Kanye West, ‘Yeezus’ | Album Review
‘Yeezus‘ doesn’t necessarily supersede the elite Kanye West albums, but it is an ambitious, interesting addition to his discography.
Evolution is Kanye West‘s middle name. Yeah, his real middle name is ‘Omari’, but perhaps he should change it. Each album by the ever-controversial, opinionated rapper has showcased a different artistic direction from the previous or proceeding one. His highly anticipated sixth solo album Yeezus is no different. It separates itself instantly from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010). Yeezus doesn’t quite stack up with West’s biggest juggernauts nor does it always show the greatest depth of lyrics. But, there is still plenty of ‘juicy meat’ for one to sink their teeth into and salivate over. It’s his least predictable album.
Perhaps the most off-putting, confusing number from Yeezus is “On Sight,” which opens with brash electronics unlike anything else West has released. On the hook, West is as unapologetic as the music itself.
“On sight / on sight / how much you wanna give a f*ck / let me show you right now before you give it up / how much do I not give a f*ck / let me show you right now before you give it up.”
Self-confident, West also raps that “Yeezy season approaching / f*ck whatever y’all been hearing… the monster about to come alive again.” And for good measure, he throws in a soul sample following the hook completely unrelated to the electro production work? Perhaps it’s genius, or maybe “On Sight” just serves the purpose of ‘shock value’ tactics. Art is polarizing, right?
“Black Skinhead” continues the shocking trek of Yeezus, opening with pounding, rock-n-roll favoring drums. The production work is awesome, even if West’s message is… well… controversial for lack of a better word. There are numerous ‘memorable’ lyrics, with, “I’m aware I’m a wolf, soon as the moon hit / I’m aware I’m a king, back out the tomb b*tch!” being among my favorites. And then there’s that one where West proclaims “If I knew what I knew in the past / I would’ve been blacked out on your ass.” Charming. While it likely won’t be a radio staple, the hook, anchored down with an 808 is magnificent.
“I Am A God”
After shouting out “God” on the outro of “Black Skinhead”, Kanye West elevates himself to status of ‘a’ god (not God himself, remember “Jesus Walks”) on “I Am A God.” While he doesn’t get too blasphemous, one must be skeptical of the second verse, where Wests claims God said “‘What up Yeezus?’ I said, ‘Shit, I’m chilling / trying to stack these millions’” Maybe he’s just counting his blessings, but still… While it may not sit well with any pastor, “I Am A God” features a killer pounding 808 beat (during the hook) and aggressive rhymes from West. He also throws some screams in there for good measure, that recur later on Yeezus. AH!
Keeping it 100, “New Slaves” gives West his third straight triumph, in spite of the ‘messaging’. Like most of Yeezus, the production is a highlight, with this particular cut sporting a minimalistic nature about it. The criticism of this cut will likely be the resurrection of a horrid past for African-Americans, particularly playing up past shortcomings and perhaps even present stereotypes (“Y’all throwing contracts at me / y’all know that n*ggas can’t read..”). But West gets a more electrifying jab in when he states “You see its leaders and its followers / I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” Agile and edgy rhymes seem to match the production work perfectly. As for Frank Ocean’s contributions… well they’re minimal.
“Hold My Liquor”
After three straight surefire ‘hits’, “Hold My Liquor” falls short of the same oomph and quality of “Black Skinhead”, “I Am A God”, or “New Slaves”. Lyrically, “Hold My Liquor” is a track that suffers from lyrical depth from West, who uses more repeated ideas and only has one verse. Even so, the track is no failure, with Chief Keef getting his ‘Future’ on (auto tuned hook), and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) doing his normal thing well. We do learn that even though “can’t hold no liquor…these b*tches can’t handle me…” OK.
“I’m In It” is more enjoyable than “Hold My Liquor”, even if it is ‘all over the place’ per se. The message is simple… ‘he’s in it’. And by being in it, he’s really in it because “Uh, picked up where we left off / Uh I need you home when I get off.” And if you don’t know what ‘it’ is, Justin Vernon helps clarify “Lay it off… star f*cker”. So it is safe to assume that Kanye is horny for sure… It is a unique cut, though not the ‘best’. But ‘he’s in it’, remember?
“Blood On The Leaves”
“Blood On The Leaves” is definitely in the running for the album’s best cut. Sure, West relies on auto tune, but it actually works here. He builds up the juggernaut with a sample of Nina Simone covering Billie Holiday’s classic, “Strange Fruit.” He’s at his best when a soulful or jazzy sample is involved. Then throw in some piano complementing the sample while West pop-raps – it’s getting good. Then it gets awesome as biting brass and infuriated production work take over. He even raps without auto tune on the third verse.
“I don’t give a damn if you used to talk to Jay-Z / He ain’t with you, he with Beyoncé need to stop acting lazy / She instagramed herself like ‘Bad b*tch alert’ / He instagram his watch like ‘Mad rich alert’.”
“Guilt Trip” can’t compete with its predecessor, but it has its moments (“Your feelings like Zulu, then nothing is a Shaka / I hit her with Jamaican dick, I’m the new Shabba”). Like “Hold My Liquor”, more development could’ve propelled this cut further. Kid Cudi does fine on the bridge: “If you love me so much then why’d you let me go?” “Send It Up” seems as if it should be a companion piece to “I’m In It.” I’m not trying to sound perverted, but it seems as if West is referring to ‘Lil West’ if you catch my drift.
“When I go raw, I like to leave it in / when I wake up, I like to go again / when I go to work / she gotta call it in / she can’t go to work / same clothes again…”
King L adds some additional nastiness:
“Last night my b*tches came in twos / And they both suck like they came to lose.”
“Bound 2” seems like more ‘familiar’ territory. While “Blood on the Leaves” is a better track, “Bound 2” is more traditional in utilizing a soul sample and West doing something called ‘rapping’. But to make things more bizarre, Charlie Wilson’s bridge is in a different key than the sample backing West’s rhymes. I say that to say there is still airs of experimentation, making even a more traditional cut like this one different from West’s work of the past. West certainly couldn’t be called ‘eloquent’, with lines like:
“I wanna f*ck you hard on the sink / After that, give you something to drink / Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink.”
Well, he’s honest at least.
What can be said about Yeezus as a cohesive effort? It doesn’t necessarily supersede any one of Wests great albums, but it is an ambitious, interesting addition to his discography. This effort is likely not the album many expected from west and does lacks that one radio-worthy cut. Even so, it has plenty of redeeming qualities and is more accessible, better quality than the mixed 808s & Heartbreaks (2008). While this West album is not one without flaws, it has enough interesting, if sometimes overambitious moments to atone from my perspective.
Gems: “Black Skinhead,” “I Am A God,” “New Slaves,” & “Blood On the Leaves”