ALBUM REVIEW: Kanye West – Yeezus

Yeezus artwork
Yeezus artwork

Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 11.36.33 AM

ARTIST Kanye West

ALBUM Yeezus

LABEL Def Jam

RELEASE DATE 18 June 2013

10 | 10

“Can we get much higher?” Apparently the answer is no. After the acid-induced high of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) comes the painful hangover in the form of Yeezus, Kanye West’s sixth solo studio LP, and his third undeniable classic after Late Registration (2005) and Fantasy. Yeezus, much like Fantasy, begins with a rhetorical question. “How much do I not give a fuck,” he asks on “On Sight,” before one of his patented soul-samples chimes in with a “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.” And just like that, he sets the tone for the next 38 minutes. We’re no longer in a fantasy land with West; we’re now living out his dark twisted reality.

West has stated he wanted to approach his latest work with a minimalist view after the grandiosity that exemplified his previous recordings. That this “minor” work features production from Daft Punk, TNGHT’s Hudson Mohawke, and Rick Rubin, as well as features from Frank Ocean, Justin Vernon, and Chief Keef, shows just how different Kanye’s definition of “minimalist” is from most others. But most others aren’t gods, as the rapper assures us (and himself) on the thrilling track “I Am A God.” While listening to that track, I’m reminded of George Costanza’s psychology-revealing quote, where he tells Jerry Seinfeld, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” Mr. West at this point fully believes he is in complete control of his own destiny, and while most people will look at this boast as being completely self-obsessed, it’s not wholly different than Isaac Brock’s own assertion on “The Devil’s Workday,” where he howls, “I am my own damn god.” From the growing sample-size of Kanye’s discography, it becomes harder and harder to dispute his claim.

While previewing the album earlier this month, West dropped a lot of nuggets of information to illuminate the inspirations behind Yeezus, with one of the most telling being his revelation that “West was my slave name. Yeezus is my god name.” Throughout Yeezus, Kanye attempts to cleanse himself from America’s unforgivable, sordid past, as he lays it all on the operating table. Along with “On Sight” and “I Am A God,” the album opens with the two tracks he premiered on SNL, the equally menacing “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves.” “My mother was raised in an era when / clean water was only served to the fairer skin.” He opens “Slaves” with that history lesson, while also subtly reminding us of just how little time has passed since segregation.

Kanye’s lyrical fascination with modern day slavery is not a newfound exploit. Ever since The College Dropout’s (2004) “Spaceship,” has he been expressing the plight of the African American community, and how slavery exists today just under a different name. “Meanwhile the DEA / teamed up with CCA / They tryna lock niggas up / They tryna make a new state,” he angrily spits on “Slaves,” right before he, erm, shoots back on these prison owner’s trophy wives. While that song provides the most explosive lyrical moment on Yeezus, it’s the other slavery related track, “Blood On The Leaves,” that has provided the album with its most talked-about moment. As we all know, Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” serves as the backbone of the club banger (courtesy of TNGHT’s “R U Ready”), with lyrics retelling the horror of black people being lynched in the plantation-run south. Kanye has drawn the ire of some by turning the track into a song that lyrically touches the same ground as Registration’s “Gold Digger.” As button-pushing as that may be, what he is really doing is expressing the ways the black community remains enslaved today. Whether it’s the war on drugs or lack of preventative child care in urban communities, he firmly believes the record has been distorted to not tell the full picture of what’s going on in Chicago’s South Side, Harlem, New Orleans, Atlanta, or Los Angeles.

Last summer, a fake announcement popped up on the internet stating Kanye’s new album would be titled Black American Psycho. That title wouldn’t be too far off with such tracks as “I’m In It,” the most sexually explicit track Yeezus has ever recorded, or “Send It Up,” which features one of the most assured verses on the record, as he raps, “She say ‘Can you get my friends in the club?’ / I say ‘Can you get my Benz in the club?’ / If not, treat your friends like my Benz / Park they ass outside ‘till the evening end.” The “thousand bitches” he’s put up with are just a means to an end, much like his Benz.

That West calls the final track “Bound 2,” by far the most joyous thing here, instead of “Bound 2 Love,” further brings forth the notion of enslavement. So what if he’s bound to love rather than bound by chains, he seems to be asking. No matter how god-like he has become, it’s no match for love. Even Jesus had Mary Magdalene to provide distraction from his ultimate goal. Yeezus is a brutal, unforgiving, uncompromising worldview from the brightest star on the planet. He takes the less-is-more approach that has evaded his previous work and implements it to perfection. Much like a Basquiat painting, it’s what isn’t there that’s most important in getting his messages across. So grab the croissants, but hold the liquor, and turn this record up. By creating an album fully for himself, Kanye has created a shockingly accessible album that only gets harder, better, faster, stronger the longer it sits on the shelf.

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