the deliberation comes off as repetitive and bogs the song down. In cases of the real hard hitting lines, like the above, the emphasis he puts on the lines give them additional force and exacerbates the offense in the lines. What all this culminates in is a totally unmarketable album and Kanye acknowledges this; the cover art for Yeezus isn’t just bold, it’s a defiant challenge to the norm. I have no doubt that Kanye is completely aware how little radio play his album will see; if nothing else, he knows how to get mainstream radio to play his songs when he wants to and he clearly doesn’t want to with Yeezus. It’s like he’s saying that he’s had enough of making music that everyone will like, now he wants to make music that expresses what he feels. I don’t doubt that was his intention behind My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as well, but with that album there also this sense of proving to the world after the Taylor Swift incident and the extremely mixed opinions of 808s & Heartbreak that he still had what it took. Now, after a successful collaboration with Jay-Z on Watch The Throne and a G.O.O.D Music project Cruel Summer, I feel like Kanye felt like he can go back to just expressing himself. What he has expressed here is that while in hip-hop ‘dark’ has often meant guns, drugs and violence, Kanye has demonstrated the darkness usually originates from within, independent of the injustices and the people around him. Ultimately, Yeezus as an album, as a piece of music and as a work of art, has much to offer its audience even though it will never be an easy or comfortable listening experience. It explores themes of isolation, deep seated anger and social injustices and while most will not (and arguably should not) agree with the points Kanye tries to make, there is little doubt that they are skillfully, if sometimes crudely, delivered. However, the trouble is that as a hip-hop album, as a piece of rap music, Yeezus is terribly awkwardly placed – some might argue like several of Kanye’s previous efforts, Yeezus is ahead of its time, but the difference here is that while his previous revolutionary works were akin to the cool new exchange student from an exotic country that everyone wanted to hang out with, Yeezus is more like that angry, violent kid with no friends who everyone is afraid of. Both kids have something to offer, but the cool kid is a lot more accessible. Yeezus in the end, both like and utterly unlike My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, paints the picture of a troubled, angry artist trying to express himself the best way he knows how and that alone makes the album an intriguing listen.

Track Title Producer My Rating
On Sight Kanye West 2.75
Black Skinhead Kanye West 3.75
I Am A God Kanye West 4.25
New Slaves Kanye West 5.00
Hold My Liquor Kanye West 4.38
I’m In It Kanye West 4.38
Blood On The Leaves Kanye West 4.38
Guilt Trip Kanye West 3.88
Send It Up Kanye West 3.75
Bound 2 Kanye West 4.50

Other Reviews:

The Rolling Stone

Billboard Pretty

Much Amazing

Wikipedia

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