Kanye West – Yeezus
Rating: Absolutely no idea!
So, Kanye West. Yeezus. What to make of it? Is it a ferocious, intense and perfectly realised artistic statement, or the desperate noise-making of a superstar with nothing left to say? To be honest I don’t actually know the answer to that question. In fact, I don’t even know what my own opinion of it is yet – it tends to change with every listen and shows no sign of settling on either side of the fence yet.
So rather than wait another 6 weeks or so before I finally make my mind up, I’ve split up this review into two sections: ‘Yeezus is genius’ and ‘Yeezus is awful’, and made a case for both. Let me know which side you fall on in the comments below.
Yeezus is genius
Following up the hugely successful, and massively bloated, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with an album as destructive and uncommercial as Yeezus is a great artistic statement akin to Nirvana’s In Utero.
If it comes across as a bit hypocritical for one of the biggest music stars in the world to make such a statement against the industry that has made him a multi-millionaire, then that is exactly the point. Yeezus is a genius attack on the unjust hypocrisy that defines our world.
The focus of West’s artistic angst is what he perceives to be thinly veiled ‘rich nigger racism’ prevalent in the US, which condescends successful black people rather than fully accepting them. Here he is on ‘Black Skinheads’: “Enter the kingdom / But watch who you bring home / They see a black man with a white woman / At the top floor they gone come to kill King King / Middle Amerca packed in / Came to see me in my black skin / Number one question they asking / Fuck every question you asking / If I don’t get ran out by Catholics / Here come some conservative Baptists / Claiming I’m overreacting / Like them black kids in Chiraq bitch”.
The fact he spits his attack on Middle America’s constant judging of him and the treatment of poor black kids over a Marilyn Manson-aping sample only serves to heighten the tension and add clarity to the message.
Harsh references to racism and slavery are prevalent throughout Yeezus, (‘New Slaves’ mentions cotton picking), but if there’s one song where the message is at its most concise it’s ‘Blood On The Leaves’. Here West uses Nina Simone’s version of ‘Strange Fruit’, the legendary poem about lynching, as a solemn sample – which he gaudily devalues with a throwaway, vocoder-ed rap about his personal life. As a statement about the way in which he feels black people are judged it works perfectly, and it’s a song only Kanye West could ever get away with. He plays the trick of acting up to the ‘rich nigger’ stereotype throughout the album, but always with an eye on lampooning the hypocrites.
With all this heavy lyricism going on, the choice of minimalist yet strong punk production aesthetics is inspired. It portrays his anger and frustration as well as perfectly encapsulates the black hole in the soul of US culture.
It may not have any obvious radio hits, but as a stark and brutal indictment on society by a personality at the very top of the game, Yeezus is a bold and brilliantly realised artistic statement.
Yeezus is awful
It opens with a wince-inducing electro pulse, and closes on downbeat retro soul samples. In-between it’s an unorganised mess of competing ideas that never comes close to rewarding the attention it so brutally demands of the listener.
The minimalist and harsh production (from huge bass drops and clunky samples to jagged synths and EDM beats) also comes across as quite derivative of the likes of Odd Future and the A$AP Mob, rather than a bold and inventive change of direction. ‘I Am A God’, for the most part, is practically unlistenable thanks to the constantly shifting time signatures and intermittent bass line.
The poor choice of collaborators (bloody Chief Keef!?) and even worse use of them (can anyone even tell without looking which songs Daft Punk are involved in!?) is either the result of a famed producer losing his touch, or an egotistical rapper making a show of attracting big names just to shove them in the corner – because he’s Kanye West and he can do what he likes.
Following a classic and hugely successful album with an ‘anti-pop’ and aggressive album smacks of petulance and a blatant disregard for fans – not a creative piece of art. In fact, how any album that includes lyrics like ‘Eatin’ Asian pussy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce’ could be considered anything other than God-awful is beyond me.
It seems clear that with Yeezus, Kanye West set out to make an album to either be loved or hated. Perhaps more than anyone he knows the value of being talked about – so whether you think the album is an incomprehensible and maddening mess, or an absolute genius artistic statement, it doesn’t matter to ‘Ye. As long as you don’t shrug your shoulders and think it’s average, he’s happy.
What are your thoughts about Yeezus, join in the discussion in the comments below….