Here’s the thing: I LOVE Kanye West. As a rapper, and as a person. I get why people hate him- he kind of…okay, totally does…come off as a pretentious, self-absorbed, egotistical wanker. But, it works. And you know what? I love anyone who isn’t ashamed of being exactly who they are, no matter how many people dislike them. Kanye’s IDGAF attitude is exactly what most people hate about him and exactly what I love about him.
As a rapper, West started off as what I’d call a traditional MC…tight raps, over accessible hip-hop beats. I’ve always loved his fast-paced rapping style and his rhymes have consistently made me laugh/cry/grin/raise an eyebrow, which I’ve appreciated. I am a “casual” rap fan, meaning I only listen to a handful of rappers, but I’ve been a fan of Kanye’s from the first time I heard “All Falls Down”. Through the years, Kanye has explored several different styles of music and has evolved as an MC, and that much is evident on his new album, Yeezus.
Featuring production from electronic band, Daft Punk, and legendary Def Jam Records co-founder, Rick Rubin, Yeezus is an explosive mix of rap/hip-hop/rock and even electronic music. Though Kanye’s raps aren’t the tightest they’ve ever been (more on that later), he provides a few sturdy lines and the disc seems to be more about the overall feeling he’s trying to convey here than any individual line: he’s angry, he has a lot of things to say, you might like it or not, but he doesn’t care. Or, as he aptly sums up in a line from I Am A God, “Soon as they like you, make ’em unlike you.”
The disc begins with the first of four Daft Punk-produced tracks, On Sight. The jagged synth line that cuts throughout the track definitely sounds like something you’d hear on a electronica album, but it doesn’t sound as jarring as you think it would here. For an opening track, I find this song a bit disappointing. Kanye comes in hard, but there’s nothing to grab on to melodically- the blips and bleeps take over the majority of the production, and his rhymes aren’t the strongest either. Perhaps the best line (and all I can think of is Kim Kardashian, so I hope it’s not actually about the mother of his newborn child) is, “And I know she like chocolate men/She got more n-ggas off than Cochran, huh?”, but the best of the track is really the dizzying electro-production, rather than anything Kanye actually has to offer.
Thankfully, the album picks up with what I think is one of Kanye’s best tracks to date, Black Skinhead. Furious drumming leads way to breathy chanting over a broken down beat. As the title suggests, this song is anything but “radio-friendly”- Kanye’s angry and his raps are evident of it (“Pardon, I’m getting my scream on/Enter the kingdom/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”). The musical energy, with the erratic drumming and whiplash production, is a perfect accompaniment to Kanye’s fast-paced raps. Basically, he goes hard (“Four in the morning, and I’m zoning/They say I’m possessed, it’s an omen/I keep it 300, like the Romans/300 b-tches, where’s the Trojans?”) and I love every minute of it.
Before listening, you’d think I Am A God would be the most controversial song on the album, with its title suggesting that Kanye has actually taken his delusions of grandeur to a new level. But let’s get things straight- though Kanye raps, “I am a god”- he is no way being blasphemous. You see, he still professes to be a “man of God”, but admits that he knows he’s not on level with- but right below- the most High (“I am a god/Even though I’m a man of God/My whole life in the hands of God/So y’all better quit playing with God”). Okay. I get where he’s coming from here. Don’t be mistaken, this song is still a big play on his inflated ego (“I am a God/So hurry up with my damn massage/In a French-ass restaurant/Hurry up with my damn croissants!/I am a God”), but I enjoy the track a lot more than I thought I would before hearing the song. The razor-sharp production (sounding like something from a rock album, with more synth lines and electric instrumentation) sounds like a perfect companion piece to Black Skinhead.
Another killer track follows up with perhaps my second-favourite track on the album, New Slaves. Again, not radio-friendly. It’s provocative and uncomfortable and some people might not like the lyrics on this track, but Kanye has never been afraid of pushing the envelope. Over an industrial-sounding beat (heavy synths and a thudding bass line), Kanye raps about how Black America has basically just evolved into being imprisoned into a new form of slavery (“You see it’s broke n-gga racism/That’s that “Don’t touch anything in the store”/And this rich n-gga 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”/Used to only be nig-as now everybody playing/Spending everything on Alexander Wang/New Slaves”). ‘Ye makes some sound points here (“The DEA/Teamed up with the CCA/They tryna lock n-ggs up/They tryna make new state/See that’s that privately owned prison/Get your piece today”), but if it hasn’t already, I know this song is going to cause some controversy and I won’t be surprised to hear someone call him racist again. Being a Black American, I’m just glad that Kanye continues to be a rapper who raps about our culture in unique ways, even if it is controversial. Keep speaking up, Kanye. Someone has to.
