Beyond comparing oneself to God, Kanye’s latest shows Kanye has more than a little bit in common with John Lennon. Both are undoubtedly musical visionaries, even if it’s annoying to hear Kanye call himself one: it’s true. Both have an ongoing controversial relationship with the media, think quite highly of themselves, are very idealistic yet live very contradictory lifestyles: John being all about peace and love but being the most combative of all the Beatles, and Kanye talking about believing and following God in the same breath as his prideful, greedy, and misogynistic comments. This contradictory lifestyle is part of what makes Kanye so appealing though: we all to some degree live contradictory lifestyles, Kanye is just bold enough to wear it on his sleeve. Yeezus is Kanye’s Plastic Ono Band: a 21st century primal scream album stripped down to its simplest rawest form, with Kanye bearing his soul on relationships and race. While with John this lead to some very heartbreakingly honest and gut-wrenching moments, Kanye errs a little too often on the side of senselessness, even if the music is brilliantly groundbreaking.
Yeezus fires out of the gate with 3 of its 5 best tracks: “On Site”, “Black Skinhead”, and “New Slaves”. “Black Skinhead” shines as one of his best tracks ever, so catchy it could practically be a jock jam if he wasn’t spouting off against institutional racism in corporate America. “New Slaves” is equally furious, containing some of Kanye’s most piercing and raw rhymes to date. The problem comes when the album hits the mid-mark: the album quality really shrinks on songs like “Hold My Liquor”, “I’m In It”, “Guilt Trip” and “Send It Up”. Each song has slivers of brilliance, but on the whole, remain fairly unlistenable with some of Kanye’s clunkiest and dumbest lines yet. The album finishes with a classic gospel/soul Kanye sample with “Bound 2”, which is a major highlight on the album, free from the chains of the ugliness and coldness that fills the album. It is so refreshing after what precedes it, that it made me realize just how much more I enjoy Kanye playing with his classic sound, rather than make a statement that defies expectations. Yeezus stands as his second worst album next to 808’s and Heartbreaks, but the two also stand as his most innovative and probably most influential.
My initial take on Yeezus was pure disgust. My text to Todd and Wes consisted something like “Yeezus can only be described as annoying”. I said “oh boy do I hate that new album” to another friend. I’m gonna back off of those a statements to a degree, but I will say that I am thoroughly disgusted with the universal acclaim Yeezus is receiving. Not only it is without merit, but firmly belongs in the category of “pandering”.
There are two nearly flawless tracks on Yeezus, so let’s start with the positives. “New Slaves” racial diatribe may not be something I can directly relate with, but Kanye’s tone translates no matter the message. There is no replacement for unbridled emotion, and that is an area where Kanye has rarely faltered. The track intensifies much like Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares”, capping off in a soft outro. Wes also mentioned “Black Skinhead”, my favorite track on the album, so it doesn’t need much more love.
Now for the bad. Almost every other song is deeply flawed, notwithstanding the occasional glimpse of genius. Album opener, “On Sight”, is half a song with a disruptive bridge during an otherwise promising track. “I Am a God” features piercing screaming at the end when the song could just be over, and unnecessary vocals by Kanye’s favorite pet, Justin Vernon. “Hold My Liquor” once again features Vernon unnecessarily and also guests Chief Keef who frustratingly only delivers a lazy hook, but at least Kanye’s one verse absolutely murders to building synth that belongs in the movie Drive. Mercifully Vernon’s last contribution, “I’m In It” is an amalgam of gross; so disjointed I can hardly make it all the way through. Another song with mass potential, the Hudson Mohawke produced “Blood on the Leaves”, tries to do too much with the overlapping vocals and autotune, but at least once you get to Kanye’s rap he delivers. “Guilt Trip” is more painful than the Barbara Streisand/Seth Rogen buddy comedy of the same name. “Send It Up” features a sirenesque backbeat that I found grating to begin with, but I’m gonna admit its growing on me a little. Too bad its ruined by the changed course in the end. “Bound 2” takes Kanye back to Motown sounds he hit up on “Otis”, but it is just too repetitive.
Overall, this album may not be as bad as I originally thought, but it is exceptionally flawed. It’s unfortunate Kanye’s imposing celebrity has blinded everyone to this. On “New Slaves”, Kanye says “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower”. Mission accomplished, because he certainly has everyone hoovering down every last drop.
Embedded within that “disruptive bridge” Austin referred to from the electro-thrashing album opener “On Sight”, is what I believe to be the over-arching theme of Kanye’s career as of late, as well as Yeezus. “He’ll give us what we need. It may not be what we want.” Kanye once again has reinvented his sound, and made something that is incredibly impressive. It may not be what everyone was expecting, or wanting, but he makes it very clear that he gives zero f*cks about that. Yes his ego is still huge, and his self imposed comparisons are over the top, but are they not warranted? He refers to his new style as “minimalist”, a phrase that is popularly tossed around these days by designers and photographers and is also famed in the music world by Rick Rubin, an executive over-seer for Yeezus. The move was shocking due to Kanye’s past nature of over-glamorous production styles, cramming in as much dynamic sound as possible on each track. Now he sticks to an instrument or two at a time. Focusing more on cramming in producers than instrumentation to maximize his minimal sound. Personally I think Wes and Austin are overlooking a great deal of genius that has been distilled in Yeezus, so I’d like to try and bring out some alternative highlights.
Yes the album comes out swingin’. “On Sight”, “Black Skinhead”, the very misunderstood and underrated “I Am A God”, and “New Slaves” are all hard hitting, socially and introspectively poignant tracks that can easily steal the show from the latter half of the album. But since those bases have been covered let’s move right along to tracks that are catching unnecessary flack. “Hold My Liquor” is not the clunky star-studded track that Wes and Austin make it out to be. Kanye likes collaborating with Justin Vernon because his auto-tuned vocals sound great with Kanye’s style. He’s not featuring him or Cheif Keef for the purpose of parading them around to troll in fans. In fact there are zero tracks on Yeezus that suffer the “So Appalled” syndrome that Dark Fantasy did. By this I mean Kanye doesn’t stack a huge line-up of featured artists like Jay-Z and RZA blowing worthless verses on a track that is hooked by Swizz Beatz, the worst lyricist in the game. No. Kanye is the featured artist on this album. The way he spits on “Hold My Liquor” interplaying with the winding siren that howls between each line is intense and a brilliant build-up.
Then we land on “I’m In It”. How this track is being pinned as a slump on the album is beyond me. I can see why Austin would use the word disjointed because it doesn’t follow a specific verse-bridge-chorus format, by why must a song do so. It flows like a horror movie while Assassin, another random guest that is not very well-known goes off like a tyrant on the track. Pulled back together with Vernon’s ghostly vocals just in time for Kanye to go off on the outro. “Blood On the Leaves” takes a sample from a devastating song about social injustice from Nina Simone’s library and juxtaposes it with issues of more modern issues of money, drugs, and love. Although I’d like to have seen more on-point lyrics while using such a sample, this song is still stands strong on its own. “Guilt Trip” to me is the only slump on the album. It deserves no defense, but luckily the album quickly is rejuvenated with the industrial “Send It Up” and the beautiful closer “Bound 2”, which I agree with Wes is great highlight. I still have yet to read a review on the album, so I don’t hold issue with it being over-praised as my fellow LxL’ers seem to do. But I will say I was very impressed with this new style, and am certainly a Yeezus follower.
Aggregate Rating: 7.7
Can’t Miss: “Black Skinhead”, “New Slaves”, “Blood on the Leaves”, “Bound 2”
Can’t Hit: “Guilt Trip”