The secrecy surrounding Yeezus was something never before seen in mainstream rap. Having no album art or singles, being locked away on a hard drive to make it unleakable and then the unexplained video projections made everyone hold their breath in anticipation for something huge. This was how ‘New Slaves‘ was introduced to the world. All of a sudden people started expecting Yeezus to be the next Pieces of a Man or Keep on Pushing. Judging by his tirades against corporate sponsorship during his live shows and the subsequent ‘Black Skinhead’ performance, it really did seem like Kanye will be raging against the machine and bringing back the social consciousness to mainstream Hip Hop Public Enemy would love to still be spreading. While on the other hand, some started to think that Kanye West has simply lost it due to his erratic behavior. We have to remember that this is one the most successful musicians of our time and best friend to the one Jay-Z, a man who proclaims not to be a businessman but “a business, man“. The fashionable guerrilla marketing campaign could have only been manifested by an artist with a comfortable financial backing. Money had to fall into someone’s pockets in order to use the sides of buildings to advertise – such as Louis Vuitton’s, a multi-million fashion house and business partner of Mr. West. While the biggest irony of all is his relationship to Kim Kardashian. So listening to Yeezus, you will find yourself waiting for some form of explanation as to who does he think he is fooling.
Each song is diverse and, like Kanye, unpredictable. Tracks like ‘On Sight’ and ‘Send It Up’ are carried by amplified bass kicks, and growling, modulated synths, which are a reference to the Chicago acid-house scene of the eighties. ‘Black Skinhead’ marches with Marylin Manson drones and so much energy that if they weren’t restricted by Air Yeezys and leather black jeans, fans would be pogoing and starting circle pits. The infectious ‘New Slaves’ is a menacing, apocalyptic riddim that ties in well with much of the ragga influence that is scattered throughout the album. The juxtaposition of militant dancehall veteran Capelton on top of industrial, distorted kicks in ‘I am a God’ is a surprising delight while Assassin spitting fire on the hyper-sexualised slow burner ‘I’m In It’ really brings a needed fresh dimension to these tracks. Now and then we get a feel for the old, soulful Kanye, such as Frank Ocean at the end of ‘New Slaves’, or the haunting choir in the middle of ‘On Sight’ – before being suplexed right back to the new sound of Yeezus. ‘Blood On the Leaves’ is another example of this. In this case Nina Simone is juxtaposed with TNGHT’s hostile horns and automatic head-nod inducing drums which inject a lot of venom into the piano sample. Although Kanye was going for a more minimalist sound by employing Rick Rubin, which would be unlike his career opus My Dark Twisted Fantasy, it seems he still cannot stop himself from layering songs with new instrumentation, such as the warm orchestral strings during the outro of ‘Guilt Trip’. But having the likes of Hudson Mohawke and then Daft Punk at your disposal, the project was never going to sound like a Mac and MIDI bedroom production. Now it was all up to Kanye (and the writing team) to come up with some lyrics to match it.
The opener is a great summery for most of the album. ‘On Sight’ starts with obnoxious, repetitive bleeps and stabs while the lyrics get more and more provocative, not in order to evoke a revolution it seems, but rather a repulsion. Lines like ‘we get this bitch shaking like Parkinson’s’ and the Kim referencing ‘she got more niggas off than Cochran’ will get people reacting, whether in a good or bad way Kanye will show you ‘how much do I now not give a fuck’ as long as it gets a reaction. The harsh sounds and vulgar imagery are all intended to shock and polarise fans. But with all the confrontational lyrics and braggadocio Kanye puts on he does leave his guard down occasionally. While ‘I am a God’ might be the most-in-your-face song, he still gets to address the anger he feels towards rappers who criticised him for wearing skinny jeans and pink polo’s. ‘New Slaves’ sees Kanye West saying ‘all you blacks want all the same things’, the level of contradiction here is so high that it can only be read as parody, yet this is what will get people tweeting and sharing, giving him publicity. Other than this, there are hardly any topics being covered that don’t talk about himself and his past relationships. Something that really lets the whole album down. What could have been an album standing against the music industry and starting some form of movement for artists who want more creative control in popular music, has been spoiled by lyrics such as ‘put my fist in her like a civil rights sign’ (I’m In It). These punch lines are not witty or innovative in any way and give weight to his self-confessed addiction to porn. Although the contrasted sounds in ‘Blood on the Leaves’ work well, the lyrics do not. As Nina Simone sings about ‘Strange Fruit’ hanging from the poplar trees – a protest song about lynching in the south – a 808s and Heartbreaks-era Kanye is busy warbling about taking molly and comparing separation in a relationship to apartheid, ending the song with a nauseating autotune duet with Simone. Kanye’s featured rappers Chief Keef and King Louie, who come from the encouraging Chiraq drill scene, are agonizingly unnecessary and do not bring anything to the table except to show that Kanye wants to give exposure to his hometown up and comers, in his own self-gratifying way.
‘Bound 2’ is the obvious highlight on the album and cannot come soon enough. A song so pleasing on the ears that, especially after ‘Send It Up’, seems like a reward for patient survivors. The track comes as a last minute reassurance that in fact Kanye is still with us. The Ponderosa Twins Plus One soul sample is what everyone stayed for, bringing flashbacks of old Kanye productions such as ‘Let The Beat Build’. Even the disruptive change of direction that Charlie Wilson provides is a welcome add-on as opposed to Justin Vernon’s slurred whines. The lyrics expose Yeezy’s self-consciousness ‘I know I got a bad reputation’ and combine of course his voyeuristic love of sexualised imagery, ‘spunk on the mink’. The Yeezus costume can now come off and he can explain to us all that it was just a big airing out. The soon-to-be-a-father anxieties were getting to him and he just needed a couple primal screams and some reminiscing of the turbulent times he experienced in his previous failed public relationships before settling down.
Criticising corporate America, Justin Timberlake’s ‘Suit and Tie’ and having no promotional Youtube videos/album sleeve were all just an act in order to do make himself stand out. This anti-mainstream phase will always be overshadowed by his choice of being with Kim, a flagbearer of the sex tape exploitative faux-celebrity crowd who plunges the already decadent American reality TV to a new dimension. Kanye jumping on the alternative shock-rap bandwagon, lead by the likes of Odd Future, just did not work for me. You might not see any lyrics from Yeezus as graffiti on government walls but you will be able to share them as memes. #hurryupwithmydamncroissants
“A dystopian daggering between disfigured androids climaxes under the all-seeing eye of Yeezus. lascivious and power-drunk, he steps down from his diamond encrusted altar and begins to partake in the orgy. He screams in shock as he finds out that they are all clones of him. He carries on.”