Review Summary: Kanye's downward spiral
Looking back now that the dust has settled a bit, Kanye West's interview with The New York Times set the stage perfectly for Yeezus
. The interview was a case of 'Ye's massive ego run rampant, a piece of work which inevitably caused both fans and detractors of the producer and rapper to shake their heads in disbelief (or lack thereof) and pity. West's focus on self and lack of perspective angered many, and the popularity of the interview and analysis thereof (see Vulture's "The Sixteen Most Amazing/Ridiculous Things Kanye Said in His New York Times Interview") was indicative of the polarizing nature of Kanye's personality. The cynical among us may have assumed the interview was nothing more than a publicity stunt, meant to sell copies of West's then-upcoming album and create hype where there was (apparently) not enough before. It's entirely possible this theory is true, of course, though as Pitchfork astutely pointed out in their analysis of the album Kanye is "now making a point out of rejecting corporate sponsorship."
Whatever the reason for West's attitude during the interview, though, it seemingly meshes perfectly with Kanye West the rapper during the runtime of Yeezus
. 'Ye keeps the persona he showed with the Times, describing his sex life in graphic detail almost too many times to count and continually referring to his "god"-like status (when "talk[ing] to Jesus", he muses "I know he the most high / But I am a close high"). He's apparently confident in himself to the umpteenth degree, the self-deprecating nature of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy completely absent in the lyrics of these ten songs. Taking these admittedly blunt raps by themselves, Kanye comes across as an arrogant asshole with few redeeming qualities. In response, some point to the line "I'd rather be a dick than a swallower," arguing that Kanye's never sold himself as anything else and his confidence is beneficial because he's pushing the limits of what's acceptable in rap.
While this is true in theory, it misses the reason why Yeezus
is one of the best albums of the year: the ugly juxtaposition of Kanye West the rapper and Kanye West the producer explores the mind of a genius spinning out of control. It's appropriate that Yeezus
finds influence from industrial, because much like Trent Reznor's famous chronicle on The Downward Spiral, West is breaking new ground to tell his story about the beginning of a collapse (whether it be his own or that of another character he's creating). Nowhere is this more evident than potential track of the year "Hold My Liquor." As a rapper, Kanye celebrates the self-destructive attitude he exhibits with lines like "One more hit and I can own ya / One more *** and I can own ya" and "You love me when I ain't sober / You love me when I'm hungover." Chief Keef's hook says it all: "I can't handle no liquor / But these bitches can't handle me / I can't control my n***as / And my n***as they can't control me."
As a producer, though, Kanye is terrified. The looming, monolithic bass, industrial guitar squawks, and distorted kick belie the confidence his words show - West is scared of the beast he's become, highlighting his deleterious behavior with a lonely, black-as-night track and an extended, almost unbearably stressful instrumental solo. This is the genius Yeezus
displays: the stark contrast between the words and the music is beautiful in its repulsiveness, and makes for one of the most engaging listens in a long time. "I'm In It" furthers this idea, as rapper Kanye's flippant usage of civil rights imagery to describe his sex life in a way that, as Pitchfork puts it, "makes previous come-ons like 'Slow Jamz' come off like Disney theme songs" turns from offensively confident to grotesque with producer Kanye's pitched-down vocals and lonely hip-hop beats (interesting to note is that the second half of the song is the first time West seriously delves into said hip-hop beats over the course of the album, and the lack of standard 808s and beefy bass demonstrates 'Ye's versatility and skill). Again, the beautifully hideous dichotomy here is nothing short of incredible.
I suppose it's a little unfair to cite this single (albeit impressive) point as the sole reason Yeezus
is an incredible album. West's brilliant, schizophrenic production definitely helps - it's difficult to imagine anyone else save for the absolute best weaving together patchwork samples so raggedly that the result is near-perfect. The rapping itself is also impressive, helped no doubt by the fact that the music was tailor-made for Kanye's voice (would anyone have expected anything different?). However, it's when these two are combined in a lustrous display of songwriting and knowledge of structures that the album really shines. As a summary of this amazing concept, look no further than "I Am A God." West as a producer understands the monster West as a rapper cannot comprehend, as proven by well-timed screams (as if people are running away from said monster?), cutouts, and record skips. The ego Kanye has demonstrated so often finds a perfect home behind a total lack of ego - and this lack of congruency is breathtaking.