Album Review: “Yeezus” by Kanye West

WxOSUmo

By: Pete Andrew

In case you didn’t notice, Kanye West dropped an album a few days ago. And if you managed not to notice, apparently terms like “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”–oh, and “new Kanye album”–are commonplace in your life and don’t arouse any emotions in you whatsoever. If that’s the case, get out of my country and/or off my planet. Hate him or love him, a new Kanye album is an event, something one even remotely interested in hip-hop should become well acclimated with. And let’s be real, if you failed to notice the arrival of Yeezus, you will probably be shocked to hear that Osama bin Laden’s dead, Saddam’s dead, Milli Vanilli was lip synching the whole time and John Bobbitt got his dick reattached and did porn for a turn way back when. You’re welcome.

At any rate, a quick glance over at metacritic.com, which combines the many ratings an album, movie, etc. will get upon release and combine them into one score, will show you that critics love Kanye’s newest effort, Yeezus. That said, on the date of release, a not so quick glance over at my Facebook page would reveal that Yeezus confused the ever-loving shit out of a lot of average people. I even saw one picture of Kanye’s face Photoshopped onto the 3rd grade school picture of Kim Kardashian, or something like that. Needless to say, I don’t think that individual had the greatest opinion of the new album.

I thought the best way to go about reviewing this album was the track-by-track approach, with a final conclusion on the project as a whole. Other than that, I write what I feel like writing, which is probably why there tends to be a lot of squiggly red lines by the time I’m through. The good news is that Yeezus has but ten songs, and I suspect that even Microsoft Word wanted to underline half of the album, so it’s really not my fault at any point.

And away we go!

1. “On Sight”

Daft Punk helped produce this track? “You don’t say! I would never have guessed,” the reviewer says with great facetiousness. Anyway, while I have a tendency to love crossover collaborations, especially those with previous successes like West’s “Stronger” off of Graduation, this beat is a little noisy and disjointed for my taste. It does improve to some degree when Kanye gets into the bridge for the first time; the electro-synth snare line around the 1:10 mark gives the listener a point of reference for head-bouncing purposes.

The opening track makes up for the somewhat awkward instrumental with its strong, brash and clever lyrical content.  Some highlights:

“Real nigga back in the house again / Black Timbs all on your couch again / Black dick all in your spouse again / She got more niggas off then Cochran, huh?”

Yeesh. Mince words he does not. Also, see verse #2 in its entirety, because Kanye.

Overall, it’s a strong first song, if not a classic. Also, I can’t help but think that after challenging his audience with, “How much do I not give a fuck? /  Let me show you right now before you give it up,” Kanye interrupts everything with what sounds like a children’s choir belting out, “Ohhhhhh, he’ll give us what we neeeeeeeeeeed / It may not be what we waaaaaaaant.”

Translation: “Shhhhhhhhhhh. I’ve got this. Kanye’s got this. Remember, he’s a goddamn genius… Bitch.”

2. “Black Skinhead”

This beat is on point! Stark, militant, thumping, and subtly complex. The harried rhythmic breathing gets my early vote for favorite thing on the album that you don’t notice you’ve noticed. Remember the offbeat high hats on “No Church in the Wild”? Same type of shit! So subtle, and yet inexplicably dope!

Unfortunately, verse one’s lyrics are forgettable, and the flow is fairly repetitive; it kinda kills the momentum the production set up so bad-assedly. Once again however, the second verse is fantastic:

“I’m aware I’m a wolf / Soon as the moon hit / I’m aware I’m a king / Back out the tomb bitch!”

Also, may we discuss for a moment how he spits, “You niggas ain’t breathing, you gasping,” right on top of the semi-panicked breathing I mentioned earlier? Do you think Kanye West does these things by accident? I credit—along with his ever-evolving creativity—his love and appreciation for musical and rhythmic nuances with catapulting Kanye to his current level of stardom. Lyrically speaking, he’s well above average, but not among the greatest ever to grab a mic. I think it’s his attention to detail, and the intimacy he grasps with every facet of an instrumental that gives West an added edge. The man interacts with the music better than arguably any other rapper out there, and it leads to people (or at least me) having this type of experience at least a couple times each album:

“Damn, this sounds amazing.  Why does this sound so amazing?”

[6 months to a year pass]

“Ohhhhh.  That’s why it sounds so amazing!”

