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Look! In the sky! It’s a UFO! It’s a hot air balloon! It’s a moon! That’s no moon, that’s just Kanye West‘s head. The same head that, for over a decade now, has grown exponentially larger with each passing year; and basic math as well as a little bit of science will teach you that naturally, such an expanding object will also cast an expanding shadow … though more advanced science would teach you that when the head and subsequent ego of a star like West continues to grow so enormous with no signs of slowing down, it would eventually collapse in on itself, explode and completely negate its own existence. We’re still trying to figure out at exactly which stage Kanye is, but as Neil Young once said: “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” At least we have albums like Yeezus acting as the closest thing to an indicator for determining the above.
Off the bat, Yeezus has delivered a single-punch-KO that has triumphed over all – yes, all – of Kanye‘s previous works to become his most aggressive, most ferocious, most indeterminately (im?)mature effort, and this is all possible because it’s simply been his most experimental, in a way harking back to 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak; though whilst 808s was built rather heavily on 80s New Wave influences, Yeezus finds itself in the midst of Hip Hop’s equivalent of 90s grunge and the Punk preceding it (most evident on New Slaves and the jumpy Black Skinhead), probably thanks in no small part to Rick Rubin‘s role as executive producer (as well as co-production from the likes of Daft Punk, RZA, No I.D., Skrillex, Hudson Mohawke and S1) and the array of obscure samples scattered throughout.
However when I say it’s Kanye‘s most experimental, I do mean his, because even with Rubin‘s treatment it’s still less 99 Problems and more … well, let’s just say one need only go as far back as Kid Cudi‘s Indicud (2013) to hear a similar production in play, albeit to about one-hundredth of the amplified aggression that Kanye comes with. Ultimately, we hear Kanye with a revamped take on the minimalism which drove 808s, whilst aesthetically being the furthest from hip hop in his catalogue to date.
Distorted synthesizers flow strong throughout Yeezus – literally no song on the album is safe from them, but thankfully their interaction with an array of rhythms which also take from Trap* (New Slaves), House (I Am A God) and Acid House (On Sight) sonically keep it varied enough without losing focus. That said, the album would have only benefited from more live instrumentation. Of course those yearning for traditional Kanye are treated with the soulful yet bittersweet love-life documentation + love letter to girlfriend (and now baby mama) Kim Kardashian on Bound 2 to conclude the album, the bitterness of his lyrics juxtaposed by the sweetness of sampling Ponderosa Twins’ Bound.
The lyrics themselves have not seen the same evolution as the music though, the only noticeable change really being Ye‘s aforementioned exponentially-growing egotistical nature; really, we may as well rework the term just for Kanye‘s trademark dickheadedness and change it to ‘egotesticular’. Maybe it’s because we already know what to expect lyrically that his quips and instances of general wittiness don’t stand out as they once would, or that they are simply so overshadowed by his ego, or that they really are absent, with I’m In It and Send It Up being exemplary of the most lacklustre of his efforts on the album (musically as well). If there is one line to summarise his general thesis for Yeezus, it is his now-infamous refashioning of “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees” into “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower“. So the political drive is there in aces.
Yeezus has its share of flaws which would probably become more and more evident with every third-to-fifth-to-tenth listen, but any album which can keep you listening for that long (and looking for flaws) warrants acclaim in its own right; it’s almost like an anti-je ne sais quoi where you feel that something is wrong with it but you can’t immediately put your finger on it; what you will know for sure though, is that if you don’t like it, chances are you won’t like it. So that’s not to say that this album is an instant classic, but it is indefinitely another milestone in West‘s musical career despite the improbability that it will grow on those who receive it negatively.
Given that we are all far too familiar with Kanye West‘s reputation, it’s difficult to determine whether Yeezus‘ reason for existence is his own self-gratification, or purely the bifurcation of his fans, testing their willingness to adapt to his artistic evolution and thus redefining and re-evaluating what it really means to be “a fan of Kanye West“; though perhaps our healthiest and most realistic coping mechanism would be to envision one as mutually and equally a by-product of the other. It’s not his most beautiful, but it is his darkest and most twisted, yet not his most fantastic.
* Let it be known that I am not AT ALL a fan of trap, and it’s the absence of those dreaded rolling hats on most of Yeezus‘ trap-influenced tracks that makes them tolerable, if not enjoyable. So those of you with trap tendencies will have enough of a fix, and those who loath it won’t be subjected to sickening amounts.