When “Yeezus” first sprang a leak, the internets rushed and gulped it down. Forwarded emails, containing various links to wet transfer and other file sharing sites, were excitedly opened to hear the new Yeezy “Yeezus.” Like many, I downloaded it, but I didn’t listen. Nope. Instead, I went to Twitter, the source of all news and tomfoolery, and looked at the up to date reviews of the barely five minute old unofficial release. And the good folks of Twitter-verse lambasted Yeezus, throwing stone after rock towards this ten-track opus. These one listen reviews were funny as many proclaimed that Yeezy finally missed, ruining his streak of classic albums. As a result, naming Yeezus the official weed plate (though at the time, no one had a physical copy of the album) of the summer.
So I waited. I knew I wanted to experience music the only way proper (the way one judged all albums back in the day), in my car, bumping through my Honda factory speakers. Judge not! And I also had to listen to it the new way, through my Beats headphones. First listen, in the car, I was utterly confused, not sure of what I just experienced. WTF! Where was the witty, conscious, forward thinking Kanye from “Late Registration?” Were all these songs going to have that Euro-Chicago-House-Funk-Guitar-Techno-Drum sound as the musical backdrop? To be fair, I was too distracted by my own expectations of what I wanted the album to be and didn’t hear it.
But I kept listening! Then after about 5 listens spread over 24 hours. I put it away…for a week. Then I listened again, before penning this review, and found myself challenged to engage with artistry that redefines and bucks tradition.
“Yeezus” opens with a distorted sound and “On Sight” begins with Kanye rapping and condemning rumors, music, and fashion, while throwing in a funny, and insensitive Parkinson’s line (shout out to Michael J. Fox though). And then in the middle of the song, he proves just how much he does not give a fcuk with a soulfully synthesized gospel choir crooning, “He’ll give us what we need/It may not be what we want.” And just like that, Kanye positions this album to be what we, the consumers, the audience needs, even if we want something completely different like ummm…say the old ‘Ye.
The second track, Black Skinhead, with its infectious, rebellious bounce that only Kanye could disguise call hip hop, emphasizes Kanye’s blackness and media’s portrayal of blackness (remember the Vogue cover with Lebron, gripping some white woman Gisele Bundchen a la King Kong). He also takes shots at the Catholics and conservative Baptists, while bringing attention to the many endangered youth in Chiraq. Race, religion, current events…Kanye still a conscious rapper or nah?
Track three, “I am god” begins the inclusion of specifically placed reggae clips, the meaning of each inclusion somehow fits like a jigsaw puzzle piece…and works. The drums dominate this track, highlighted by Kanye’s brief conversation with Jesus, four random screams, and a broken Spanish phrase that somehow leads to a mafia reference. So hip-hop of you, Ye! The following track, “New Slaves” sounds better each time I hear it, especially his desire to “be a dick than a swallower” and his resistance to control, notably named here as the DEA and CCA (industrial prison complex anyone?).
“Can’t Hold My Liquor” features a mature and drunk sounding Chief Keef on the chorus, which once again touches on the tense subject of control in relationships, mixed with more random screaming. The second half of the album begins with “I’m in It,” in which Kanye fights against traditional methods of making love, instead opting for no rules and fisting (power to the people…I guess). He also shares his concerns and worries about fatherhood and suggests that he needs to sleep with the nightlight to protect him from his demons. Here, Kanye blatantly voices his desire to begin a new movement, a new religion, one that will define his time, but only on his accord. Random, but I definitely want the Rosetta Stone set on Swag-hili as a birthday gift this summer.
“Blood on Leaves” and “Guilt Trip” find a more introspective Kanye, as he laments lost love and his societal death. With borrowed Nina Simone vocals, we witness Kanye’s crucifixion, his sacrifice of love and normalcy for fame and subsequent riches. The heavy drums add emotion as he raps that what he wants, he can’t buy. Somehow, while poking fun at second-string hoes, he mentions apartheid, abortion, unholy matrimony (bound to someone for the kid’s sake), and alimony. Again, we see his fight with control, tradition, and monogamy. The latter song sounds like an 808 and Heartbreaks-esque track, with another reggae sample that proclaims that folk don’t have the guts to spray the SK (read: gun; symbolically read: truth). Here, Kanye aims and shoots at himself, proclaiming himself guilty of his love for trios, while including funny lines about Shabba, Big Poppa, Chewbacca, and the number one Chief Rocka.
The album closes with two standout tracks, “Send It Up,” which could make any hip hop dance floor tilt with its booming sirens, which baps in tune with your mandatory head nod. King L, another Chicago rapper, like Chief Keef, sounds great on this feature, with his line, “both suck like they came to lose,” stealing the shine. Then Ye hops on the beat, like the blurry Youtube clip of Prince entering a venue on his bodyguard’s back. The fun continues when Ye tells a lady friend, who wants his assistance to help her friends get into the club, to treat them like his Benz and have them park their asses outside. The real kicker is the end of the song, when Yeezus rose again. Initially thought to reference his penis, the Beanie Man, “Memories” chorus reminds the audience that Yeezus died a song or two ago and this could his ascension. Remember the old Ye!
The jewel of Yeezus, the final track, “Bound 2” finds the old Ye rapping over a soul-filled beat, aided by the ageless Charlie Wilson. In the song, Kanye raps about his confliction with being bound to someone or something. Like all men eventually realize, one good woman is worth more than a thousand hoes. Yet, the struggle to accept the fact accents Kanye’s witty lyrics, hoping that his future partner makes it to the “church steps, but first, learns to forget” all his past indiscretions and silly salacious stories from singledom. At no other point in the entire album does Kanye reconcile his desire to buck control, then now, when he commands, “just grab somebody” and be bound to them, willingly allowing himself to be held.
For ten tracks, Kanye takes our expectations, society’s box of hip hop in particular, and stomps on it with an anger, disgust, and care, seeming melding his last two albums, 808s and Heartbreaks and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, into a genre bending project that necessitates multiple listens to hear the intricacies, failings, and desires that are woven together by a wide array of influences, including a Hungarian rock band. Kanye continues to push himself as an artist to find whatever it is he needs. Thankfully, he does not seem to find it on Yeezus, which means there will be more music to come.