Best Albums of 2013: #2
2. Kanye West – Yeezus
Genius or Idiot Savant? It depends.
Faces in the Crowd*
How much do I not give a fuck? Let me show you right now ‘fore you give it up” No better way for that which is Kanye West to start off an album titled “Yeezus.” What my ears had expected to be more of a “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 2” album was met with the opposite with harsh sounding notes that seemed without a purpose to me, until I realized it was to destroy my perspective of what I thought the album would be like. He wanted to make sure that whatever you thought the album was going to be couldn’t be any further from what he had created. A 10 track album with every song with a purpose. Kanye West has widened hip hop’s barriers once again proving that even though people label him as a rapper, he isn’t limited to one sound, he is a true musician. A true artist.
It seems since that hot summer day on June 14th when Kanye West’s latest work, Yeezus, gushed out onto the internet four days before its actual release date that I’ve been faced with what some may categorize(oh how I hate that word) as a dilemma. Scratch that, I’ve been faced with a challenge. That very challenge comes at the expense of Yeezus in all its glory and all its flaws. An album by a man who needs no introduction because he’s already introduced himself and never stops once to remind us he’s here. But that’s where I believe my “dilemma” lies. You see, the hype that surrounded this record was sky high. The moment Kanye began his gorilla marketing campaign, by projecting videos of him performing “New Slaves” on buildings throughout the world, everyone went apeshit. Even those who despised him looked on. Not only because they wanted to give themselves another reason to condemn him but also because deep down inside, we can help but be in awe of Kanye. He is a paradox, plain and simple. He can be as insightful and brilliant as any artist to have ever graced gods green earth one minute, and the next he’s the idiot savant and public enemy number one. Kanye understands how much we can’t take our eyes off him and he uses this to his advantage. So, when the Yeezus hype began to rise, Kanye did everything he could to be what we perceived as anti-Kanye. When we heard rumors about the new album being dark and brooding we pictured in our heads My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 2 but what we came to find was its evil and beastly twin named Yeezus.
Kanye did little promoting for the album outside of the gorilla tactics. He had a New York Times interview that featured the previously acknowledged social paradox Kanye in flying colors, he had a TV performance on SNL and released not one finished song to the public before the release of the album. Everything we heard about the actual content was pure speculation for all we knew. We heard about the gala where he serenaded Kim Kardashian and was said to be referring to himself as the most high(only to find out that he belonged to the fraternity of gods, surprisingly.) Those who had heard it compared it’s sound to Nine Inch Nails(Average Hip Hop fan:”Who the fuck is Nine Inch Nails?”) and claimed that he even was yelling and screaming on some tracks. On top of that, there was absolutely no cover art, with the exception of a red piece of tape. Everything that we heard just seemed to be odd, strange and kind of a turnoff. But still, we all anxiously awaited the coming of Yeezus.
So, when the leak hit, the mixed opinions followed. Critics hailed it. The public? Not so much. Within hours it became a mix between the best album ever and the worst thing created in the history of mankind. Days would pass and very much of the public divide continued. Arguments that pitted the “you’re a dick rider if you like that album” side and the “you’re a hater if you don’t like it” side against one another. Kanye’s brash persona on the album had only expanded over a barrage of uneasy sounds and snarls. This very element was the reason why it was so hard to defend the album against those who condemned it because Kanye made it so hard to defend him. He put all his bad guy chips in and wasn’t looking back. For the longest time, I found myself confused as to whether or not I loved this album or I hated it. My judgement had been so clouded. As much as I wanted to say it was bad, no matter how much I was told it was, there just was something there that I couldn’t quite ignore. What I found to be difficult to ignore was the challenge that Yeezus brought.
Kanye wasn’t pandering for our approval. He was setting out the dare of the year. He dared us to like Yeezus. I mean, come on. He’s got a song named “I Am A God” for crying out loud. And did I mention he credited God as a featured artist? It was all a plan from the beginning. Kanye tries to fuck with us as much as he can on this album. From the opening track “On Sight” where he starts off with this distorted acid sound(Lou Reed called it “a fart”) that sets the tone of the album immediately, only to be followed by Kanye asking “How much do I not give a fuck?” before dropping in a church choir sample in the middle of an acid house rap song out of nowhere. It seems as though Kanye is blatantly trying to do a serious number on your speakers just to show you how much he doesn’t give a fuck. “FUCK YOU AND YOUR VOLUME KNOB YALL SPEAKERS CAN’T CONTROL ME!” Nick even compared the sound of the opening track to someone throwing Daft Punk off a cliff. With all this sound going on it’s hard to believe that we still need to listen to the lyrics.”Black Skinhead” is one of the more poppier tunes on the album. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s catchy in particular, but instead one of the more accessible tracks on the album. It starts with the Marilyn Manson-esque drum sample and now it truly feels like we are in a dark twisted fantasy. Kanye shouts, grunts, breathes and raps over this anthemic industrial rock foot stomper. A black headbanger if there ever was one.