And you only have to listen to these songs a dozen or fifty or one hundred times before you get there. That’s the depth that Kanye West can bring to a song.

3. “I Am a God”

This is far from my favorite track on Yeezus, but if Kanye gave it this title so that, at the very least, some nobody internet writer whom he’ll never hear of mentions it, his plan worked.

One thing I’d like to point out is that Kanye is not saying that he is God, just that he’s “a god.” “A,” as in one of multiple.  Lower-cased “god.” A god of what? Hip hop? Anybody feel like denying that? Remembering his ability as a producer on other albums before he broke out with College Dropout, think about this man’s run from 2004 onward. Any chance he’s not on hip-hop’s Mount Olympus? Maybe he’s not holding Zeus’ lightning bolt, but you at least have to give him Dionysus. I mean, the man said the President of the United States doesn’t care about black people on national television and suffered less for it than Mike Myers did standing next to Kanye in the twenty seconds immediately after the fact.

Also, if this doesn’t make you smile I don’t know what to do with you:

“I just talked to Jesus / He said, ‘what up, Yeezus?’ / I said, ‘shit, I’m chilling’ / ‘Tryna stack these millions.'” 

If Jesus asked me what I was doing, I would probably have to clear my history and burn my computer before responding. Apparently Kanye is a bit more confident than I. At any rate, throw in Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and some of Kanye’s quintessential, fantastic choir samples, and you have, at the very least, a song worth the listen as you run through the album.

4. “New Slaves”

This is a grim, determined look at what society expects of a black individual after he or she achieves great fame or recognition. It’s as if Kanye sees himself in a new realm, one that’s unfathomably high considering where he began in life, and sees “old money” looking at this nouveau riche black man and saying, “Kanye, you’re rich, you’re loved, you have all of the attention in the world—be happy! Don’t worry about all of the shit you and your ancestors have had to put up with. It’s fine now, because we’ve chosen to accept you.”

Yet at the same time, these people look down on him because he’s a rapper, not an oil tycoon or whatever rich white people do these days. He got famous and wealthy by excelling at a form of music foreign to them. He spends money in strange ways (or doesn’t buy expensive shit at a breakneck speed as expected). He’s outspoken. He’s got a thing or two to say about the White Man, the Establishment. Worst, he interrupted Taylor Swift that one time.

Their point:  “You’re too much like us to raise a stink, Kanye, but you’re not one of us.  You’re mainstream, but you’re still below us.”

“New Slaves” serves as a direct message to that class of people, alerting them that Kanye, umm, believes this is all utter bullshit, and that he is quite emphatic in this belief:

“They prolly all in the Hamptons / Bragging ’bout what they made / Fuck you and your Hampton house / I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse / Came on her Hampton blouse / And in her Hampton mouth / Y’all ’bout to turn shit up / I’m ’bout to tear shit down / I’m ’bout to air shit out / Now what the fuck they gon’ say now?”

Well, they probably won’t say much, but everybody in the Hamptons sure as shit just locked their doors.

5. “Hold My Liquor” 

At the halfway mark of Yeezus, Kanye has made it fairly clear that he doesn’t really care if any of these songs make it onto the Billboard 100. He has largely shunned the structures of typical hip-hop songs, especially when it comes to hooks.

Q. What’s the chorus to “On Sight”?

A. “On sight!  On sight!”

Q. What’s the chorus to “New Slaves”?

A. There… isn’t one.  Not really, at least.

Yes, that’s only 2/5, but that’s definitely not normal as rap albums go. Oh, and “New Slaves” is one of his leading singles.

“Hold My Liquor” features a chorus handled by the walking, talking and allegedly human vegetable known as Chief Keef, so suffice it to say that I wish we could have gone back to the “New Slaves” approach to hooks. Still, I try not to judge a song by a less meaningful feature, so let Chief Keef have his moment, even if said moment would fall under the category of “Shit I Don’t Like.”

Aside from that, Justin Vernon reprises his “I Am A God” role in a beautiful intro. Through slurred words, the narrator seems to be a man who is in denial over his alcohol use. He states that he “can hold his liquor,” but “this man can’t handle me.” He hits the road, presumably drunk, headed south but with no stated end goal. Hauntingly beautiful, Vernon nails this cameo and sets the mood beautifully for Kanye’s verse.

