Artist: Kanye West
Genre: Hip Hop
Yeezus season has arrived. After months of hype, absolutely no radio play, dozens of projections around the globe, and an afternoon spent trending over a leak, Kanye West’s latest epic has finally found its way into the hands of music lovers around the world. It’s an ambitious effort that puts the experimentation of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to shame, but while it’s something everyone should hear at least once, it may very well be be too much for many to enjoy.
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact date, but at some point during the creation of 808s and Heartbreak Kanye West shifted his focus from direct lyrical content to creating sonic expressions of emotion that couldn’t care less about what works in popular music. Since that time West’s work has gone from an autobiographical tale of someone making it work when the odds are against them, to something he sees as profound and world-changing. The only problem is, many members of the population see these profound offerings as pompous grandstanding, and whether or not you fall in love with Yeezus is going to be based largely on which side of that fence you fall.
It’s clear from very early on that Yeezus is about more than a single song or lyric. As I mentioned above, Kanye has moved his focus more and more toward creating an overall listening experience for the listener. It’s about expressing feelings and ideas in grandiose ways, not line by line as many are quick to critique, but even with that in mind it’s hard to look at Yeezus as Kanye’s strongest effort to date. From the opening moments of “On Site” it’s clear Ye is gunning for your attention, and to do so he’s going to pump you up with thick bass lines and instrumentation that is as intoxicating as it is dizzying. There is a sense of chaos to it all, but anyone who knows anything about Kanye West knows he is not only completely in control, but purposely delivering a disorienting wave of sound to make it clear what you’re experiencing is unlike everything else being released right now. He loves to set himself apart whenever possible, that is one unquestionable truth throughout Yeezus, but just because you’re bringing something new to the table doesn’t mean people will find it appetizing. Interesting, sure, but after your first encounter with Yeezus the perceived madness begins to sound more and more like the cries of a spoiled man child drunk on his own ego.
There is nothing wrong with the persona Kanye West has chosen to adopt in recent years. Some may call him an asshole, but by owning his actions Kanye has created a unique identity for himself that like Yeezus goes beyond a single idea or verse. It’s a character far more complex than what most rappers bring to the table, and until Yeezus it seemed like Kanye knew how to separate his actual identity from the person everyone saw on television. Unfortunately, as listeners dive into the messages and themes of Yeezus it begins to sound like Kanye has begun to believe his own hype, and in doing so grown over-confident with everything from production to lyrics. He seems to believe pushing the envelope equates to creating something memorable or timeless, and to an extent that is true, but the impact of the music as whole has suffered immensely. The man who used to paint pictures of society with a lyrical pallet of vibrant colors has been reduced to a lush who uses a wall of sound to hide the fact he has little of actual value to say. Songs like “New Slaves” seem to aim for change and carry messages people should hear, but as soon as it seems those points are being made Kanye says something that takes the focus off the issue at hand and puts it back on himself, like “Fuck you and your Hampton house / I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse / Came on her Hampton blouse / And in her Hampton mouth.” Call me crazy, but with lines that outrageous it’s hard to walk away from a track thinking we should further examine inequality in modern America.
If there is one thing to be learned from Yeezus it’s that Kanye West is his own worst enemy. He has created a loud, sometimes incoherent offering that becomes less interesting and more weird for the sake of being weird with each subsequent listen. It’s as if he’s run out of complete ideas and instead throws together as many pieces as possible and calls the results a track. For every strong point he makes about celebrity or race issues there are a slew of laughable lines delivered with equal sincerity. His fervent pursuit of greatness has inflated his ego to a point of creative blindness, and the results are one of the more interesting, but ultimately not that great listening experiences of 2013. I don’t want the old Kanye back, but I would be lying if I said I did not walk away from this album a little disappointed.
Review written by: James Shotwell (Twitter)