As a preface, the following review comes from a serious Kanye West fan. If this review seems bias in any way, it’s because it is. ‘Yeezus‘, Kanye’s sixth solo album, is a fantastic album. The beats are complex, the samples are unexpected, the production is immaculate and the lyrical content is histrionic. At first listen, ‘Yeezus‘ feels like the angst-ridden teenage spawn of ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy‘ and ‘808s and Heartbreak‘ except there aren’t any superstar guest verses (No Jay, no Nicki, and no Rozay) or upbeat radio hits (No Ri-Ri hooks) and only minimal autotune. For long-texrm fans, ‘Yeezus‘ is another piece in West’s epic career trajectory and it delivers. Complete with cryptic guerilla marketing and inescapable internet hype, this album represents Kanye’s continued exploration in melodies, emotion, distortion and genre-crossover.
‘Yeezus‘ opens with “On sight”. Daft Punk or not, Ye’s MC’ing on this track is the most reminiscent of the early 2000’s. He’s fast paced with goofy lines like “No sports bra let’s keep em bouncin’.” He brings you in quick to “Black Skinhead” which is the album’s standout track. Despite his performance on SNL and the Governor’s Ball, I don’t think anyone was expecting this track to go as hard as it does. Kanye goes off about modern race relations with a goth-drill team and a dirty bass line to support him. The energy of this track is toxic and I’m curious to see if “Black Skin Heads” will take off this summer as a club hit. It may be the needed relief for a scene that is currently being drowned in repetitive trap beats. The album continues at pace and Ye offers meme worthy quips (“Hurry up with my damn croissants!”) and a sense of self-awareness about the role he plays in modern culture. Kanye states that he isn’t interested in ‘turning shit up’. He’d prefer to make his statement about racism, about his chick (and ex-chick), and about his croissants.
“Hold My Liquor” is very reminiscent of MBDTF that may be the result of the presence of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon distorted intro. Unfortunately the rhyming found on this track is the type of Kanye rapping that fuels his disbelievers (“Slightly scratch your corolla/Okay I smashed your corolla”). Something new on this album, that we got a taste of with last summer’s “Mercy” (off G.O.O.D. Music collaboration album Cruel Summer), is a blatant reggae influence. I’m a sucker for reggae and hip hop crossover, so the use of reggae samples and artists across multiple tracks got me extra enthusiastic. Although there aren’t any huge names as features, Ye shows Chi-town love for up-and-comers Chief Keef and King L. He also calls up his lackluster progeny Kid Cudi to close out “Guilt Trip”. This track I could live without. Cudi maybe Kanye’s biggest flop yet. I’m not sure why he keeps trying to make that happen. Kanye’s not known for his loyalty (see Damon Dash).
Ye also provides a range of samples. “Blood on the Leaves” opens with a melancholic clip of Nina Simone then sharply drops in with a piece from electronic act TNGHT’s “R U Ready?” with Kanye reinvigorating the aformentioned Trap scene. ‘Yeezus‘ closes out with “Bound 2” which has that high-pitched soul sampling that Kanye is known for. The beat is nostalgic and the track appears to be his shout-out to his baby mama, Kim Kardashian. What ensues is a ‘love song’ that is probably as deep as what Kanye and Kim deserve (“Hey you remember how we first met?/Okay, I don’t remember how we first met.”). He’s a keeper!
All in all, for Kanye fans he delivers on the things we love about him the most: the narcissism, the vulnerability, and the manic episodes. Those same beloved traits also deliver fuel for devoted Kayne-haters and amateur music critics. MBDTF might be better overall (it might be perfect?) but that is not what is important. Kanye West is a trajectory. ‘Yeezus‘ is only one step along a path. In the short term, he gave us a major summer album with some serious bangers. Is Kanye West a god? In the world of hip-hop, probably. Does it matter if people disagree? No, but people will continue to talk, tweet, post their opinions through the summer and then some (which only further perpetuate ‘Yeezus’ godliness).
What I love the most about Kanye and his last four albums, including ‘Yeezus‘, is that he has changed the culture of mainstream hip-hop. No one before him has done what he’s done but many will emulate him. For me personally, Kanye’s ability to successfully release ‘non-traditional’ hip-hop albums pushes the genre in invigorating new directions. Being able to experience ‘Yeezus’ makes me so thankful to be a hip-hop fan living in what could be the golden era of the genre.