It’d be redundant to say that Kanye West is a divisive artiste, but here’s a new thought; if you hate him as an artiste and not just on a personal level, you’re probably why hip hop’s status quo – in the mainstream, at least – remains the same. That’s admittedly a hyperbolic statement, one that stems from a personal opinion that’s not quite well-thought up. You could even say we’re pulling a Kanye, which is exactly what sixth album Yeezus is in a nutshell; Kanye pulling a Kanye. This is the pure id of his verbal flippancy given a sound – a minimalistic, abrasive, and industrial take on modern dance, one that on one or two tracks got more in common with Death Grips than anything else.
Ever since Andre 3000 semi-retired from OutKast (never actually announced it, but still doing it better than Jay-Z), hip hop hasn’t had a mainstream act that took as many left turns as them. Not until 808s & Heartbreak at least. Arguably Kanye’s riskiest move, the album was full-on autotuned, had a more electronic sound (thanks to the Roland TR-808), and unabashedly emotive – he poured his heart out without any filters beyond autotune. The record proved to be the beginning of a more divided reaction to his music, hip hop fans don’t get ‘Ye anymore once he traded soul samples and anthemic choruses for emo (terrible) singing, electronica, music beyond his genre, and fashion (“Old n*ggas mentally still in high school.”). Yeezus, while featuring much less singing, has the same vibe as that album, enough that we’re not surprised that it’s received better by critics than hip hop fans.
Unlike My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was something he did to appease the masses while still taking chances, the sound of Yeezus doesn’t feel like he took anyone’s consideration beyond his own into it (“I rather be a dick than a swallower,” as he says on ‘New Slaves’). Even though it’s marketed as if minimalism were a new creative direction he was exploring, and one that was credited to Rick Rubin (whom stripped the excess off the album), 808s had the same approach sans the industrial influences. This record, then, is unadulterated Kanye, and what a neurotic headf*ck it is.
At his most outrageous on ‘I Am a God’, where a menacing beat is coupled with dancehall vocal samples, Kanye layers the industrial-a$s horrorcore beat with absurdist lines like demanding a massage and ménage à trois. Then later on he addresses his fame, artistry, and critics alike, but after the now infamous ‘croissant’ request at the end of the verse, the song took a left turn and fell into a stygian ditch of Hedonistic nightmare. A portentous halfway turn that made the ending – ‘Ye screaming for his life, stopping for breath, panting repeatedly – all the more haunting. It’s hard to believe that this man is not at least a bit self-aware of how ludicrous his self-indulgent tirades can sound to people.
Elsewhere on Yeezus, ‘Ye dials back his egoist-fame motif for College Dropout-to-Graduation style consciousness. On tracks like ‘Black Skinheads’ and ‘New Slaves’, he’s almost nuanced in his elaboration of black stereotypes and comparisons of old school slavery with that of what he feels is current slavery; the commoditising of black artistes by large corporations and media. If ‘Ye’s talks of fame, wealth, and indulgence turned you off before (as thematic and contextualised as they are on this album), these two tracks are likely to remind you why you liked him in the first place.
His penchant for soul isn’t completely abandoned either, you still hear them in spurts and stops, which is transcended to another level with the Billie Holiday-sampling 808s-esque ‘Blood on the Leaves’ (Holiday used better here than on Hova’s latest). And his love for Justin Vernon continues further to bromance here – his voice appears multiple times, most bizarrely potent on his collaborative autotune-standoff track with Chief Keef (‘Hold My Liquor’).
Yeezus isn’t going to change your mind, the music might have taken a minimalistic route but all of ‘Ye’s personality traits that you hated? Maximised. That’s alright, JUICE prefers our musicians to be challenging.
LISTEN TO: ‘I Am a God’
IF YOU DON’T LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Magna Carta Holy Grail
1. On Sight
2. Black Skinhead
3. I Am a God (feat. God)
4. New Slaves
5. Hold My Liquor
6. I’m In It
7. Blood on the Leaves
8. Guilt Trip
9. Send It Up
10. Bound 2