“I Am A God” is bravado at it’s most offensive to some. Essentially, it’s a brag track but at the same time West is so convincing that you almost want to join him when he says “I Am A God”. On the first few listens, you find yourself under attack. The production on this track is very tense, almost terrifying. The synths are wacked out, the bass bends and Jamaican samples fly around. From start to finish you find Kanye arguably at his most menacing and perverse. It’s like the dance track that had a serious malfunction. Meanwhile, Kanye throws around lines about croissants and menages that make the challenge of rolling with this album all the more difficult. It’s the Kanye song that no person will ever admit liking because it’s way out in left field and there’s no changing your mind about that.
Following that is the song that first marked the coming of Yeezus, “New Slaves”. The song sparked controversy when people heard Kanye, a man who had a deal with Nike, denouncing corporate America. Many people said “who the hell does he think he is? What a hypocrite!” but that’s been Kanye all along. He proved that in “All Falls Down” ten years ago when he said that he went to Jacob the Jewler and spent $25,000 before he even had a house right after spending two verses talking about blacks and materialism just like the way he did in “New Slaves”. This is the man who on the same album (Twisted Fantasy) went from being unapologetically braggadocious on “Power” to being sincerly remorseful on “Runaway”. There’s no consistency to anything Kanye says about himself because like I said before, he is a social paradox. Hates the spotlight one moment, but loves it the next.
The social paradox is present in it’s most literal form in “Hold My Liquor”. This is when Kanye starts to show vulnerability after attacking us for the first 15 to 20 minutes. Kanye brings in Chief Keef and Justin Vernon to play the roles of bad and good Kanye. People complained about the Chief Keef feature but it makes absolute perfect sense and it’s pulled off brilliantly. It’s the inner battle that Kanye seems to be fighting here on this track. Kanye flip flops between “I can handle myself” and “I can’t handle myself”. Obviously, he’s too proud to go out and say that he’s wrong. Instead, he uses Vernon and Chief Keef to do the talking for him. It seems as though every time Kanye puts together something this emotional and detailed it makes him seem even more isolated than everyone else around him. It’s what makes him so unique. “I’m in It” had me convinced after the lines “eatin asian pussy all I needed was sweet n sour sauce” and “put my fist in her like a civil rights sign” that I was listening to the most vividly hedonistic album that I can remember since Blood Sugar Sex Magik . That comparison may be out in left field but that’s what this album is in a nutshell. Rest assured, if I can handle a lyric like “I wanna party on your pussy” from Anthony Kiedis then I can surely endure the ones on Yeezus. As nasty as this track is, it’s almost irresistible.
And then there’s “Blood on the Leaves”. Wow. Kanye promised a minimal approach on this album but on this specific track, he lets it all go. It starts out with just the “Strange Fruit” sample and a piano loop and it slowly builds with Kanye’s vocal tone up until he sings “So, let’s get on with it” and then the track explodes with the TNGHT sample. The track continues to intensify as well as the song’s narrative. It’s almost like a piece from a musical. The lyrical topic shifts as well as Kanye’s role in the song’s narrative. He goes from dealing with a love affair gone rotten to telling a story of two people trapped within materialism, promiscuity and a life with someone you don’t love. Kanye hits his message home by cryptically making references to the Thomas Moore poem “The Last Rose of the Summer” in the outro. It’s more than Kanye rapping/singing about tabloid fodder. He grounds the subject, making it about love lost rather than two shallow people dealing with rich people problems. It’s kind of eye opening. No doubt, this is the best track on the album.
The next track “Guilt Trip” is arguably my least favorite Kanye West song ever. It just seems kind of out of place on this album. It seemed like a b-side for the 808’s and Heartbreak era rather than something that belongs on Yeezus. It’s not horrible, but it’s not really impressive either. The following track, “Send It Up” is one that Kanye describes as “the greatest shit in the club…..since in the club”. Then we come to the albums conclusion with “Bound 2”. Kanye worked with Rick Rubin to take out the majority of the production and what was left was just a sample and a bassline. When you listen to this track after having gone through the entire album you think “where the hell has this been this whole time?” and I think that’s kind of the point. Kanye is very honest with himself on this track. Claiming to not have remembered where he and his girl first met and also asking his “bitch for other bitches”. Love is doing weird things to Kanye. “Bound 2” serves as the calm after the storm.
It’s amazing how much 40 minutes like this can make so many people feel a certain way. For better or for worse, that is what makes Yeezus great. It’s not some type of innovation as much as it is a reflection of an artist at a certain period in his life. That my friends is art, but not in the flawlessly beautiful way. More in the fucked up twisted way. It has the hedonism of a Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the industrial attitude of the Downward Spiral, and the adventurousness of a Metal Machine Music. Yeezus is a reflection of the social paradox that we’ve come to love and hate. This is the first album that I’ve ever listened to in the realm of popular hip hop that is almost as much architectural design as it is musical composition. The reaction to this album only reflects how isolated Kanye is from the rest of the world. I don’t think we’ll ever quite understand him because he’s not like anyone else and honestly how can we when he’s emotionally all over the place. That’s the way he’s always been. His personality is almost as interchangeable as his style. So, what exactly is Kanye and Yeezus? Is he a god like he says? Or is he public enemy number one? Is he a genius? Or is he an idiot? Is Yeezus an album that only the “dickriders” like? Or is it an album the “haters” can’t tolerate? Well, it all depends on who you ask.
Listen to “New Slaves” by Kanye West:
BEST ALBUMS OF 2013