Review Summary: uh huh honeyyeezus
opens by drawing a line in the sand. its opening four-song set is an immediate punch to the gut, from the squelching, acid-tinged synth of "on sight" to the bassline of "new slaves", which sounds a little bit like a prefabricated take on "ominous." it's not so much groundbreaking as it is brazen almost to the point of hilarity. almost, because kanye west does not seem to be particularly self-aware here. intelligent? yes. incendiary? sure. but while the screaming on "i am a god" seems too over-the-top a choice to not be a little winking, i'm convinced that it's being deployed here with a completely straight face. it is supposed to be "confrontational." it is the sound of kanye west going in, and trying very deliberately to go in harder than anyone could have expected him to.
those opening four songs sound incredible -- "new slaves" is particularly airtight -- and upon first listen, they immediately stand out. their lyrical content is straightforward and accessible, their beats are cavernous but propulsive, and they are wholly convincing. but upon further listens, it's the latter two thirds of yeezus
that really solidify the album as a notable work. after the luxuriant, frank ocean-featuring coda of "new slaves", things get uglier and weirder as different hip-hop trends (trap and drill in particular) are distilled into a singular reduction. "hold my liquor" is perplexing at first blush, but reveals itself to be conflicted and shockingly beautiful; its chord progression is understatedly gorgeous before that perfect guitar solo brings it into greater relief. it's as if 808s & heartbreak
had some blood injected into its icy, austere veins. "guilt trip" fuses the razor-sharp beats of 808s
(recalling that album's highlight, "amazing") with some of the orchestral pomp of my beautiful dark twisted fantasy
to galvanizing effect, the interplay between mournful string lines and immobile blocks of electronic noise recalling, oddly enough, björk's homogenic
these songs are lyrically prickly and often excessively self-centered. but "narcissistic" isn't quite the right word. a track like "hold my liquor" is self-mythologizing, victimizing, definitely misogynistic on at least a couple of levels, but not exactly self-important. kanye's sampling of "strange fruit" on "blood on the leaves" is kind of disrespectful and questionable -- nothing will change the fact that the man is rapping about his past relationships over a song about lynching -- but it's also disturbing in a fascinating way. it's compelling in a way that the album's opening salvo eventually ceases to be, conflating the personal and political in an ugly and deeply uncomfortable way that can be hard to look away from. it is unsurprising to me that, at this point in my listening, "new slaves" is most exciting when kanye is dizzyingly switching lyrical gears: "see that's that privately owned prison / get your piece today / they prolly all in the hamptons / bragging 'bout what they made / fuck you and your hampton house / i'll fuck your hampton spouse / came on her hampton blouse / and in her hampton mouth."
and of course, there's "i'm in it", with the infamous "eating asian pussy, all i need is sweet and sour sauce" line. part of me is convinced that if big boi uttered that line in a different context, nobody would've batted an eye. (which isn't to say that the line wouldn't still be abhorrent, but gosh, i mean: have you heard
the lyrics to "tangerine"?) much more problematic is "put my fist in her like a civil rights sign," a cringe-inducing line if there ever was one, but also a scary and memorable one. these lines are particularly unsettling alongside the track's production, which is utterly, narcotically filthy, all sludgy bass, siren synths, abrupt tempo changes, and disembodied dancehall vocals. oh, and disembodied justin vernon vocals too -- i never knew how much i wanted to hear vernon's tremulous falsetto singing "star fucker" over arca-assisted production until now. it'd be the most bizarrely affecting moment on the album if charlie wilson's bit on "bound 2" didn't exist.
all of which is to say that this album is a strange triumph rife with contradictions. it reminds me of maya
, m.i.a.'s deliberate subversion of her own celebrity; like that album, yeezus
is blustery, both sonically and lyrically, and thrillingly so. it is easy to suspect that there might not be much under the surface, but whenever that criticism gets thrown around, i feel like the power of surfaces to impactfully alter perception and perspectives is being severely discounted. besides, yeezus
ultimately finds its greatest strength in strategic withholding. "bound 2" is buried in the back of the album for a reason, and charlie wilson's first outburst -- a legitimately shocking shift from the initial late registration
-echoing production -- is unceremoniously interrupted by the instantly memetic "uh huh honey." when we hear it in expanded form the second time, accompanied by soaring vocal runs and that ridiculous immediate-lump-in-throat bassline, it's a rush of emotional urgency that recontextualizes the song's dazed-lovebirds vibe, and, by extension, yeezus
as a whole: "just grab somebody / no leaving this party with nobody to love."