‘Yeezus’ isn’t a battle between the genius and the lunatic. When an artist like Kanye West appears to show two, conflicting sides - one perfectionist, the other reactionary, often dumb - there’s only a minuscule chance that it’s all in an audience-aware cause. Appearing on reality TV, walking head-first into a traffic sign; some loyalist fans might label these acts proof of his love of performance. Chances are it’s just a talented guy looking like an idiot. Kanye’s ‘genius’ emerges from his ability to play both roles, to embrace his conflicts and make them the subject of his records.
You can praise Yeezy to the heavens for his ability flip the formula, raise the game, draw talent from the most curious of depths. But ‘Yeezus’ isn’t quite a forward-thinking groundbreaker. For one, it lacks female guests and credits. Lyrics often run into a dead end of foolery - ‘Eatin’ Asian pussy, all I need was sweet and sour sauce’ - to the point where you’re often listening to this record like it’s some examination, not just of Kanye’s character, but of your ability to read him. ‘Blood On The Leaves’ samples one of the most powerful, remarkable race-documenting songs of our time, by Billie Holliday, and accompanies it with a TNGHT track and tales of taking pills for the first time. It’s a conflicted little bugger, is ‘Yeezus’.
The issue being, Kanye’s often brilliant. ‘New Slaves’ is unrelenting in its double-meanings, its spot-on documentation of expectations on black America, where the poor ‘don’t touch anything in the store’, and for the rich it’s ‘come in, please buy more.’ Its flick-of-a-switch from abrasive, Daft Punk-produced verses to Frank Ocean’s pitch-shifted, repeated cry of ‘I can’t lose’, backed by a sample of Hungarian band Omega, is a eureka moment, a validation of ‘Yeezus” wild, almost-unattainable expectations.
‘Black Skinhead”s casual swerve from ‘minimal’ click-tracks & thumping percussion - the kind you might otherwise expect to hear in These New Puritans’ ‘Hidden’ - is remarkable in itself. That it’s accompanied by canine-like roars and rhythmic, breathy huffs helps take things to another level. Musically, there are moments here that out-class, out-wit ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’. It’s a rock album, but only in the most modern of definitions. Guitars are almost non-existent. When they are used, such as in the post-party comedown of ‘Hold My Liquor’, conventional solos are inverted, warped into odd reflections of their former selves. It’s Ratatat meets theatrical pomp. And of course it works.
The beauty of ‘…Dark Twisted Fantasy’ however was its ability to be judged from two standpoints. You could either immerse yourself, geek-out on Kanye’s every meaningful quip. Or you could freak out at Minaj verses, Gil Scott-Heron closing stanzas and the sheer lunacy of goodness knows every track. With ‘Yeezus’, we’re judging a very different beast. It’s far from perfect, but when did perfection ever emerge from something so unhinged? No Rick Rubin, no Superman on the planet can keep Kanye in his place when he’s in this kind of form. Often it yields some of Yeezy’s finest moments, other times his most uncomfortable. The difference here being that on ‘Yeezus’, you find yourself looking for standout moments. On the previous record they’d hit you all at once like a diamond-filled avalanche.
That doesn’t stop ‘Yeezus’ from being remarkable. Its choice of standpoint is to tire of convention, both politically and musically. It makes use of new fads, just like on ‘808s and Heartbreaks’ when ridiculed autotune became a point of mastery, and sources all their riches. It’s Kanye doing what he does best, but it’s also the sound of a rapper pushing himself for all his worth. Ranging from intimidating to wonderfully eye-opening, it’s always forthright, and it barely falters.
Records & Merch
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