Kanye West – Yeezus

WxOSUmo

Released: June 18, 2013

Label: Roc-A-Fella, Def Jam

Producer: Kanye West, 88-Keys, Ackee Juice Rockers, Arca, Benji B, Carlos Broady, Brodinski, Ben Bronfman, Evian Christ, Eric Danchild, Daft PunkMike Dean, Dom Solo, Jack DonoghueGesaffelstein, Noah Goldstein,LuniceLupe Fiasco,Hudson MohawkeNo ID, Che Pope, Rick Rubin (executive prod.), S1Travis Scott, Sham Joseph

Genre: Hip Hop, Progressive Hip Hop, Rap

Tracklist:

01 On Sight
02 Black Skinhead
03 I Am a God (feat. God)
04 New Slaves
05 Hold My Liquor
06 I’m In It
07 Blood on the Leaves
08 Guilt Trip
09 Send It Up
10 Bound 2

When I first looked on this record’s tracklist, one thing caught my eye (and equally shocked all of us i think). “I Am a God (feat. God)”. It just sound like blasphemy actually. They were even dissing him on 9GAG (meh). Before I even heard the song I thought to myself: “Hey, didn’t someone before do this already? Didn’t John Lennon equally shock everyone with “more popular than Jesus” in 1966?”. But if I recall correctly John Lennon later said and in more context “I believe that what people call God is something in all of us”. So I gave the track a chance. When you listen to it it certainly does not give you the impression that West is some self proclaimed, egotistic pop star. As he explains it, while rapping about loyalty, respect, threesomes, and, yes, croissants with the urgency of someone being chased by a 30-ton steamroller, being a God is more complex, stressful, and a job he definitely doesn’t want. Speaking of complex this song is so packed I don’t know where to start. From primal dancehall screams to breathtakingly vexed pixelated outburst and industrial sounds, that surely add to the whole album’s darker and more evil sound. The song’s apparent inspiration is a passage from the book of Psalms: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”

Musically, Yeezus is dark and sonically experimental, combining elements of Chicago drilldancehallacid house, and industrial music. The intensity of both his voice and the music is very high. But he’s done this before. Take “Jesus Walks”, where he references another Psalm while gasping from on high: “I walk through the valley of the Chi where death is/ Top floor, the view alone will leave you breathless.” Then, on “POWER”, he contemplates leaping out of the penthouse, “letting everything go.” So on “Jesus Walks” he’s walking on the top floor, then on “POWER” he’s thinking about jumping. And now in 2013 we finally come to Yeezus. Yeezus is the final free-fall. The man simply has nothing left to loose. When you listen to it you’ll know what I mean. He simply pushed this album to the limit and succeeded in doing so.

The formula for this album is combing two familiar elements from previous albums. The razor-sharp sounds of his 2008 release 808s and Heartbreak and his filled-with-greed maximalism he so thoroughly both achieved(and nailed) on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In hindsight, the latter record– with its ingratiating GOOD Fridays buildup, endless guest list, and uncharacteristically apologetic interview sessions— was his attempt at recapturing a superstar-sized American audience after a slew of entertaining-yet-questionable PR incidents. Except it didn’t exactly work: While it was still highly praised and went platinum, it still stands today as the worst-selling West album to date and failed to produce a Top 10 Single. But even if it wasn’t a chart smash, the intricacy and durability of Twisted Fantasy incubated the Cult of Kanye to an extreme level. “I’d rather piss a bunch of people off and make myself happy than make everyone else happy and be pissed off inside,” he told VIBE around the release of 808sYeezus doubles-down on this exclusionary philosophy: “Soon as they like you, make ’em unlike you/ ‘Cause kissing people ass is so unlike you.

For West that repulsion worked in his favor. So come 2013, on Yeezus he was able to trade that smooth souly R&B and pop choruses for ear-shattering electro, acid house and industrial grind and at that same time, unveil some of his most hear-crashing stories and even darker fantasies. Willful provocation don’t you think?(where’s Madonna when you need her?). Some of the record has him tackling the same issues he’s been rapping about since The College Dropout except On Yeezus, (he’s still addressing the plight of incarcerated black men) he’s incensed. With “New Slaves”, he confronts us with vulgar stereotypes while exposing the prison-industrial complex for the deeply systemic racist sham that it is.

