Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: Kanye West -- Yeezus

I must admit – while I would call myself a music fan, a devout fan I am not. I do not make note of when to expect new albums from major artists, and would not typically listen to an entire album, cover to cover, as it were. To actually sit down and make an effort to listen to an album, an artist needs to have a track record of success, of pushing boundaries and being original, and of making good music.
So I sat down and listened to Kanye West’s new album, Yeezus. 
Several things become readily apparent. The first is that Kanye’s decision to allow more input from his co-producers was a very good idea. Kanye has historically done a ton of producing, which has obviously yielded fantastic results for him, culminating in 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which the Telegraph’s Neil McCormick called the Sgt. Pepper’s of rap. 
Kanye’s co-producers did not disappoint . With notable contributions from French house legends Daft Punk, Kanye’s music has taken another drastic turn. Something that stands out in these songs is that they are less and less about rap, less about Kanye and the lyrics. This is music. 
The songwriting is as good as any Kanye West album, including Fantasy. New Slaves stands out as a perfect example, and whoever made the decision to sample Omega’s Gyonghaku lany as the outro is a genius – the producing on this track is absolutely, unapologetically fucking brilliant. Play this one loud. 
 The above is not to say that the rapping on the album is not top notch. Yeezy is on point here. I’m not pretentious enough to talk about flow or style, but it is fun to listen to, and lyrically, he is fantastic – and he knows it. Here is a segment from his humbly-titled I Am a God:
I know he the most high
But I am a close high
Mi casa es su casa
That's that cosa nostra
I am a god

He manages to call himself a rap deity and call out past generations of rap idols (‘I don’t wanna hear why some niggas like you / Old niggas mentally still in high school’) in the same breath, and, I might add, just a couple years removed from Watch the Throne, a tag-team effort with Jay-Z. 
Something else that is apparent is that Kanye is again making an effort to racially charge his themes and express not just unrest or aggravation, but full-on anger. The tempos are aggressive, his tone biting, and his lyrics as provocative as ever (from a guy who wrote, ‘I treat cash the way the government treats AIDS / I won’t be satisfied til all my niggas get it’). He manages to take this barely-controlled rage and make an emotional connection, talking about how his mother grew up not being afforded clean drinking water owing to the colour of her skin in New Slaves, and mentioning his religious critics in Black Skinhead
There is complexity, subtlety, and depth in this album (Blood on the Leaves, New Slaves). There is classic Kanye soul (Bound 2), but that does not mean that Kanye isn’t going to be played in clubs or be downloaded onto iPods – Send it Up may require a listen or two, but despite the experimentalism present throughout the album, it’s pretty accessible to anyone looking for a beat to lose your self-respect to. 
The one complaint I have is the use of auto-tune. I don’t think a lot of people appreciated the phenomenon a few years ago, and I’m not sure that it will be welcome back, especially not when he uses it to counter Nina Simone in Blood on the Leaves
The final telling thing from this album is that Kanye does not understand antiquity. From Black Skinheads: ‘I keep it 300, like the Romans / 300 bitches, where the Trojans?’

All told, this is a fantastic album, and while it is not Kanye’s best work, it is amazing that he can continue to produce at a high level while remaining original and thought-provoking. 8.5/10. 

The album is set to be released on June 18. 

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