Review Summary: If you thought Kanye was in your face before, just wait until you hear this.
It seems the greatest of artists tend to make the most polarizing of albums at some point in their career. While alienating a fan base can potentially lead to even the most committed of fans being dissatisfied, it stirs up dispute and debate between those pleased and those put-off, and let’s be honest here, heated arguments embody the true spirit of what makes music discussion so great in the first place. In a way, that makes polarizing albums like Kid A
- to cite undoubtedly one of the most popular examples – some of the most important albums to the progression of music journalism, as it invigorates some of the most detailed and persuasive arguments to surface. Most relevantly though, polarizing albums are important because they can be considered confirmations that an artist is truly devoted to making the kind of music that they
want to make.
That being said, it should really come as no surprise that Kanye would eventually put out an album as polarizing as Yeezus
at some point in his praised career. It goes without saying that Kanye does whatever he wants, and usually for himself, and that’s the kind of reputation he’s established for himself, so if it wasn’t clear to people before that Kanye isn’t afraid to make an album that might cost him a hefty amount of his fanbase, Yeezus
is essentially the audible proof of this very fact. Even if you’ve been a frequenter of West’s work since the beginning, praise the man like he IS the self-proclaimed God he insists he is, it doesn’t even matter if you hold his last album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
in the highest possible regard and believe it to be a modern masterpiece that completely reestablished artistic values for 21st century hip hop, there is a very good damn chance that you’ll dislike, or even as much as despise Yeezus
In a nutshell, the sound of Yeezus
can simply be described as the most intense music West has ever made. Its ten tracks are intricately hysteric whirlwinds comprised of caustic synthesizers, blistering electronic beats, and an abundant dosage of contorted samples all spliced together in a way that’s near fragmented, but still maintains a current that flows smoothly and consistently through the heart of the entire album. It would be an understatement to call the production “raw” and “gritty,” as some of the beats are downright nasty and filthy. This is unquestionably the darkest music Kanye has ever made when it comes to tone, so anyone who found appeal in his music around the era of his album Graduation
- where he might as well have proclaimed himself as the nucleus of hip hop within the pop scene – is completely shit outta luck.
The grimness of Yeezus
is only amplified when compared to its completely different predecessor My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
. While that album was made on a scale big enough to house even Kanye’s ego, and had a sprawling scope matched with an overtly grandiose nature, Yeezus
is in stark contrast at its concise ten tracks and stripped down approach. Fantasy
could be called a majestic and over the top spectacle sort of like a fireworks display; something on a grand scale that’s best when admired from a view to capture it all. Yeezus
on the other hand is a cunningly concentrated direct assault of unbridled and unrestrained fury and narcissism. The precision of this album’s crosshairs is an extreme caliber of intensity that is virtually unmatched by any hip hop artist of West’s mainstream popularity in this day and age. At times it can even give the grimiest underground MCs a run for their money in terms of unhinged rage.
While Kanye sounds absolutely irate in some instances, such as the abrupt wailing on “I Am a God” and in the breathless panting on the dingy rap rock-esque number “Black Skinhead,” Kanye isn’t necessarily pissed off about anything, or anything new at least. Lyrically, he’s still stroking his ego over the same topics of wealth and fame, and there’s nothing really boisterously self-deprecating like some of the lines off of Fantasy
, but the extremity of the tone on Yeezus
all lies in Kanye’s snarling and deadly delivery. Kanye’s ego may not be an as of yet tapped into topic, but on Yeezus
it’s clear that he’s aiming to take the topic and present it in a way that’s strikingly uglier than anything that rumors, tabloids, or gossip may have spread about him.
Of course for all this anger, what’s most important to note is that Kanye has made exquisitely entertaining music to back his gloating up. By not really introducing anything new lyrically, Kanye's made it all about him and simultaneously not about him, and in doing so has taken the passenger seat to the album’s sound. Which is what he clearly wanted to drive the album's appeal and shine through the most. Through throwing class and the sophisticated celebratory-attitude of Fantasy
out the window completely, this level of untamed urgency that West has achieved is commonly not found within an artist six albums into their career. Thanks to Daft Punk’s very own Guy-Manuel’s hand at the production of the first four tracks, the blasting and rippling industrial-esque beats on Yeezus
make for the most immediately engrossing music that West has ever produced. These songs go straight for the jugular, and one could argue that an album this heavy and this hardcore in terms of brisk vocal performance and visceral musicality has yet to be released by a modern hip hop artist as well into their discography – not to mention life in general - as West is.
was first and foremost intended to just be “great music” as Kanye states, and it’s clear that’s what was focused on here primarrily. There’s a compact amount of tracks whose priorities are being memorable and instantaneously effective to warrant plenty of returning listens, and it accomplishes this very goal above all else. It’s small in scope, but the production is hectic, busy, and bursting at the seams with activity, and it’s stripped down but inflated to all new heights. It's so minimal in execution but maximalized in behavior that some could call it an audible contradiction, and that’s what makes it such a fascinating specimin that's deserving of plenty of listens.
Though the one thing that Yeezus
lacks is restraint and control, and the very core of why the album could be off-putting to so many lies in how relentless and abrasive its method of attack is. However, if Yeezus
was to take a step back to rationalize upon its constant barrage of aggression for even the slightest second, it wouldn’t be the unique album that boldly sets itself apart from Kanye’s other work that it is. Does that come at the cost of the music being enjoyable to everyone? Yes, but does it show that West favors artistic expression to conduct his albums? Yes. And with Kanye never being as no holds barred and outright primal as he is on Yeezus
, he only enhances the replay value and has made his most consistently exhilarating music that maintains a firm and unwavering chokehold on listener's undivided attention throughout.
Kanye has certainly poured the ugliest aspects of his personality into Yeezus
, and the result is an album that’s unadulterated in how it thrives on the throne over the chaotic world it relishes in. In the past, Kanye has dedicated entire albums to showcasing different dimensions of himself, and that resulted in the world surprised to see honest vulnerability drenched in Auto-Tune on 808s & Heartbreak
doesn’t try to make a point to establish or display an untouched side of himself, but to take the matter of his ego - something that people love to talk about more than the man’s music – and handle it in a new and dimmer light that potrays him as the worst of whatever anyone's said about him, and - as typical of Kanye - completely surpasses those claims on all fronts.
The most important part about Yeezus
is that it's a simple collection of the most instantly heavy-hitting music of Kanye's career, and so much more at the same time. It's the most chatted about aspect of him blown up to gripping extremes, with the appropriate style of music to match. Thereby embracing the negativity surrounding him and converting it into a kind of rush he's never demonstrated himself as being capable of conveying before. In essence, Yeezus
takes something perceived as a bad trait and turns it into a great quality through the music. A familiar attitude fully realized through a new and different style for West, Yeezus
seizes imperial dominance over a popular stance that's unfavorable towards him, and makes an advantage out of something that would be a con for any typical artist. But most importantly of all, the album is also assurance that Kanye has been, and always will be his own man that makes the kind of music that he
wants to make. They call him a monster? He gives them a beast.