Meanwhile, XXX creeper “I’m In It” sounds like a dancehall orgasm mired in quicksand and makes previous come-ons like “Slow Jamz” come off like Disney theme songs. “The kids and the wife life, but can’t wake up from the nightlife,” says the(BY THE WAY) new father on that track’s knowingly button-pushing final verse.

The album’s headpiece of course is the track “Blood on the Leaves” which tells of a nightmarish story of divorce and betrayal. Sampling a highly pitched Nina Simone sample of “Strange Fruit” and TNGHT‘s evil sounding R U Ready, (so THAT’S why i couldn’t find R U Ready anywhere to buy! Kanye you sneak) the character leaps between two different moods of sorrowful and angry personalities. As contemporaries like Jay Z, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake increasingly devote their music to largely winning tales of contentment, Kanye is unwilling or unable to settle for settling down. On “Hold My Liquor” and “Guilt Trip” he’s trying to convince himself he wasn’t dumped and is trying to brag his way out of it. Self destructive much?

All this aura of discomfort he’s creating and the general negative atmosphere of the album he’s trying to build referenced imprtant issues between modern hip hop and corporate America, visceral and disturbing lines like “put my fist in her like a civil rights sign” put Kanye beyond the reach of mainstream brands hoping to siphon his credibility. As he told the Times, he’s not disinterested in the idea of big companies or big money– he compared himself to Steve Jobs, after all– but he wants control.

This restlessness and discomfort is not only his take on lyrics. It’s also in his music. Instead of relying on and augmenting his music arsenal with well known popular hitmakers he solicited ideas from younger and exciting up-and-coming  newcomers such as Arca, Hudson Mohawke, Young Chop and Evian Christ. He even included long-time veterans like Daft Punk and Rick Rubin, of course again, not for the name they carry but for their history of innovating and breaking the rules in music.  And though Kanye’s blaring, digitized assault couldn’t be further from Daft Punk‘s naturalistic, groove-based Random Access Memories, the artists share a basic philosophy. As Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter recently said of their new record: “We had the luxury to do things that so many people cannot do, but it doesn’t mean that with luxury comes comfort.”

Yeezus’ philosophy extends to the idea of how it uses the human voice. Both last years confounding “Mercy” and this year dark dancehall screams scattered through the album, give you an example. Justin Vernon showed up in the album a bit too, hinting just a bit of angelic tint in the darkness. And though he could’ve likely chosen any rapper on earth to guest on the riotous “Send It Up”– probably the most likely, if not only, chance Yeezus has for a rap-radio hit– he chose Chicago’s relatively unknown King L. His presence, along with that of fellow Chi-town driller Chief Keef, makes the message clear: America may want to ignore these young black men from the gang-strewn South Side, but here, they have a voice.

All of these unlikely choices demonstrate how cohesion and bold intent are at a premium on Yeezus, perhaps more than any other Kanye album. Each fluorescent strike of noise, incongruous tempo flip, and warped vocal is bolted into its right place across the record’s fast 40 minutes. The precise approach runs through Yeezus‘ guerrilla-style promotion, too, which found an army of dark vans lighting projections onto buildings around the world, itself a boots-on-the-ground reaction to today’s InstaTweet brand of music dissemination. I went to one of these impromptu happenings last Saturday night, in the middle of Manhattan. At 1:20 a.m., the words “NOT FOR SALE” lit up on the south side of the Louis Vuitton building. A few guys ran across the street with Christmas-morning glee, snapping photos. Then, Kanye’s starkly-lit visage appeared to recite “New Slaves”‘s anti-consumerist lines as cabs streaked by the luxury stores below. His was the only black face to be seen across the jumbo ads lining an eerily desolate 5th Ave. The van soon closed its doors and drove away; the culture bomb’s flash was over in an instant, but the reverberations were just starting to spread. Ryan Dombal

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