Interstingly enough, the album takes a bit of a drop for me after this point. Hold My Liquor features Kanye’s frequent collaborator, indie-musician Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) singing during the chorus. The song itself floats on unassumingly- the production doesn’t stand out, nor do Kanye’s love-gone-wrong raps. Guilt Trip sounds like a missing track from 808s and Heartbreaks with its auto-tune heavy production. Though I loved the auto-tune in 808s, I’m a bit over it at this point, and this song sounds so dull and derivative that it’s probably the only one on the album that I think is an absolute skip. Send It Up isn’t much better- actually, the only thing saving the track from mediocrity is its production by Daft Punk. The whining synth line that plays throughout the track is hypnotizing and seductive, but I am just not a fan of the rapping in this song, mostly because it sounds akin to something you’d hear on a street rapper’s bootleg mix tape.
I’m In It is one of the songs I’m completely on the fence about it. I mentioned in the beginning that I love Kanye’s personality and I have honestly never been offended by anything he’s done or said (even when it HAS been offensive to other people)…until hearing this song, that is. I’m not an overly sensitive person, but some of the lines here (“Black girl sippin’ white wine/Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign” and “I’m a rap-tholic priest/Getting head by the nuns” though the latter did make me laugh a little) had me cringing. Angry Kanye is good (see: Black Skinheads/New Slaves), but Bitter Kanye is just rude and not enjoyable. Blood On The Leaves is another track I mostly love, but feel unsure about it. The track takes a sample of Nina Simone‘s rendition of classic jazz song, “Strange Fruit”. I feel odd about such an important and poignant song being sampled in a rap song (particularly one about something so trivial as relationships, as this one is), but I have to admit that the sample is used perfectly and sounds great in the track. Auto-tuned Kayne is back, but in much smaller doses, and though he drops some lines about Beyonce and Jay-Z, most of the track is pretty shoulder-shrugging, save that brilliant sample.
The album ends with Bound 2, another of my favourite tracks on the disc. Thanks to some old school samples (the chorus is sampled from 70’s soul group The Ponderosa Twins Plus One‘s song, “Bound”), this song has a classic Kanye feel- sounding like something that would’ve fit in perfectly on his first albums. The track is a supposed ode to Kim K. but don’t expect the lyrics to be terribly romantic (“Close your eyes and let the word paint a thousand pictures/One good girl is worth a thousand b-ches” is the sweetest line, only to be followed up with “I wanna f–k you hard on the sink”), and don’t forget the fact that he quotes a line from 90’s sitcom Martin (“Jerome’s in the house, better watch yo’ mouth!”), which is delivered on the show by a pimp. I try not to care about his relationship with Kim Kardashian (even though their offspring was recently born on my birthday…*sigh*), but I suppose it’s nice of him to write Kim a love song on his album, even if it’s not the kind of love song I’d want to have written about me.
From what I’ve gathered from friends who’ve listened to the album already, most people seem to like Yeezus. I sure most of Kanye’s “purist” fans (the ones who proclaim that his only great works were The College Dropout and Late Registration) have stopped listening a while ago, so Yeezus might not even reach a skeptical listener. The thing about Kanye West is that we’ve seen his musical evolution over the years, and it makes sense, given his very public life, that Yeezus would be the result of where he’s at right now. The anger and aggression heard in the music might be unsettling for some, but I love that ‘Ye has never been afraid of wearing his heart on his sleeve- whether it was on “Jesus Walks” or on “Black Skinhead”. Best of all, he does it to a fantastic beat. I just can’t fault him.
1. On Sight
2. Black Skinhead
3. I Am A God (Featuring God)
4. New Slaves (Featuring Frank Ocean)
5. Hold My Liquor (Featuring Chief Keef & Justin Vernon)
6. I’m In It
7. Blood On The Leaves
8. Guilt Trip (Featuring Kid Cudi)
9. Send It Up (Featuring King L)
10. Bound 2 (Featuring Charlie Wilson)