During his headlining set at New York City’s Governors Ball Festival on June 9, Kanye West stopped the music…During his headlining set at New York City’s Governors Ball Festival on June 9, Kanye West stopped the music for a diatribe about his new album “Yeezus.” Paraphrasing for profanity, Kanye told the crowd of 20,000 that the album was hitting stores without a radio single or “NBA promotional campaign” because the artist was focused on making music, not selling records.
The final product on “Yeezus” reflects that. West’s sixth studio album, not counting “Watch The Throne” or “Cruel Summer,” is lean and brutal, a ten-track and forty-minute dive into his deepest consciousness. This isn’t unprecedented, as the songs on his albums have gradually become more pointed over time in a few ways. The exaggerated braggadocio barely visible on “The College Dropout” has been growing; the best example would be on “Mercy,” last summer’s biggest hit, where Kanye blows up the song’s beat specifically to build another in its place. Combine that outsized ego with the noticeably darker and more introspective direction his work’s gone since his mother’s death back in 2007 and it’s clear there are more than a few demons the guy needed to work out.
It’s for the best that Def Jam and West have thrown “Yeezus” out of the nest without any real promotion.It’s for the best that Def Jam and West have thrown “Yeezus” out of the nest without any real promotion. It’d be hard to sell it in any marketable way from its opening moments, electronic feedback dropping into a heavy Daft Punk electro beat and skittish drums. “On Sight” is a banger, as most of the early goings on “Yeezus” are, but it’s dark and experimental at the same time, dropping into a ten-second sample of one of the most unexpected songs to ever appear on a hip-hop record, “He’ll Give Us What We Really Need” by the Holy Name of Mary Choral Family.
These little snippets of something unexpected lie all across the album. “Black Skinhead,” the second track, rests on a drum sample of Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People,” the moans and cries laid around the track’s fringes adding an incredible sense of urgency. “I Am A God” is full of guttural screams. A dichotomy between the sweet of Justin Vernon’s vocoderized Bon Iver vocals and bitter of Chief Keef’s naturalized chorus brings a hungover core to “Hold My Liquor.” Each song is Kanye going out on an aural limb. Say what you want about the man, but he’s definitely trying something new on this record.
The subject matter? It varies, from the autobiographical to the outsized egotistical.The subject matter? It varies, from the autobiographical to the outsized egotistical to the political and the introspective. “New Slaves” features lyrics both about personal racism (the opposite ends of being poor and black and rich and black), with inflamed lines about prisons for profit mixed among the Maybach references. “I Am A God” is exactly what the title sounds like. The second half of the album dives deeper into the blackness of “808s and Heartbreaks,” both in its vocoder/AutoTune delivery and its dark subject matter. “Blood on the Leaves” is about a contentious relationship (Amber Rose? Kardashian? Someone we don’t know?) and features the closest thing to a “Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” emotional journey. We get a peek into the man calling himself Yeezus, and his torment and anguish is just as visible as his occasional happiness and world-beatingness.
Perhaps the biggest surprise on “Yeezus” comes at the end, when “Bound 2,” a sweeter, happier song than the rest of the album, brings back some “College Dropout” memories. It helps cap the album in a better place than otherwise expected, raising moods ever so slightly. But “Yeezus” is a journey, one well worth embarking at least once even if you hate the man. Still siding with Taylor Swift? You’ll think he hasn’t grown up a second since 2009. Approaching this album with an open mind and the awareness of what Kanye’s trying to do here is recommended. It won’t click with everyone, but it will with many; it’s a glimpse into the mind of a tortured genius whose future is uncertain and whose mindset is set on creating something he can truly own.
Does Yeezus walk on water, or is Kanye just a man? Let us know in the comments below!