July 4, 2013
Record Reactions: Kanye West – Yeezus
Welcome to Record Reactions, where I share my thoughts on a new release from the worlds of popular and independent music. Today’s record is Yeezus, by Chicago-area rapper-producer-superstar Kanye West.
Yeezus has been hyped unlike any other record this year, despite an announcement only a month before its release. This is the kind of buzz that Kanye West brings with him wherever he goes. Since he proved his worth on 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and 2011’s Watch The Throne, everyone has been anticipating his next move.
And that next move, in a word, has been mostly confounding. On first listen, Yeezus is a disorienting and baffling piece of work. It’s hard to make sense of all the sparse electronics, and unbound aggression in this music, where previously there had been hip-hop beats and standard content. So, the album does take a few spins to really understand. In that way, it is in fact a grower, not a shower.
Though it’s all a little bit screwy, the record’s brightest moments are strangely transfixing. Stark, bare beats pulsate with strange ornamentation. From there, they grow and morph, with a raw intensity. These moments have a unique emotional quality, and they feel genuine and inspired. However, it’s not all great. That bare production exposes some weakness in West’s musicality; his lyrics for a lot of these tracks are weak and childish, unaligned with the next-level intentions Kanye seems to aspire to. His auto-tuned singing is no better. On previous projects, West has sworn to its emotional authenticity, but on Yeezus there is no chance of that. It just feels lazy, misplaced, and indulgent.
I’m all for avant-garde, for experimentation, and trying to move music in a new direction. And Yeezus might end up doing just that. But, if you’re going to attempt something like that, you have to come with it all the way. That means not just showing up to Rick Rubin at the last minute with a bunch of half-finished tracks. That means not just throwing Jamaican men sputtering nonsense on a couple tracks for no reason. An auto-tuned Chief Keef? What good does that do? Brag-raps and sex-raps are all well and good, but do they fit with this record? At the end of the day, Yeezus has the aspirations, but the execution is lacking. To make truly transcendent art, like Kanye is trying to do, one needs a constant sharp focus. Instead, a lot of this feels blunted and slothful.
Kanye’s lyrical performance, consciously or otherwise, matches his purpose. Early on it was about loving the music, feeling the vibe, and proving his talent. As his credibility, his ego, and his pocketbook grew, so did the maximalism of his songs, climaxing in triumphant fashion with 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. On Yeezus, it seems the only purpose West holds is to excite, and to ignite. Any lyrical dexterity or complex themes are lost for the majority of the record, replaced with weak punch lines and brags. Proponents of the record might describe them, as The New York Times did, as “more urgent, more visceral.” But the fact of the matter is, Kanye simply has more lyrical talent than he shows on Yeezus.
Kanye was stressed, rushed, and procrastinated with the writing of a lot of these lyrics. The man is busy, and he has a kid on the way. Ostensibly, the heavy hitter tracks like Black Skinhead, New Slaves, and Bound 2 were polished, and an understandably distracted West did a rush job on the other tunes.
But there are some great aspects to this LP. New Slaves is the perfect example of this formula done well. There isn’t much instrumentation; it’s mostly Kanye’s voice, and it delivers one of the most clever and impassioned performances in recent memory. It shows that there is potential for greatness throughout Yeezus. Kanye also knocked it out of the park in choosing collaborators. Singer Justin Vernon killed it with his appearances. Daft Punk and Hudson Mohawke, who presumably oversaw a lot of the beat production, did a great job. The beats are a huge reason why this record is even slightly successful. And producer extraordinaire Rick Rubin may indeed have saved the record from the brink at the last minute.
The record’s closer Bound 2 features a lush, soulful sample, a catchy hook line, and some entertaining, complex rapping. A sample of Nina Simone croons, Uh huh honey. It’s a beautiful moment and a good way to end such an unstable record on even footing. But more importantly, Bound 2 embodies the style that West perfected throughout his first three albums; he’s proven he can still do it. But sadly, he doesn’t. At least, he hasn’t since he got infected with egotism, star influence, and whatever higher purpose he now has.
Kanye West is still a talented rapper, producer, and music maker. He has the ability to create great art, and some of it is indeed on Yeezus. There are great moments on this record. But a lack of consistency and focus has plagued this album, reducing it to an unstable, meandering excursion in musical indulgence. You can indeed pull the layers back enough to find quality. But with everything Yeezus has to offer, a lot of it falls flat.
Favorite Tracks: Bound 2, New Slaves
Least Favorite Tracks: I’m In It, Send It Up
Remember these reviews are just my opinion, and that little number up there doesn’t mean much! Have you heard this album? What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me? If you would like to let me know your opinion, you can hit me up on my email, or tweet at me @RobinCopple1. I am dying to know what you think! Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you on the flipside! Stay tuned.
Image Credit: Def Jam Recordings