Review Summary: 'Yeezus' is imperfect and riddled with flaws.... and is all the more the superb because of it.
After ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’, an album which was born of intense dedication, it represented a significant change in Kanye’s own direction but was in all a masterful refinement from his previous work. As a fan myself, even after his collaborative work with Jay-Z and his GOOD Music label, his new direction felt like a taboo question especially when much of his finest music is seemingly created after a tragedy or in some way inspired by one. Casually ‘Yeezus’ is an imperfect album, it lacks many of club bangers or even the designated tracks that will generate radio spins. Even the tracks which inevitably will get radio play feature the standardised rap catalogue of casual motifs of money and the positive appraisal of hoes which only seem to exacerbate the apparent arrogance of a man so deeply interested in himself that he determined himself a ‘god’. However the album is very clearly not designed in any way for the casual fan, or even the enthused music lover. The whole album is virtually a treasure trove of layered meaning surrounded by dark and an often minimalist production utilising a wide variety of samples; after repeated listens I feel ‘Yeezus’ is very much West’s ‘Finnigan’s Wake’ to his own ‘Ulysses’. Though to use the prevalent cliché, it is challenging and not always equally rewarding but is still a great album in its own right.
The album itself, as I mentioned is dark, deeply personal and reflective, complex and fails to regularly conform to the usual structure of ‘Rap’ albums with extensive use of repeated motifs and revolves around an experimental presentation of two contrasting concepts, the cultural monolith and the emotionally fragmented man. The switch between the dramatically self-aggrandising lyrics to the much more personal and honest view of the man conjures often jarring and purposefully contradictory images of the artist. During these clashing moments on the album is where much of the supposed ‘shocking’ content resides, the best examples of this are ‘I’m In It’ and ‘On Sight’, tending to fall into Kanye’s most unfiltered moments on the album and seem quite unnecessary individually but on the overarching whole forty minutes helps it generate a deeply raw tone. The laser focus is largely absent with most tracks which feel decidedly unpolished, though the music hardly suffers because of this. The parts of the album which are deeply reflective such as ‘New Slaves’, ‘Hold My Liquor’, ‘Blood on The Leaves’ and ‘Guilt Trip’ tend to yield greater context or reward of understanding, though much of this inspiration is drawn from reflecting on the time between ‘College Dropout’ and ‘808s and Heartbreak’ ie his break-up with Alexis Phifer and when he wasn’t quite so well off. With that being said more current material like ‘Black Skinhead’ and ‘I Am a God” feels more at home with the latter half of the album after more time and really add a sense of desperation to other parts of the album. Even ‘Send It Up’ feels like a Cobain-esqe take on club rap instead of the obscure joke with little context on the first listen. ‘Bound 2’ however remains stark and atypical in contrast to the rest of the body of work and is comparatively ‘overdressed’ production wise to other tracks, featuring a uniquely chopped hook but isn’t exactly out of place at the end of the album with its distinct sarcastic wit either.
He didn't need to put this out, and I have strong doubts that he would in any way regret this release. The album is in many ways designed to feel rushed, desperate, angry and I personally feel is meant to capture a glimpse inside this quite fractured man's soul using the public character of ‘Yeezy’ as its foil. In this way ‘Yeezus’ is at its heart both a caricature and a self-reflection which is what leads to such striking and direct contrasts. Kanye is keenly aware of the person who he is and that it is translated into the highly experimental ‘Yeezus’, the product of its subject and a deeply conflicted mess. Something I feel it is all the better for.