Ashley Chittock – Kanye West - "Yeezus" Review
Kanye West – Yeezus
Yeezus is the complete opposite of everything Kanye West did with his last album, but that’s not a bad thing.
Considering he’s a multimillionaire, world-famous rap star, Kanye West has spent most of his career so far trying to prove a point. From The College Dropout to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West attempted to prove his worth to a different crowd of people, from the record producers that didn’t have faith in his style on his debut, to Middle America at large in MBDTF. This time round, however, things couldn’t be more different. Yeezus is at every level not giving a shit about what you think of it. For the first time, Kanye West has made an album for Kanye West, and nobody else. The result is a record that is a startlingly individualistic reflection of its creator, a more genuine look into the mind of the Chicagoan than there has ever been before.
In the three years since MBDTF, Kanye West has been playing it creatively safe. His collaboration with Jay-Z, Watch The Throne, and last year’s G.O.O.D. Music collaboration Cruel Summer were both unchallenging. The lyrics were almost entirely braggadocio, and the production did nothing that West hadn’t already mastered with MBDTF. With Yeezus the reason for this sideways movement becomes clear, that Kanye was saving his relentless drive for progression for material he considers ‘canon’ to the West discography.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was a particularly lavish and symphonic record. It made an entrance, introducing itself with a smile. It reflected Kanye’s need to prove his credentials to those who had forgotten that once upon a time he was a critically acclaimed musician in the wake of the Taylor Swift debacle. Yeezus, meanwhile, is in the corner of the room twitching and vomiting over itself, growling at anybody that attempts to ask if it’s okay. The production throughout is a wiry mess of bassy synths and sinister samples. Album opener On Sight, co-produced by Daft Punk, sounds like a recreation of Ragnarök on a Moog. MBDTF shared similarly loud and intense moments, but none were as intensely aggressive as this. “How much do I not give a fuck?” Kanye raps, before unceremoniously jerking away to a choir sample that doesn’t fit in, just to check you were paying attention.
There are moments of Yeezus that are far more self-aware, but no less self-confident, than West’s previous work. I Am A God is lyrically every bit as cringingly arrogant as the title makes it sound, but the musicality behind it gives away the true meaning of the song. There are no Otis Redding samples or Miami-tinted horns on this brag track. Instead, a sinister dancehall sample, one of the few creative hallmarks carried over from Kanye’s recent previous work, and deathly screams punctuate a dark and moody synth-led instrumental. There’s no irony in Kanye West’s voice when he proclaims himself a God, but the God that Kanye has become is tortured and full of regret. Kanye knows better than any of us that perhaps becoming deified isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.
There are more moments like this on the album, moments where Kanye West is both admitting his faults and realising that it’s none of your business what his faults are. Hold My Liquor is a tale of drunken regret, perhaps directly inspired by his Cognac-fuelled rant that night at the VMA’s. The most potent example of this theme comes in penultimate track Send It Up, which blends confident bragging with a chorus that carries the message that once you admit you don’t care about outside influences; things can only really go up. The outro, a sample of Beenie Man, says “whether things are good or bad, it’s just the memories that you have”. For the first time in his career, Kanye West doesn’t care whether people like him or hate him. The fact that he is remembered is reward enough.
Production and lyricism aside, the group of individuals West brought into his studio to help him with Yeezus reflect his desire to keep things insular. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy almost felt like a posse album at times, with West taking a backseat on tracks like So Appalled, content to let the fact that he could get the RZA, Jay-Z and No ID to collaborate with him speak for itself. On Yeezus, Kanye enlisted the services of far less glitzy collaborators. Production credits include perennial alternative rap producer Rick Rubin and young up-and-comer Young Chop. There are almost no guest verses, the relatively unknown Chicago rapper King Louie’s eight bars on Send It Up all that really directly separates West from his music. The recently free-from-prison Chief Keef delivers the chorus on Hold My Liquor. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, a frequent collaborator with West, pops up in a couple of places. The extent to which Yeezus is exclusive to itself illustrates Kanye West’s lack of need to call upon his famous friends for support, yet more credence to the theme of not caring what you think of him.
All that being said, don’t mistake the lack of pomp for a lack of spectacle. Amongst its artily ugly twists and turns are a couple of pit stops in comforting territory charted by the Kanye West of old. Blood On The Leaves, one of the album’s highlights in production terms, is the best song never to be on 808s & Heartbreak. Yes, the singing Kanye West is back. But whilst most of 808s and MBDTF’s singing centrepiece Runaway were largely reserved, apologetic pieces, Blood On The Leaves is angry and confrontational. West practically shouts the words, which angrily accuse an ex-wife of spreading lies, whilst the mechanical, booming horns (sampled from TNGHTS R U Ready?) re-enact an imperial march over the top. It’s with the final track, Bound 2, which West wraps the album up in a neat bow. A love song to his long-desired muse Kim Kardashian, backed by the sort of grainy soul samples West hasn’t really used in this way since Late Registration. The lyricism is the most upbeat and cheeky of any on the record, but at the same time it’s the closest Kanye comes to stepping back into his apologetic shoes of old. Only this time, the only person he cares about placating is his Kardashian.
Yeezus does absolutely everything differently to its predecessors. But that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that is truly familiar with the music of Kanye West. In many regards, he’s hip hop’s David Bowie – incessantly progressive, willing to cast aside previous success for the sake of his own satisfaction, but always with a keen ear for what makes music truly resonate with the ardent listener. Kanye West has made his harshest, most challenging, least commercially appealing album to date. But as that lyric in On Sight says, he doesn’t give a fuck.
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