No one has hyped the release of Kanye West's latest album, Yeezus, more than Kanye himself.
The interviews he's given in anticipation of its official release today read like the rantings of mad man shouting from the rooftops, throwing a tantrum and pounding his fists until everyone shuts up and listens.
The album itself is just as strenuous.
Yeezus is dark and different, but unlike smooth 808s & Heartbreak, its sound is choppy and industrial. Don't expect Rihanna hooks or sing-alongs, because you'll get none of that. Don't expect this to be a top-down-and-cruising summer album either. Here, melody is not a priority.
Yeezus is about Kanye going for your jugular, and at times it works and at times it simply doesn't.
Here's where it works:
- 'Black Skinhead', one of the songs co-produced by Daft Punk, is a rollicking punk pep rally and drum circle;
- 'New Slaves' has an irresistible beat and it's here where Kanye does his best rapping. Still, his anti-consumerist lyrics are hard to swallow given his love for all things luxe. In truth, he sounds like he's drowning in his own life.
- 'Blood On The Leaves' is the happiest union between old Kanye and new Kanye. At times, the song sounds unfinished, but that may be because Yeezus is wisely minimalist. One issue, though, is that is samples 'Strange Fruit', a Billie Holiday song meant to bring attention to the tragic lynchings of African-Americans in the Jim Crow South. It's sampled for a song about baby mamma drama with possibly the most pithy lyrics on the album.
Here's where it doesn't work:
- 'On Sight', the first song on the album (also co-produced by Daft Punk) doesn't live up to the promise of its space laser background. It ends too quickly and ends up sounding like an erratic three minute dittie;
- 'I'm In It' is just boring and abrasive with little logic to its composition.
- 'Send It Up' is entirely too bare, and leaves the listener waiting for the lush grooves that Kanye usually serves up. But they never show, the song just clangs to a disappointing end.
Another issue with Yeezus is that these hard sounds aren't necessarily backed up by hard (or evolved) lyrics. Yes, Yeezus shows a more sexual, animalistic side of Kanye's personality, but aside from that, he is still talking about the same things — money, fame, clothes, and women he wants, lost, or can't have — in basically the same way.
The music is trying really hard to move forward, but the man stays in exactly the same place.
Because of that, there are moments in the album where what's being said sounds incredibly silly compared to the hard sounds in the background. It is hard to take Kanye seriously while he's barking out an order for a croissant.
For fans of Kanye's older sound, the last song on Yeezus, 'Bound 2' is a thank you card for sticking to the end. It has the slow, soulful wave-your-hands groove of his first three albums. Your grandma would dig it.
Kanye was going for something you've never heard before, but different doesn't necessarily mean successful. The best tracks on Yeezus are those that (try to) make peace between the Kanye that was and the Kanye that could be.
In that respect Yeezus is a lot like Kanye's fellow Chicago rapper Common's 2002 album, Electric Wire Hustle Flower — the one that left a lot of die hard Common fans scratching their heads or simply refusing to acknowledge its existence. It was a departure from what they understood as his sound, an envelope pushing hip-hop album, but like on Yeezus, the best songs are the ones that sound most effortless.
Being an 'innovator' means that Kanye constantly has to stay ahead of the curve, an exhausting job. Unfortunately for Mr. West, in the case of Yeezus he's mostly running on a treadmill, soaked in sweat, chugging on electrolite riddled sport drink as he tries to catch up to the man he wants to be.
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