Kanye West: Yeezus (Album Review)

Raw, for better or for worse

Kanye West is the Quentin Tarantino of the music industry.

He is one of the most arrogant and outspoken artists in his medium. His individual projects can be so different in tone and in theme yet so unmistakably Kanye. Most importantly, he does whatever he wants, gets whoever he wants to accompany him, and always gets away with it. And the finished product is always brilliant.

Enter “Yeezus

Yeezus, the newest experiment from the brain of Mr. West, marks yet another crazy departure from the hip-hop norm.

Sort of.

Actually, some of the many eclectic sounds on the album are reminiscent of contemporary rappers. “I Am a God” is like taking sandpaper to a Rick Ross or A$AP Rocky record. “New Slaves” is a shoe-in for creeping, underground hip-hop tunes like “Sandwitches” on Tyler the Creator’s Goblin.

But overall, Yeezus makes its mark in the chronology of West as the “raw” or “minimal” one. The album is fairly short, especially considering the length and scope of West’s previous effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This album does not waste much time, with a shorter length, smaller emphasis on grandiose instrumental segments, and fewer tracks.

There is an industrial grind to even the most balladic of pieces. Samples are commonly placed in the middle of songs by themselves to an abrupt change in tempo. In the opener, “On Sight”, a blistering beat is quickly cut off by a slower, vocal gospel that makes you uncomfortable and throws off any head bopping or arm swaying. The entire album is uncomfortable, dancing and jumping from moment to moment.

Minimal

And if you remember one word from the above statements, make it “minimal”.

The beat is slow and precise, begging to be blasted as loud as possible with the bass knob to the right. The first half of the album deserves an EQ knob that can turn forever to the right until lumps appear in the speaker cones and subs explode.

Much of the music on the album is abrasive and attacking. Marching drums, shrill screams, and throbbing trumpets mark a clear separation from the younger body of West’s work. This feels like a very direct and angry rapper who is letting out his frustrations immediately after a rough episode.

The lyrics are punchier than before, with less finesse but more value per word, per second. This is not one of those rap albums that spews word after word in cool succession. Close your eyes and Kanye is in your face, telling you that it is your fault. You don’t know what THAT is, but you know that is your fault.

The shorter length and definite focus make the entire experience feel more like an 808’s & Heartbreak-esque side-story than a necessary part of the canon.

Lyrically speaking…

Kanye’s signature writing is still here. Drawling syllables that seem to refrain for four measures and ridiculous metaphors that make the listener both laugh and wince at the same time return.

All that being said, there is a tonal change in the writing that makes all of the difference, and it is not a good difference. In MBDTF, West inspired us to be bigger than ourselves, and his lyrics showed a man who felt he was bigger than the world. In Yeezus, Kanye KNOWS he is bigger than the world, and it falls upon us as listeners to repel his ego rather than join him in revelry.

In fact, this is the first time that West’s lyrics have traveled around the filter inside of the brain that says, “this is okay.” Kanye West has always put out fairly misogynistic work, but “I’m In It” is the first time I have been ashamed to listen to his work. In lines like “Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign,” I am not laughing. It is disappointing because, in the case of “I’m In It”, these absurd lyrics are immediately followed by the absolutely stellar lyrics and sampling of “Blood on the Leaves”. It is a powerful message of a song ruined by the party boy antics of Kanye West from two minutes ago.

There is still some gold to be mined from the unusually dull writing. It is hard not to smirk and agree when West proclaims that “there’s leaders and there’s followers / But [he’d] rather be a dick than a swallower”. Those two lines almost justify all of the public stunts that West has pulled over the years. Almost.

A good listen

Bumming on some of the lyrics does not do justice to the overall strength of the album. Though there are only ten tracks on the entire album, they are packed with content and nothing stays longer than it needs to stay. “Black Skinhead” introduces a thick guitar riff that could be the staple of an entire song. Within four seconds, the riff is shadowed by thunderous snare and the rhythmic brilliance of West’s poppier stuff. After a couple of minutes of play between the play of the guitar, drums, and vocals, Kanye calls it quits.

There are no two minute cameos nor are there seven minute epics like in MBDTF. West takes stage here, with simple beats, awesome samples, and quick revelations. There is reggae, 60’s pop, underground hip-hop, electronica, and more and yet it all feels cohesive.

The first seven songs are truly good and inspired, and while interesting samples highlight the last three songs, there is a definite decline in quality as the album moves from start to finish. The end of the album is also very Graduation, especially “Bound 2” and “Guilt Trip”. “Send it Up” sounds like a B-side to a Queens of the Stone Age album, before moving to an 80’s grind.

If you like Kanye West and his newer material, you will most likely enjoy this new venture in Yeezus. If you were never a fan of his music or think he is some sort of evil demon, this album certainly won’t convince you differently. But do know that this is a necessary evil, one that does not play it safe and continuously pushes boundaries that others will not. Also, know that Kanye doesn’t give a shit. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Definitely hear:

  • Black Skinhead
  • New Slaves
  • Blood on the Leaves