“Yeezy season approaching,” announces Kanye West. “Fuck whatever y’all been hearing.”
And indeed, you may as well check your assumptions — and sensibilities — at the door. In contrast to the straightforward hip-hop of the Kanye bear era, the auto-tuned emoting of 808s & Heartbreak or the excruciatingly balanced braggadocio/rap-god vulnerability of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus finds the Chicago-born rapper on some of his most asymmetrically abrasive and experimental tracks to date. At its best, Yeezus proves to be a daring endeavor past the charted territories of pop music, but the album is far from perfect.
Lyrically, Yeezus alternates between explicit images of hedonism, heartbreak and a black culture that struggles to make sense of itself in consumerist America. “New Slaves” provides the album’s deepest commentary, but there are plenty of passing motions toward more substantive themes of emptiness and narcissism. In “Hold My Liquor,” for example, West takes on the perspective of his girlfriend’s aunt, who condescends, “Baby girl he’s a loner / Late night organ donor / After that he’ll disown ya / After that he’s just hopeless.” However, don’t think West has turned over a new leaf, because explicit content is abound. The song “I’m In It” is patently sexual, and a ménage is requested more than once in the album. The song that will likely turn the most heads is “I Am a God,” in which, yes, West likens himself to a god: For any other artist, the notion would appear comical, but he decisively pulls it off.
For the most part, Yeezus is set against lean beats and minimalist electronica; Daft Punk co-produced no fewer than three songs, and the “reduction” of the album is attributed to Rick Rubin. Overall, the vibe is dark but varied. For example, a punchy Jamaican hook is featured on “Guilt Trip,” and Nina Simone’s cover of the classic “Strange Fruit,” which details the violence of slavery, anchors down “Blood on the Leaves.” The most compelling example of Yeezus’ style is perhaps “I Am a God,” which features moody synths, a thumping bass and primal screams that materialize the most skillful application of West’s new sound. Other tracks sound straight off of 808s & Heartbreak, while “Bound 2” stands alone in its upbeat happiness that recalls The College Dropout days.
Despite its generally dark tone, the most difficult part about this album is its lack of direction. Whereas 808s & Heartbreak was progressive and guided, Yeezus’ experimentation is disheveled. Yet that roughness is at the core of this album’s identity — Yeezus doesn’t ask for acceptance, but it does demand attention. Although it has its strong points, this latest work from West will likely go down as an experimental stepping stone, not a magnum opus.
Image Source: Super 45 Musica Independiente under Creative Commons.