Kanye West’s Yeezus is not for the faint of heart. But neither is the rapper himself. Although, to be honest, referring to Kanye West as a “rapper” feels a bit too feeble at this point. On Kanye’s Wikipedia page, the list of his many career controversies is seemingly endless, but so is the one for his many awards and accolades. Throughout a decade of ups and downs, Kanye West has now officially ascended into a state of higher being; at least, according to Kanye West, he has.
When Yeezus was leaked earlier last week, the album– and Ye’s now-famous NY Times profile– sparked a heated debate within the office where I work. “Kanye isn’t even that good of a producer,” said one colleague, taking aim at the rapper’s liberal use (and re-use) of samples. On the flip side, another colleague and I defended the man who, as we argued, has succeeded in bringing rap music to the mainstream without sacrificing on experimentation or risk-taking; I even believe I used the “G” word once or twice. On Yeezus, Kanye West is more haunting, heavy, and poignant than ever before. There are also more unsightly references to his dick than ever before. Which side you choose to favor while listening is pretty much up to you. But while not all will see Yeezus as a fair representation of Kanye’s genius, there is no other artist alive who could create such a work of raw, powerful wonder.
Throughout Yeezus, there are only glimmers of the artist that Kanye used to be; the album’s curt collection of ten tracks is still ripe with samples and collaborations, but there are no radio-friendly rap hits to be found anywhere, a la` “Gold Digger,” or even “N***** in Paris.” Take, for example, “Holy My Liquor.” The track isn’t quite the party jam you’d think it would be, but a scratchy, minimalist expression of loneliness and angst. Instead of relying on previously explored genres like soul and electronics, Kanye works to make a dark, industrial, aggressive new sound all his own. Opener “On Sight,” produced with the help of Daft Punk, commences with the cutting zaps of a warped synth, reminiscent (as many have pointed out) of Death Grips. Still, the comparison isn’t quite fair. It’s one thing to create experimental sounds, but it’s a whole new risk for an artist like Kanye West, who could easily rest on the laurels of his number one hits without ever altering a note. “How much do I not give a fuck?” he asks, after which a sweet harmony of female voices respond, “He’ll give us what we need/It may not be what we want.”
To the haters, I can say only this: give Ye a chance. He may compare himself to Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan without the slightest hint of irony, but only he can make sense of a track about racism that includes references to both cotton picking and Alexander Wang. Kanye does just that on “New Slaves,”one of the many tracks on Yeezus that boldly tackles the issue of race. “Blood on the Leaves” re-works Nina Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a protest song about lynching in the Jim Crow era. Whether it’s distasteful is not really for me to judge, but it’s dizzying to hear how Kanye spins the song into an earnest tale of drugs, fame, money, and regret.
Now, I don’t want to offend any religious groups by comparing Kanye West to God, but it’s obvious the two have a few things in common (at least theoretically). God created the world because he had the power to do so. Kanye created Yeezus because he had the power– and the guts– to release it to the world. Inarguably, there is no figure in music more polarizing, jarring, or thoroughly in-your-face than Kanye West. For better or worse, he stands alone– a Yeezus among men.
5 / 5 bars