Kanye West‘s 2010’s dizzying epic, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, was an obscene and vicarious dispatch from the music world’s most vociferous and compelling ego-on-wheels. It was a culmination of everything the man we call Yeezy did well, distilled to a purity Keith Richards would be proud to have in his veins, and forcefully projected through an obscuring diamond prism onto the canvas of our collective consciousness. Now, after a marketing campaign that’s seen West’s face emblazoned on buildings across the world like a haute couture Big Brother, he drops Yeezus.
Daft Punk, who similarly dropped a highly contested “masterpiece” back in May, lend their abrasive house chops to the three opening tracks. The first, On Sight, is a subsumption of acid house, a short, distorted 4/4 head-rock. Black Skinhead is a clattering, minimalist spiritual that relies on Ye’s incensed vocals as much as the rolling Gary Glitter sample for momentum. I Am A God then lays down a tech-industrial soundscape at once claustrophobic and infinite.
Kanye West – On Sight
3 minutes in to New Slaves, the 16-bit beat collapses into a descent of soul, strings and enciphered wailing before gliding sublimely to a smooth finish. West makes it clear that he doesn’t care about any kind of arbitration. “Fuck you and your corporation, y’all niggas can’t control me”, he snarls. In the eye of the storm as always, Hold My Liquor then serves more as a plea than a descriptor. Musically it’s in the realm of Cruel Summer, with oscillating synths and terse, kick-centred beats. It opens with double-tracked lamentation from Justin Vernon before Chief Keef haplessly sings the hook. Ye’s lines are suffixed by a short, distorted siren, like a computer rejecting his commands.
He’s joined again by Vernon on I’m In It. Ye recalls the iniquity of Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Uh, black girl sippin’ white wine / Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign”, before revealing that his self-consciousness occupies the same amount of psychological real estate as his ego, “Uh, I’m so scared of my demons / Uh, I go to sleep with a nightlight”. The somber Blood on the Leaves sees him juxtaposing the dark, inevitable flip side of his hit Gold Digger, with the mournful voice of Nina Simone singing a Billie Holiday song about a lynching.
Kanye West – Blood On The Leaves
Send It Up is a short, final hurrah before nights of “bitches [coming] in twos” and sucking dick “like they came to lose” remain forever crystallised as “memories”. On Bound 2, he explains why: “Close your eyes and let the word paint a thousand pictures / One good girl is worth a thousand bitches”. It closes this 10-track suite of acrid, inertial and ominous missives from the 21st Century’s consummate degenerate with that classic soul sound that started it all.
Yeezus may prove a moral and psychological flashpoint for West, besides a creative one. It’s a depiction of the mental landscape he has occupied for the past decade. It’s a survey of all that is in his possession, past, present and future while expressing a desire to have them all cohere before he takes that step into grown-ass-man territory. Lyrically and thematically familiar while musically alien and sonically caustic — it’s polarising in every way.
What do you know? The prick made an album that’s exactly like him.
Listen: Kanye West – Yeezus (Full Album)