Album Review: YEEZUS

I believe … in Yeezus.

I have heard Kanye West’s new album, and I have a lot of feelings about it.

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Kanye West’s fans, myself included, are devoted. We’ve followed him from mixtape to stadium status – from preaching to the choir to televised evangelicalism. Like any true Kanye fan, I’ve found myself defending the arrogance and brashness of the modern day maestro. I love Kanye’s work. Everything from the soulful College Dropout, to the experimental My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I own every Kanye album; have seen him in concert every time he’s come to my city. I respect him as an artist, and often understand where he’s coming from.

I love Kanye’s bravado – his utter devotion to his work. He comes off as arrogant because he IS arrogant. It’s no misunderstanding. Kanye is the man who has compared himself to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and Howard Hughes. Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson. He can do that. He has the critical and commercial track record to back up his claims of greatness. Nobody believes in Kanye as much as Kanye.

His music is stellar, his production is incredible. I may be inflating his already overblown ego – but that ego is what I love most about Kanye. Not everybody gets it – but that’s the point. He’s a polarizing figure – a character. I call him a character, because that’s exactly what he is. His persona is as much of a show as Lady Gaga’s. It’s a performance piece.

He’s popularized high fashion, high-speed sampling, electronic music collaborations, drama, orchestration and artistry in hip-hop. I’m not saying he’s a pioneer – but he is a trend setter. Almost all of these things were started by some other artist in the industry, yet Kanye has brought these things to the pop culture arena. Kanye has nurtured and supported new talents in music, including Bon Iver, Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, and Lupe Fiasco. Talent finds talent.

Love him or hate him, everyone talks about Kanye.

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Praise Yeezus?

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Today marks the release of his highly anticipated album: Yeezus. It’s angry, dark and defiant. Yeezus is a great album, even if it feels a bit disconnected. It’s not a cohesive album. It doesn’t flow flawlessly. It’s not an album that I can listen to from beginning to end. It’s not a narrative story. It’s jarring to go from one song to the next. It adds to the jagged and raw sound that I think Kanye is going for. You never get comfortable.

It seems as if there was too much of a good thing. Too many songs, too many ideas, too much genius, and not enough room to fit it all on one album. Yeezus is shockingly bare. In signature Rick Rubin style, it’s stripped down to the essentials. Not all of the songs feel new. In fact, some are so reminiscent of Kanye’s previous work that it’s almost as if they belong on his older albums (more on this later). The track listing is diverse and tangled, somewhat messy and thrown together.

I know what you superfans are thinking…. Yeezus is art…ART! I’m sure it is – but it’s not for everyone. There’s been tons of fanfare and media coverage on the release of this album, but more so on Kanye’s new “angry persona”. Newsflash, Kanye has been angry for a lot of his career. He just used to pair it with smoother sounds.

Rolling Stone (and almost every other media outlet) has given Yeezus 4.5 out of 5. People are calling it a masterpiece. It’s too early for me to make that kind of a statement. Yeezus is bold and unrelenting. It’s hard, edgy and raw – but this isn’t new ground for Kanye. As experimental and artistic as Yeezus may seem, 808s & Heartbreak was a huge departure for Kanye. It was the first time he did something different. For all the people that are embracing Yeezus, a lot more disregarded 808s & Heartbreak for being “too different”. It was bold without being overbearing. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is more of an experiment. It’s accessible and inaccessible in equal measure – extravagant and avant-garde. Where 808s showed a softer side of Kanye, Yeezus is mostly sharp edges and fury. An interesting choice for a guy who’s in love and recently become a father.

Yeezus is a great album. It’s Kanye’s most recent statement piece. He’s challenging what we think about race, culture, class and history. Like it or not, on this album, Kanye declares that “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.”

1. On Sight (ft. Daft Punk)

The first track on the album features collaboration with Daft Punk. It’s a fast and awesome track about “not giving a f***”. I love it. It’s a great intro and totally sets the tone of the album. I’m all for Daft Punk collaborations. All the time.

2. Black Skinhead

I’ll be honest. I didn’t get this song when I first saw it performed on SNL. Seeing it in context for the Wolf of Wall Street movie trailer has really made me love the song. It’s chaotic and industrial. It takes on racism and status in such an aggressive way. The screaming, the drums… it’s unsettling and it’s a strong statement song.

3. I Am God (ft. God)

I don’t get this song. Instrumentally – it’s different. It doesn’t have a rhythm. It’s confusing to listen to. The middle of the song is full of screaming and panting. It’s disconcerting. I think the message is clear…. Kanye West is God. He lets you know about 100 times in the 3:50 minute running time.

4. New Slaves (ft. Frank Ocean)

This is the most serious, aggressive and amazing song on the album. It’s hypnotic. It’s the one song that almost seems to connect the entire album. It’s a tense jam that I can’t get enough of. It’s full of hate and hope. I can’t wait to see this performed live.

5. Hold My Liquor (ft. Chief Keef and Justin Vernon)

This song derails the Yeezus experience for me. This is where the serious and aggressive tone of the album slows down. It doesn’t fit, lyrically at least, with the rest of the album. Musically, it sounds like it should have been included in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

6. I’m In It (ft. Travis Scott)

This is a vulgar song. The distorted voices and dancehall sound fits really well together. Again, it’s a schizophrenic song. You can’t dance to it – even if it is dancehall influenced. It’s a really trippy beat – but not one of my favourites from this album.

7. Blood On The Leaves (ft. Nina Simone)

I LOVE this song. It’s a great anthem song. Kanye gives us a strange combination of lyrics about lynching and ex-girlfriends. The autotune and distorted sample of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”, makes it feel like it should’ve been featured on 808s. It’s more personal than the other “statements on society” featured on the album.

8. Guilt Trip (ft. Kid Cudi)

Guilt Trip sounds like a video game. It’s a very Kid Cudi song. It’s so mesmerizing that it almost gets lost in all the other tracks on the album. It’s a quiet storm.

9. Send It Up (ft. King Louie)

A banging, cool and sexy song. I dare you not to bob your head to this pulsing bass beat. We get back to the noise of earlier Yeezus songs. To quote my friend Kanye: “It’s pretty much amazing”.

10. Bound 2 (ft. Charlie Wilson)

This is my favourite song on the entire album. I think it’s the most “classic” Kanye sounding song. It’s good ol’ College Dropout Kanye. It’s simpler times. It’s a love song. It reminds us why most of us fell in love with Kanye’s music. He’s changed, we’ve changed – but it’s still Kanye.

At 40 minutes, Yeezus is noisy, erratic and audacious – Yeezus is different. An ambitious and almost fully realized album. I missed you Kanye. Welcome back Yeezus Christ, Superstar.

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