That’s “verse” in its singular form, by the way. It’s a fairly long one, but it stands alone in between the aforementioned chorus and Vernon intros and outros, which almost makes it feel like a mid-album interlude of sorts. Think “Bring Me Down (ft. Brandy)” from Late Registration, but chilling, somber and dreamlike—though not in a Mary-Kate-and-Ashley-Olsen-are-trying-to-seduce-me-at-the-same-time kind of way.

I didn’t really appreciate this song until I got a grasp of the words amid the noise. Now that I’ve actually paid the proper amount of attention to it, it’s one of my favorites thus far. Definitely worth giving a few extra listens.

6. “I’m In It” 

I dug this song within the first five seconds of the first time I heard it. A heavy synth bass put down the basis for a methodical, lean-the-driver’s-seat-back-grab-your-dick-and-roll-slow tempo, and the intermittent, rising “oooOOH!” and “aaaAAH!” let me know that I was in for some shit.

The first verse features normal Kanye layered with chopped ‘n screwed Kanye, the latter of which matches perfectly with the bass while the former keeps the sound away from James Earl Jones sippin’ hella sizzurp territory. The topic? Sex. Lusty, sweaty, interracial, middle of the day, name-a-part-of-the-body-and-it’s-mentioned sex.

The second verse features a Jamaican deejay who goes by the name of Assassin. Here’s the one thing you need to know about this guy: Assassin.Works. Fucking. Perfectly. On. This. Song. 

I don’t know who he is, but that unique rasta flow and voice was made for this song, even if we Americans aren’t always sure of what they’re saying, just like in [name any ragga song ever created ever]. Assassin springs into his verse just as the beat picks up, the electro siren-like stuff going nuts in an upper octave, making you think that maybe there really is something to worry about here.

Kanye’s next verse doesn’t alleviate any concern, as he drops grimace-inducing bombs like: “Black girl sippin’ white wine / Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign / And grabbed it with a slight grind / And held it ‘til the right time / Then she came like AAAAAHHH!

Yeeeeeeezus!

7. “Blood on the Leaves” 

SONG OF THE ALBUM. I’m calling it right here. It starts off fittingly if we consider Kanye’s love for samples and Nina Simone, with Simone’s iconic voice-over simple piano chords:

“Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees / Blood on the leaves.”

Something about Simone’s voice makes me fall in love with the given song. Kanye has sampled Simone plenty of times. In this song it’s “Strange Fruit,” and others included are 808s & Heartbreak’s “Bad News” as well as Talib Kweli’s “Get By”; suffice it to say, West does it very, very well. I find it hard to believe that anybody could truly do bad with Nina Simone, but I wonder if Kanye can really be fucked with in the sampling game (good or bad, I don’t really care to argue the point here).

“Blood on the Leaves” is very reminiscent of 808’s at first, as West’s voice features the now overly familiar autotune sound we’ve all come to know/love/hate/despise/ignore while his lyrics detail a time of internal struggle, loss of love and an overall sense of discontent in his life.

“We could have been somebody / Thought you’d be different ‘bout it / Now I know you not it / So let’s get on it with it”

Those last lines of verse one bring us to the 1:06 mark. When 1:11 happens, shit is on and/or popping for good. How do I know?

Those are arch villain horns. Those are Tony Montana blasting from the top of his marble staircase. Those are Denzel Washington blowing up that one douche bag cop’s car in American Gangster. Those horns signify every available middle finger on the planet Earth, to borrow a term from Eminem: “stuck on fuck.”

It quiets down momentarily after that, but after those horns come in the first time, you know they’re coming back to wreck shit again, and they’re not going to be leaving again. And when they do come back right alongside a lyrical tribute to 90’s Snoop (“FUCK THEM OTHER NIGGAS CUZ I’M DOWN FOR MY NIGGAS”), I can’t help but stop analyzing and come to the understanding that Kanye has done it again and it doesn’t matter what he says to the POTUS or Taylor Swift or Jesus himself, because his music is the shit. He’s holding Zeus’ lightning bolt, galloping around with it between his legs like he’s got a massive cock of lightning. And you really can’t say much about it.

