If you’re an avid fan of Kanye West, you’ll be aware of the dichotomy that has long-existed in the community between his earlier and later albums. The song ‘I Love Kanye’ exists for a reason. Beginning with 808s & Heartbreak, West’s radical experimentation in his sound has created a divide between those that prefer his more traditional, soulful works (namely his debut The College Dropout and its follow-up Late Registration) and those who have embraced his evolution as an artist. What’s intriguing about this phenomenon is that it’s largely fan-based; critical response to Kanye’s releases has always been generally positive if not facing widespread acclaim.
Yeezus, perhaps his most divisive work amongst regular listeners, is in need of reappraisal. In the endless rankings of Yeezy’s discography, it never seems to come out on top. But it’s his most experimental yet. Brash, provocative, noisy, it’s also his most concise – sitting at just over 40 minutes long. No skits, no interludes, just strange, intoxicating music. All killer, no filler.
Yeezus announces itself immediately as something different, the opener ‘On Sight’ bombarding the listener with messy synths. Kanye shouts about “a monster about to come alive again,” and he’s right. ‘Black Skinhead’ finds him in scintillating form, raving and ranting against the subjugation of black America. Yeezus is industrial hip-hop, straying into punk rap, and West’s aggression can be felt strongly throughout. This ‘new’ Kanye isn’t only about changes in his music, but his public persona. Following the Taylor Swift incident at the 2009 VMAs, Kanye was increasingly seen as a rampant narcissist – an egomaniac. He considers this perception on ‘I Am a God’, credited with a feature from God herself. This bravado has been misread as blind arrogance. In reality, Kanye’s braggadocio enables greater introspection – ‘Famous’ on The Life of Pablo being one such example.
Not only is Yeezus thematically challenging and sonically avant-garde, it’s chock-full of relentless beats to let loose to. ‘Black Skinhead’ actively encourages you to get your scream on. ‘New Slaves’ and ‘I’m In It’ are pounding, rebellious productions, whilst the base drop on ‘Blood on the Leaves’ is practically legendary and the Nina Simone sampling gorgeous. It’s easy to forget that Kanye still shows his soulful side on this album: there’s choir present, with Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) and Kid Cudi lending their dulcet tones. The minimal features work: Cudi’s crooning on ‘Guilt Trip’ is perfectly melancholic, whereas the mantra Chief Keef intones on ‘Hold My Liquor’ is probably the best thing he’s ever done.
‘Bound 2’, the closer, may be one of West’s greatest singles. It’s one of the best love songs of the 21st century – carnal, audacious, and essentially Kanye. More reminiscent of his earlier work than the preceding tracks on Yeezus, yet for some that may have proved a respite from the unconventional sound that dominates the album. To me, it demonstrates that Kanye West can do it all. For the good of hip-hop and music itself, we have to let him.
Yeezus was released on June 18th 2013 via Def Jam Recordings