Kanye West, known for his grandiose music arrangements, live performances, and ego decided to scale back every aspect of his arsenal for his sixth solo album Yeezus. Arguably, the most influential and polarizing rapper of all-time, West is most recognizably known for his continuous progression over his near-decade long career. Few have routinely changed a whole genre of music with each body of work like the Chicago rapper has. Choosing to not go the typical route for his album promotion, West capitalized on his celebrity and artistic notoriety by letting the music and abundant speculation do the marketing for him. West took a momentous risk by choosing to not release a song for radio play prior to the album’s release nor did his label due any active street promotion. Evoking innovation by debuting the most complete song off the album, “New Slaves” via street projections at locations around the world, West avoided the status-quo as he deemed the YouTube video format as a “terrible” platform for his presentation of “sonic art”. The only real widespread promotion Ye did to touch his large myriad of fans was his May 18th Saturday Night Live performance and the aforementioned street projections. Enlisting the help of legendary producer and Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin to help him oversee and assemble the production, Ye was focused on making the opposite of Watch the Throne: a minimalist Chicago house-inspired work of art. Yeezus, a ten-track, energetic tour de force is sure to be your soundtrack for the summer but the album, while largely eye-opening, pales in comparison to previous releases by the self-proclaimed “God”.
“On Sight” & “Black Skinhead”
“On Sight”, the head-knocking, club-ready album starter foreshadows the bulk of the album as the song’s production features very abrasive synthesizers. The song’s content heavily depicts West’s current “no fucks given” attitude as he boasts, “black Timbs all on yo’ couch again/black dick all in yo’ spouse again.” Right off the bat, Mr. West has either thrown you off-guard or engaged you for forty minutes of non-stop brash instrumentals. “Black Skinhead” is Ye’s furthest trek into rock music as the production features menacing percussion, thunderous hand-claps, and distorted vocals from electronic music duo Daft Punk. You’ve might have seen Yeezy perform it on SNL but the CDQ version makes the song exponentially better, even though someone should’ve told West in weeks following the SNL performance that 300 (movie directed by Zach Synder) was about Spartans and not Romans. Lyrics on “Skinhead” are slightly politically-charged but still aren’t strong enough to distract from Yeezy’s rhymes about defending his outlandish antics from religious critics and those that don’t endorse interracial couples. The highlight of “Skinhead” is the dark, spot-on chorus in which West details his fast and highly provocative lifestyle.
“I Am a God” & “New Slaves”
The next track is by far the most attention-grabbing song on Yeezus, “I Am A God” brings back the moody synthesizers but this time West debuts his penchant for unnecessary screaming and dancehall samples. “God” is where we learn that Yeezy spent more time on production than he did lyrics, perhaps purposely as you’ll surely be vibing more to the beat and in awe over the screams more so than giving your attention to the lyrics. He rhymes “massage” with “ménage” with “garage”…meh. Oh, let’s not forget to mention his conversation with Jesus Christ, “I just talked to Jesus/He said,”What’s up Yeezus?”.” “New Slaves” is by far the most cohesive track on the album as the lyrics discuss rampant consumerism within the Black community and his unwillingness to conform to corporations’ influences on his artistic visions. West, I’m sure, knew that this was the album’s strongest single thus is why he released it to the public first. “Slaves” and “Skinhead” are the most anti-industry you’ll hear of West on an album that is seemingly a “middle-finger” to his critics and those who want College Dropout-era Kanye West back. The song switches halfway, as West backtracks to his beloved auto-tune and dabbles in lavish classical organ compositions with help from the velvet-like voice of crooner Frank Ocean. “Slaves” is decisively the most astounding piece of work on the album.
“Can’t Hold My Liquor”
Kanye’s best music friend, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is resurrected to provide a brooding introduction to a tune (“Can’t Hold My Liquor”) devoted to West’s drinking problems and relationship quarrels. Chief Keef (totally nonchalant) surprisingly sounds fit as his grungy voice couples decently with the airy synths and bassline. However, due to the minimal production we’re able to notice the overbearingly lackluster lyrics Yeezy blesses us with as he dedicates a whole two-bar to a car accident with his girl’s Corolla. Odd? I know. “Liquor” isn’t the masterpiece of the previous Yeezy-Iver “Lost in the World” collaboration but it is still a pleasing yet depressing ballad about introspection.
“I’m in It” & “Blood on the Leaves”
“Eating Asian pussy/ All I need was sweet-and-sour sauce”, West raps this line on “I’m in It” and as soon as these struggle rhymes grace your ears you know you to switch your attention to the aggressive beat. Please don’t look for anything substantial on this song, I beg of you! Especially since Travi$ Scott assisted Ye on the formation of it, no disrespect but Scott still needs to find his niche and personal voice. This song is the musical equivalent of the “side-eyed” emoji. “I’m in It” is definitely one of the lowest moments of an album filled with trying moments. “Blood on the Leaves” is perhaps the most balls-y offering off Yeezus due to the sampling of Nina Simone’s rendition of Billie Holiday’s classic protest ballad “Strange Fruit” as it is mixed with an interpolation of C-Murder’s “Down 4 My Niggaz”. The soultry voice of Simone matched with the drill-influenced instrumental of TNGHT’s “R U Ready” makes for the most appealing production from the album. “Leaves” finds Yeezy using auto-tune again as he makes pleas about lost exes and their out-of-body molly experiences in hotel lobbies (ha). Yes, you read that correctly. The struggle raps continue as he makes literal use of the #hashtag rap made popular by the G.O.O.D. Music camp. Dude seriously rhymes “#Badbitchalert” with “#Madrichalert”. *Sigh*. C’mon Ye. Do better.
