Review: Kanye West – Yeezus
Published on June 20th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Kanye West took extraordinary measures to prevent his sixth album Yeezus from leaking but, much like the crazed thoughts that swarm his inscrutable mind, it couldn’t help but spill out into the public arena.
Even the remarkable detour undertaken on 2010 predecessor My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy can’t prepare you for the abrasive, blaring and strikingly stark production on these tracks, which thrusts West’s immediately identifiable flow – and, moreover, the ear-catching-to-say-the-least lyrical content – ever further into centrestage. Suffice it to say, he’s sufficiently sure of himself to rise to the challenge.
Opening pair “On Sight” and “Black Skinhead” were both produced by Daft Punk, and they make for a pretty marked departure from the colourful adventure playground of their recent Random Access Memories album. “On Sight” makes it quite clear from the off that no prisoners shall be taken with a rather tasteless reference to Parkinson’s disease and the crass yet hilarious “Real nigga back in the house again / Black Timbs all on your couch again / Black dick all in your spouse again / And I know she like chocolate men / She got more niggas off than Cochran, huh?”, just so we know not to be shocked by anything that comes later.
The huffing, skipping groove of “Black Skinhead” is a truly fevered bout of creativity that finds West at his crazed, free-flowing best over a pounding, clattering drum beat, railing against various forms of establishment with:
“But watch who you bring home / They see a black man with a white woman / At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong / Middle America packed in / Came to see me in my black skin / Number one question they asking / Fuck every question you asking / If I don’t get ran out by Catholics / Here come some conservative Baptists / Claiming I’m overreacting / Like them black kids in Chiraq bitch”
Perfectly legitimate questions about West’s own place in the establishment are being asked, the perceived hypocrisy perhaps best articulated by his apparent broadsides against the fashion world he’s done so much to embrace in recent years.
That’s not all that’s objectionable: narcissistic boasts are ten a penny, misogynistic posturing let loose like hungry wolves in a maze, while “Blood on the Leaves” draws a fairly appalling parallel between Apartheid and having his present and ex girlfriends sit separately in the posh seats at a baseball match.
For all his baiting, though, West never loses the flair that’s tempered so many of his past antics. Furthermore, he arguably earns the right to cast his rod out (no, not like that) purely by dint of, you know, actually taking risks and trying new things with his music, which alone would place him several rungs above virtually all of his mainstream contemporaries. In this respect, his abundant skill and character as both rapper and wordsmith come as a total bonus.
“In a French-ass restaurant / Hurry up with my damn croissants” is an obvious crowd-pleaser for its frivolous quotability but there are far too many genuine talking points elsewhere to dwell on it. “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” you might have heard West proclaim on the chorus to preceding single “New Slaves”, on which we also get:
“Clean water was only served to the fairer skin / Doing clothes you would have thought I had help / But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself / You see it’s broke nigga racism / That’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’ / And this rich nigga racism / That’s that ‘Come in, please buy more / What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain? / All you blacks want all the same things'”
So, you know, Tegan & Sara this ain’t.
You could go on and on about what West has to say on Yeezus and what it means, so we’ll rein ourselves in and get back to talking about the music itself. As you may by now have gleaned, anyone expecting any body-rocking yet ultimately approachable party tunes like “Gold Digger” will be in for a bit of a shock when confronted with the felty stabs, whirring synth bass and comical screaming of “I am a God”…
…or the laterally conceived Auto-Tunery and Ghotspoet-y desolation of “Hold My Liquor”, which proceeds to sound very addled indeed with its grumbling pound of a rhythm and whirring, wiggling, tune-fleeing synths.
Lots to say about the music too, then, and that’s without even having mentioned its guest vocalists: Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon pops up with a weird, pitch-lowered voice not dissimilar to that with which he graced The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends, Frank Ocean chips in with some messed-up soul crooning and the questionable-of-outlook Beenie Man contributes an admittedly sweet coda to “Memories” with:
“Memories don’t live like people do / They always ‘member you / Whether things are good or bad / It’s just the memories that you have”
You might not like what Kanye West has to say on Yeezus – and, from a personal perspective, this writer feels that he’s never sounded better than on the triumphantly technicolour “We Major” from his 2005 album Late Registration – but you’ve got to value a high-profile artist who’s prepared to boat-rock and cage-rattle like this. That is, after all, what makes him an artist in the truest sense of the word.
Yeezus is out now on Def Jam Recordings.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!