8. “Guilt Trip”

“Guilt Trip” seems to serve as a coming down from “Blood on the Leaves,” and I think it’s a good move. Every album needs balance, and I enjoy how this track calms things down without coming off flat. The first verse starts off with classic Kanye thoughts, specifically: “She’s into Leos / And I was into trios / Plus all the trips to Rio.” Such rhymes bring me back to, once again, “Bring Me Down (ft. Brandy),” with observations along the lines of, “And get some leeway on the he-say, she say / Your girl don’t like me? How long as she been gay? / Spanish girls say, ‘no hable Ingles’ / And everybody want to run to me for their singl-ay.

It’s a nice track, but it seems to me that it doesn’t move the album along much. Still, at the eighth track of ten, this is the first time I’m coming to the conclusion of “meh.” Not bad, even for Kanye.

9. “Send It Up”

The first verse is courtesy of an up-and-coming Chicago MC, King Louie. Apparently Kanye shouted him out on a song a year or so ago, which caught King L by complete surprise. That’s some endearing shit; rappers are hardly ever entirely honest and damn near never modest. Suddenly, King L finds himself with a verse on Kanye’s “Look at Me I’m a Fucking Messiah” album, which has to be a tremendous feeling. Thankfully, this relative unknown doesn’t disappoint in his brief stint (to date) in the spotlight:

“Last night my bitches came in twos / And they both suck like they came to lose.”

Not a terribly complex rhyme, and yet I’ve never heard that line before. Fuckin’ A. Get ‘em, Louie! Looking forward to hearing more from this guy.

Kanye chips in a swag-filled second verse, spouting off with “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.” If this album has a club song—and Kanye asserts that “Send It Up” is the best club since 50 Cent’s… well, predictably titled “In Da Club”—this is it. And let’s be real, we shouldn’t count any Kanye song out. I mean, “Good Life” was a smash hit, and I didn’t realize why until it was already happening. “Send It Up” is simple, direct, but also kind of a banger. I think both ‘Ye and King Louie are high though. I say both in the sense that both sound tremendously high in their raps and, well, I don’t imagine this bumping through the stereo system of Rick’s American Café on a Friday night (which, as far as a song/artist’s credibility goes, is probably a good thing).

10. “Bound 2”

This is a good joint. I need to preface with that, because I’m going to be a bit of a downer here.

Early in this song, Kanye rhymes “bad reputation” with “mad reputation” with “sad reputation” with “Brad reputation.”  I’m sorry, I just… that’s just not good on any level. Later, he does the same with “prom shit,” “mom shit” and “lawn shit.”  Maybe that’s clever, but even for a big Kanye fan it’s a bit of a stretch. Even for a Pand-ay ban it’s a bit of a wretch. Even for a Shantay clan it’s a bit of a catch. Okay, I realize that my example didn’t make much sense, but it’s not much worse, and I make $30,000/year without rapping.

I think my main issue with this song is that I always thought it was a bonus addition to the album, like I bought the deluxe version or something. Sadly, this is not the case. This is 10% of a forty minute album. I just don’t think it’s good enough to make that kind of cut, especially for the likes of Kanye! Put this on a mixtape, put it as the third extra song on a deluxe version, release it for free a few months before or after the main album, and I like it. And I do like it! But not a half hour prior to this, we were talking about new slaves. How did we get to Charlie Wilson features? Yeesh-us!

Final thoughts:

For once in my life, I have to side with the critics on this one. They don’t take kindly to movies in which Jason Biggs has sex with baked goods, a fact I still hold against them, but I think they’ve done Kanye West justice when it comes to Yeezus. Not that Kanye cares, of course.

TOP TRACKS:

1. “Blood on the Leaves”

2. “Black Skinhead”

3. “I’m In It.”

In comparison to his earlier albums, Yeezus doesn’t have too many tracks that stand alone as pure singles—which goes along with what Kanye’s been saying about not wanting to be played on the radio[1]–but as a comprehensive album, this is a fine, fine effort. Time will only tell where it stand among his earlier work, but I think this newest album will only strengthen his claim as an all-time great when he drops the mic one final time.

I may never fully understand Kanye, but that might be a good thing. Perhaps one has to have a massive ego, endless funds and the desire to name children after, you know, directions and shit, to fully comprehend everything Mr. West does in the booth. That said, I am sure that he’s one of—if not the—most culturally significant rappers around these days. If you counter that statement with “Lil’ Wayne,” please comment so I can remember to slap the shit out of you the next time I see you.


[1] Along with every other massively popular artist who takes him or herself a bit too seriously.  Whatever.

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