Kanye West - Yeezus
1. On Sight (Feat. Daft Punk)
2. Black Skinhead (Feat. Daft Punk)
3. I Am A God (Feat. God)
4. New Slaves (Feat. Frank Ocean)
5. Hold My Liquor (Feat. Justin Vernon & Chief Keef)
6. I'm In It (Feat. Assassin & Justin Vernon)
7. Blood On The Leaves
8. Guilt Trip (Feat. Kid Cudi)
9. Send It Up (Feat. King L & Gesaffelstein)
10. Bound 2 (Feat. Charlie Wilson)
Released: June 18 2013 (Roc-A-Fella Records, Def Jam Records)
Kanye West has always been a man who wasn’t comfortable releasing “easy” albums, always creating something that challenged the listener, that defied the conventions of music at the time, bringing a breath of fresh air for rap and hip-hop each time. However, for Yeezus, his sixth studio album, collaborations and compilations notwithstanding, it doesn’t take the form of a breath of fresh air as much as it forcibly grabs the listener’s ears and shoves them down a wind tunnel. Once again, he has redefined his sound, this time opting for an all-out, abrasive, angry sound, influenced by everything from Chicago acid house, to industrial rock, to more recent avant-garde hip hop, popularised by acts such as Death Grips or Tyler The Creator. Yeezus also features some downright surprising collaborators and producers, ranging from techno’s man of the moment Gesaffelstein, to up & coming Chicago rapper King L, to demigods of electronic music Daft Punk. The result is an album that feels almost unlistenable in places upon the first listen, but given the chance, this presents itself as some of West’s strongest work to date.
The album kicks off with the distorted 303 acid roller On Sight. The track, provided by Parisian kings of electro Daft Punk, sets the stage for the whole album, clocking in at under 3 minutes, it’s short, but definitely not sweet. However, it manages to be just a strong as the rest of the album, despite being somewhat jarring, especially when an inexplicable choir sample interrupts halfway through. If this was any other artist, I would have thought that my CD was broken, but this is a Kanye West album, and I’ve learned to expect the unexpected, and that it’s all there for a reason. Listening back, the choir is revealed to be singing ”He’ll give us what we need, It may not be what we want”. Is West saying that he knows that his latest effort with disappoint some, but they need to hear it regardless? It certainly seems possible, and it wouldn’t be surprising, given how he pulled a similar trick with his 4th album, 808s & Heartbreak.
The second track on the album Black Skinhead is a loud, punk/rap hybrid, described as “super primal and raw and super violent” by Daft Punk, who recorded much of the instruments with West in their Paris studio, alongside their recording of their latest album Random Access Memories. Black Skinhead is the polar opposite of RAM, featuring heavy drum breaks, and deep, dark synths, serving as the album’s most radio friendly track, which isn’t saying much at all. Even the title is a poke at white supremacists, who are often described as “skinheads”, and how West is often painted as a racist, whereas he always asserts that the black population in America, along with the other minorities, are beginning to stand up for their rights. The lyrics speak of the media’s distortion of reality and racism, with West referencing Hitler “trapped in a theatre”. Anyone with even a vague notion of world history will be aware that Hitler died in his bunker beneath Berlin, but in the Quentin Tarantino movie “Inglourious Basterds”, Hitler is trapped and killed in a theatre. West also makes a reference to “black kids in Chiraq”, a slang term used among Chicago’s youth in referral to the city’s high murder rate, illuminating that this fails to garner any attention from America’s principal news outlets. Like the rest of the album, this album is millions of miles away from the old-school soul samples of The College Dropout or the stadium rock influenced Graduation, feeling bombastic and energetic, but in a completely new way.
Blood On The Leaves is definitely one of the more familiar songs on the album, taking the vulnerability and auto-tune of 808s & Heartbreak, and combines it with the grandiose and intricate production of his latest work on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as well as Cruel Summer, the compilation album from West’s G.O.O.D Music cadre. The track opens by sampling “Strange Fruit” by Nina Simone. Readers may be wondering about West has managed to flip a song about American racism, into a song about unwanted children, and how they are used as a means to an end, or are even just viewed as a burden on the parents, but in this context, the sample feels appropriate. Gone are the days when West’s samples are simply facsimiles of the song they’re used in, such as Never Let Me Down, or Stronger. Now they have become separate voices, adding another layer of depth to the song, where the children, who are ignored in terms of narrative, which is left to the arguing parents, are given a voice, being represented through the “black bodies” described by Simone. West also samples “R U Ready”, a seminal trap track from TNGHT, a collaboration project between Canadian producer Lunice and Scottish DJ Hudson Mohawke, the latter of whom also produces I am a God. The concept of “Strange Fruit” mixing with a trap track is initially baffling, but after listening, it’s difficult to imagine this floorfiller any other way.
The album closes with the track Bound 2, a track that stutters along, sounding that a throwback, to West’s soulful origins on The College Dropout, constructed mostly from a chopped sample of “Bound” by Ponderosa Twins Plus One, whilst Charlie Wilson drops a hook over an interpolation of Aeroplane (Reprise) by Wee. Whilst this song carries on the tradition of West using soul samples in his music, this is clearly a song from Yeezus, with West’s rapping being harsher and more vulgar than his critically acclaimed debut. Lyrically, the song speaks of West’s status in society, referring to his position as music’s prime troublemaker, as well as making references to college and college life, a hark back to his first 3 albums, which all followed the theme of education. The last lines on the album read “Jerome’s in the house, watch your mouth!”, a joke about Martin Lawrence’s 1990’s TV character, a parody of “ghetto black people”, this could be a hint that West is aware of his behaviour and lyrical content on Yeezus, perhaps stating that Yeezus is in fact a persona, not only his “God name”, as West told friends and fans as his NYC listening party.
If West’s last solo effort was grand and opulent, an elegant party with fine wine and caviar, then Yeezus is a warehouse rave at 3am with copious amounts of illegal substances. The smooth samples and intricate melodies have all been replaced with an eclectic collection of harsh instruments and a cacophony of acid house, industrial rock and hip hop, leaving behind a brash, unforgiving but ultimately rewarding hybrid that feels perfectly natural for West.
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