The first distorted saw wave notes and electro boom bap beats of Kanye West‘s new Yeezus album hit you like a metal fist to the face. But this pain is joyous, as his crunchy, analog industrial sound instructs you to strap your seat belt on and get ready to take a roller coaster ride through the controversial rapper/producer’s personal heaven and hell. Unfortunately, after the first 2 verses, the music becomes so dumbed down by West‘s ego-fueled rants, that you kinda wish that he would just stop yelling at you. [Dare I say, turn Kanye down before this shit even begins?]
It’s difficult not to love the sparse production, full of Rick Rubin 808 beats, analog synths, distorted bleeps, Daft Punk productions, filling-rattling bass, and arpeggiated digital sounds. Still, I couldn’t help but consider how cool this would be if it was all instrumental. Is my first impression really to want less Kanye on a Kanye album?
This is, after all, a man who compared himself to Steve Jobs, so it seems that he can warrant this kind of deeper gleaning of his music and psyche. Is West a cultural innovator and protagonist of the new self-made black man mogul? Or, is he a simply recycler of the very materialistic and shallow elements that many people feel have strangled the life out of hip hop?
Some of us would like to root for Kanye, but he makes it so damn hard with his demand for the “finer things” in life that don’t seem to make him any happier or fulfilled. His boasting just sounds so tired and played out. Don’t get me wrong, I get bored with “conscious” hip hop pretty quickly–most times, I’d rather nod my head and wave my hands in the air, than to be taught something (respect to KRS-1 and PE)–but there is just nothing creative about Kanye‘s lyrics or concepts. Vanity killed his Mom (botched plastic surgery) and has he not learned anything from it?
Forget these deeper introspections and questions of the Kanye-verse; lets go for a bump by bump rundown of the album tracks.
1. “On Sight”
Oh Kanye, you have ruined a perfectly good Daft Punk produced cut by rapping verses that are so exhausted that they could use some No Doze. Sample genius lyrics: “We get this bitch shaking like Parkinsons” and “Black Timbs all on your couch again. Black dick all in your spouse again“. There’s a cool soul sample breakdown that pops in, out of nowhere, and gives us a brief respite from the artist, but it kind of ends with him saying, “…put my dick in her mooooooooouth.” The song peters out with synth blips and me wondering, “is this really how he is starting his album?” Bad sign.
2. “Black Skinhead”
Crazy drums and synths start this one off. “Stop all that coon shit. These niggas ain’t doin’ shit.” He almost begins to say something, but his rants quickly dissolve into screaming at the listener about how black he is. It ends with him shouting “God” over and over. God, make it stop.
3.”I am a God” (featuring God)
This might epitomize the absolute shit that West has become. But, before he starts rapping–is that Shabba Ranks babbling in the background? Kanye chimes in: “I am a God. Hurry up with my damn massage. Hurry up with my damn menage. Get the Porsche out the damn garage.” Really? “In a French-ass restaurant. Hurry up with my damn croissants.” He ends this masterpiece with crying and wheezing. Maybe it’s as painful for him to make as it is for us to listen to.
4. “New Slaves”
Thank you Kanye for surprising me. He’s lamenting materialism here and how it’s destroying his people. “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” “Fuck you and your corporation. Y’all niggas can’t control me.” The simple beat provides some much needed space to the vocals, but then come the lyrics, “Fuck you and your Hampton house. I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse. Came on her Hampton blouse. And in her Hampton mouth.” It ends with the ever soulful, Frank Ocean doing his thing in a beautiful organ-drenched left turn for the song.
5. “Hold My Liquor”
Do yourself a favor and fast forward past this auto-tuned mess of a track. Small props for the line, “I’m hanging on a hangover“, but no props for “Pussy had me floating. Feel like Deepak Chopra.”
6. “I’m in it”
When Kanye says, “Put my fist in her, like a civil rights sign,” it’s hard not to imagine MLK Jr. and Malcolm X rolling in their respective graves, hoping for a zombie apocalypse, so that they can be resurrected and choke some sense into this fool.
7. “Blood on the Leaves”
Sampling Nina Simone‘s version of “Strange Fruit,” the 1939 Billie Holiday classic about lynchings in the South? Maybe this is Kanye‘s chance to redeem himself. Nope. Instead, he creates a diatribe against scandalous women, as Simone‘s eerie vocals waft in with, “Black bodies swinging…” West seems oblivious to the contrast between his shallow experiences with females and such a legendary, groundbreaking song, which was a precursor to the civil rights era. He must have no shame.
8. “Guilt Trip”
The cool synths that open this song sound as if they could be from a John Carpenter film. There’s just something about this track that sounds interesting and fresh. Kanye‘s talking some auto-tuned shit about another woman, as cellos mix in with the synth lines. The outro begins with Kid Cudi belting out the question, “If you love me so much, then why’d you let me go?” This might be one of the only decent songs on this entire album.
9. “Send it Up”
Synth air raid sirens give way to some boom bap beats. Daft Punk kills it again. Featured rapper, King L sounds like he drank some sizzurp and wrote the lyrics 2 minutes before his guest spot. “Yeezus just rose again.” I find myself hoping that it doesn’t last a full 40 days, like the original resurrection .
10. “Bound 2”
Starting with a soul sample, which Kanye is a master of, this feels organic in a way that few tracks do on this record. “Rock Forever 21, but just turned 30.” Not a bad way to end an album–more rantings about love lost. Still, it feels somewhat like you’ve been punched in the face, only to have your attacker hand you an icepack, expecting you to forget about the pain that they’ve inflicted on you.
So here we all are in the stadium of Kanye‘s universe. The album ends and the game is over. Half of the crowd is cheering and the other half is filing out, hating. Everyone has their justification for how they feel about the man and the release, but ultimately, it’s hard not to admit that it feels like Kanye was trying to hit a home run into “left field,” but wound up just hitting a foul ball. Unfortunately, we all lose on this one, as Kanye‘s attempt at an “art” album strikes out.