“Guilt Trip” may lead you to an astonishing find; Yeezus may have been influenced by the first minimal hip-hop album of the year, Indicud. Before you get angry and call this claim outrageous, see my reasoning: Indicud had heavy synthesizer production, minimal beat patterns, distorted vocals, and lotssssssss of moaning (although this is what Cudi is famous for). Cudi is featured towards the back-end of the song (note that Cudi’s voice is quite clear here as there are no drug-vocals, a testament to his recent turn to drug-free living). Other than that comparison, there’s no real need for me to discuss “Guilt Trip”, sorry. Filler track.
“Send It Up’ & “Bound 2”
“Send It Up” is in-vein of “On Sight” because of the abrasive synth production although this jawn goes a little harder thanks to a verse by Chicago Drill artist King L. The sirens on this song make it REALLY KNOCK like you will need to play this loud as fuck in your car to get the full effect. The beat and the sample of Beenie Man’s “Memories” take this song to another level but the struggle verse by Yeezy brings it back to the “dope” level. Prior to contrary belief, Yeezus has plenty of radio-ready records; the radio loves synth-heavy, trunk-rattling bass records. Yeezus ends on a beautiful note with “Bound 2”, Uncle Charlie (Charlie Wilson) blesses our ears with his heavenly voice and a sample/loop of “Bound” by Ponderosa Twins Plus One makes the track sound like a continuation of the decadent “Devil in a New Dress” from MBDTF. Yeezy once again struggles through another song. You can really tell he made the lyrics to this album during the last moments before the deadline. Maybe this was the Yeezy that Jay-Z and the rest of Roc-A-Fella were afraid to let get a record deal.
“I know I got a bad reputation
Walking ’round, always mad reputation
Leave a pretty girl sad reputation
Start a Fight Club, Brad reputation…”
“I wanna fuck you hard on the sink/After that give you something to drink”
Really? Really? Like did Ye think he could freestyle in the booth and still get the flame emojis? Nah bro…my face was cringing all the way through his second verse, it was that horrid. Uncle Charlie came through in the clutch because this soulful sample/loop would’ve gone to waste if “Charlie, Last Name Wilson” didn’t bare his soul on the track.
Production-wise, Yeezus is definitely a triumph as its musical sound-scape is something to be marveled at. Through repeated listening, you get the sense from songs like “Skinhead” and “Slaves” that West had an original direction for his sixth solo album that included lush sounds and overly-saturated chord progressions, similar to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Through the album’s creation, West must’ve caught an extreme attraction to the popular trap/house music trend from observation of his cohorts Hudson Mohawke and Virgil Abloh (DJ in trap music DJ group #BEEN #TRILL) and then decided to take the project in a new, minimal direction. Yeezus is similar to 808’s & Heartbreak in the sense that it is a departure from Kanye West, the hip-hop genius as West focuses on constructing a piece of art that represents his genre-meshing musical tastes.
Lyrically, the album is by far his most lackluster and will disappoint even his most die-hard of fans. West has never been in real competition as hip-hop’s most lyrical artist but he always found an avenue to save face via multi-layered instrumental compositions or lavish bridges. However, the lyrical shortcomings on this album make for a deep sinkhole that takes away from the album’s outstanding synthesizers. As you let the album sink in through mind-numbing repeated listens, you’ll notice Yeezus might have been rushed much in the way that Cruel Summer (G.O.O.D. Music’s compilation album) was (rumor has it that West pushed the release date up from November to June 18th which makes sense because it is a summer-themed album). Rick Rubin stated in an interview that he felt the album still needed months of work when he joined the project weeks prior to it’s deadline. The album will give Kanye haters even more reasons to denounce his musical genius while Kanye lovers will be either slightly taken aback or enthused that he’s taking more risks with his musical output. The album’s mind-numbing sonic approach will feel like a breath of fresh air compared to what you hear in rotation on the radio. In the end, he achieved what he set out to do which was make an avant-garde album to stir up the landscape of mainstream music and create tunes that people can vibe to during their everyday lives. Yeezus will falter in terms of bar-to-bar substance to the other June 18th releases (Born Sinner & Watching Movies with the Sound Off) but it will be the most captivating, schizophrenic listening experience of the past year, I guarantee that.
College Dropout/Late Registration Fans: This version of Ye is longggg gone. You all are left out in the FRIGID cold for this album. No more pink Polos and Louis Vuitton backpacks for Kanye Kardashian. It’s all Givenchy, leather, and monochromatic clothing from now on.
Graduation Fans: You’ll see and respect the evolution of Kanye’s production as Graduation was the first album where he started to explore into synth-pop and other obscure genres. Lyrically, you’ll be disappointed that Yeezy abandoned his once charismatic and creative bars for a more dumbed-down approach.
808’s & Heartbreak Fans: You’ll be amazed at the ferociousness of the minimal production. He switches the melancholy 808’s for the hard-pounding synthesizers.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Fans: You’ll probably be in the same “puzzled” boat as the Graduation fans since the beats and lyrical structure of MBDTF was so intricately put together and Yeezus is basically the complete raw opposite of MBDTF.