Review Summary: Kanye West is a universally known symbol for the ego. His ego has led to hype, and that hype ends up being the force that hurts Yeezus the most.
Kanye West is a universally known symbol for the ego. He is the self-anointed “Voice of this Generation.” He dates (and now fathers the child of) Kim Kardashian, a controversial figure in her own right. He stole the spotlight of Taylor Swift once, an act whose worst offense is the ad nauseum repetition of jokes regarding the act. His ego has led to hype, and that hype ends up being the force that hurts Yeezus the most.
Take the title: Yeezus. An obvious play on the name by which he is known colloquially combined with Jesus. That Kanye wishes to compare himself to Jesus is no surprise to any fan of Yeezy’s. However, it does propagate the annoying egotism that is starting to lose its cuteness. Now look at the cover of the album, which just looks like one of the blank CDs anybody could buy in a pack at Wal-mart. And that’s fine, I quite like the simple and careless cover. It gives off a cool vibe that challenges the status quo regarding the importance of album covers, I guess. It’s interesting and fairly original. But that does not make it any less a representation of pretentiousness and egotism. Having the ego is fine as long as it can be backed up. The problem with Yeezus is that it spends too much time feeding the ego and hype without supporting it enough with the kind of brilliance that was shown on Kanye’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
In spite of that complaint, the album is pretty good. There is a song on the album called “I Am A God,” and it is the one that is able to balance his egotism with his brilliance, from its discussion with Jesus about his millions to its repetitive, House-inspired synth, and the haunting refrain of screams and gasps that occur throughout its four minutes. Apart from those four minutes that demonstrate a hint of Kanye’s brilliance, there are a handful of others that are able to keep up with that pace. “Blood on the Leaves” beautifully samples TNGHT among others, and reminds me a lot of “Heartless” off of West’s 808s & Heartbreak album with its melody and vocals being predominately auto-tuned. The difference is that “Blood on the Leaves” transforms into aggression about halfway through, which makes the song dynamic and interesting.
When does Yeezus falter the most? Disregarding the Kid Cudi collab “Guilt Trip” which is terribly drab, its biggest failures are related to the quality of its lyrics. There is a painfully disappointing disconnect in lyrical content in some places on the album. “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves,” as is evident by their titles are a kind of social commentary on racism. “Black Skinhead” features lines discussing the state of racism in America by calling out religious groups, particularly conservative Baptists. In “New Slaves” he reminds us about his mother growing up in a time when racial tensions were reaching their climax and brought about an ongoing denouement, invoking the status of institutional racism in society.
These socially conscious lyrics put in our minds a hope for poignancy for the rest of the album. But it turns out rather than being a sign of a theme on the album, the two songs act only as a couple of rest stops where we are engaged to see something real and genuine that becomes a way to give ourselves a break from the barrage of disappointment in the lyrics on the majority of the rest of the album. For whatever reason, the rest of the album is full of lines that are funny, yes, but incredibly juvenile when heard in the context of “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves.” From there it is a battle between Kanye’s contrived ego (as represented by the juvenile lyrics) and Kanye’s genuine confidence (as represented by “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves”). It is Kanye’s lack of commitment to either a direction of egotism or a direction of confidence that makes Yeezus disappointingly inconsistent.
Without a doubt at all, the best song on this album is its closing track. “Bound 2” has one of the most effective uses of sampling I’ve ever heard from Kanye. Its hook is catchy as hell, and Kanye’s rapping compliments it very well. The whole song sounds so open and relaxed that it seems like Kanye is shrugging off the aggression featured on the nine tracks before it. It’s refreshing, and it makes me think of what could have been with a little more focus.
Yeezus is good. Without the hype produced by Kanye, it would’ve been better. Without Kanye’s ego which has become less of a character trait and more of an affectation, it would’ve been even better. But it is good, for what it is. There are good songs on it, with good moments. What is the statement Kanye is trying to make with Yeezus? In his own words, “With this album, we ain’t drop no single to radio. We ain’t got no NBA campaign, nothing like that. ***, we ain’t even got no cover. We just made some real music.” And I guess judging by those terms, it’s good enough. It is primal, minimalistic, aggressive, stripped down, and for the most part sonically fulfilling. I just wonder if Kanye reached his climax with MBDTF or if he will fully actualize the direction shown on those two tracks on Yeezus. Maybe my hopes are too high