Label: Def Jam
Production: Kanye West, Daft Punk, Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke, TNGHT, Travi$ Scott, 88-Keys, Lupe Fiasco, Lunice, Arca, No I.D., Young Chop
Written by: Khari Nixon (@KingVanGogh)
Executive producer Rick Rubin understandably questioned Kanye West’s time management as the deadline to finish his controversially titled 6th LP drew dangerously near. Kanye’s response was simple: “Don’t worry, I will score 40 points for you in the fourth quarter.” His retort may have referred specifically to their collaborative efforts to complete and submit the 10-track album, but it simultaneously spoke to where West was in his career at that very moment. With five albums, all of which have been labeled classics by a wide variety of critics and tastemakers, tucked safely under his belt, Kanye West was making a clear attempt to transcend the genre. During a time when most were expecting Yeezy to make his return to rap royalty, West had his eyes on a higher mark, and in that exact moment it was solely up to him and Rick Rubin to make it happen. In all of its daring and abrasive glory, Yeezus is Kanye’s most unapologetic effort to push the envelope—almost completely off the table—and as it teeters in its precarious position, Kanye, chutzpah in tow, manages to get his point across.
Despite West rapping on every song on Yeezus, it almost can’t be classified as a rap album. With Daft Punk’s raging electrical ambiance setting the tone from “On Sight” to “I Am A God,” and Hudson Mohawke’s room-shattering contributions on “Blood On The Leaves,” putting most bass patterns to shame, the sheer sonic value puts this album and Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar on a level playing field. Having no commercial guidelines to follow, and no faux pas Taylor Swift-esque incident to tread lightly on, Kanye delved deeply into every social and emotional crevice he could find. Using vacillating instrumentals, that often rapidly switched from soulful and soothing to brash and overconfident multiple times per track, ‘Ye banged out some of the most quotable verses of his career. What his narrative lacked in the witty wordplay we’ve come to expect, reminiscent of Late Registration, it made up for in pinpointed accuracy hitting target emotions. At its highest point, Yeezus proves to be a less watered-down version of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, evident on the Justin Vernon and Chief Keef-assisted “Hold My Liquor,” which paints a vivid picture rich in both passion and despair, as West tells a hopeless tale of a failing relationship over a climactic but suppressed drum pattern he assembled. Interrupting Chief Keef’s slurred cries of “you only know the old me,” is Kanye proclaiming, a-capella, “B*tch I’m back out my coma,” which he is. “Blood On The Leaves” finds West screaming “f*ck them other n*ggas, ‘cuz I’m down for my n*ggas,” and belting out what sound like leftover 808’s & Heartbreaks vocals over an instrumental that samples Billie Holiday’s song about black people being hung from trees, which would render even Eazy E’s most horrific anti-LAPD verse a coma.
While the peaks on Yeezus are reached often and not without momentous occasion, the pitfalls are glaring. The inconsistent contributions from Daft Punk make the first three songs to an already short album, sans “Black Skinhead”, rather forgettable. “I Am A God” passes off as Kanye’s excuse to scream the title over and over again, in between psychotic shrieks, while “Send It Up,” despite its tasteful interpolation of Beenie Man’s reggae-raps, doesn’t nearly set the stage for the effortless “Bound 2” as effectively as it could’ve.
In passing, Yeezus may seem like a blind attempt at genre-blending, margin challenging mash-ups, but once experienced, proves to be more of the encompassing, thought provoking, and at times gut-wrenching art Kanye West has consistently fed the culture with.