Kanye West, it seems, is just behind Daft Punk in terms of complete world domination and endless hype (I don’t think I’ve seen anyone infiltrate as many markets as Daft Punk on their recent release). No matter what he does, there is hype. The press reports every time he picks his nose. Early reviews for the album were all glowing, with almost no flaws reporter. Pitchfork gave the album a 9.5, while the new Queens of The Stone age album didn’t even get an 8, leaving it out of the “best new music” category. I think it’s pretty clear that Pitchfork does not favor rock by any means, unless it’s hipster death metal such as Deafheaven, another new favorite.
But how is the work itself?
Well, let’s just say he’s not the best musician since Michael Jackson, as he claims. When the pummeling and poignant brilliance of “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead” were introduced to us a few weeks ago, the hype was warranted. Though, of course, taking cues from far edgier acts like Death Grips and Nine Inch Nails, those songs were breaking new ground and saying some refreshingly risky things. Kanye deserves serious credit for taking a step to become a kind of Jim Morrison in the hip hop game (screaming has rarely been a part of the genre typically, so it’s nice to see the energy). He’s merging industrial with hip hop, and creating a worthwhile hybrid in the process. It’s a mixed offering, though, which may come as a surprise if you’ve read the mostly glowing reviews.
One issue with the full-length “Yeezus” release is that much of the remainder of the material fails to live up to the promise of those two lead singles. The lyrics, too, have moments of lucidity brilliance (“What you want? Fur coat? A diamond chain? All you blacks all want the same things.” from New Slaves), while others are so uninspired they show signs of writer’s block and are hard to sit through let alone take seriously. (“I just talked to Jesus/he said, ‘What up, Yeezus?’/I said “S*** I’m chilling/trying to stack these millions” from I Am A God)
You’d think that, with all the talk surrounding this album there would be a bit more to offer as far as message, but it seems Kanye is content with only sampling a mind revolution, while leaving 80 percent of his output laughable egocentric jokes, cheesy lyrics or sexual innuendo.
The most terrifying thing about this album, though, and a point I’m surprised we haven’t heard more negative things about…”Strange Fruit”, where we hear a beautiful Nina Simone sample, and then Kanye blathering over her in full autotuned glory. From 4:30 onwards, he’s attempting to sing, and for the next minute, it has to be some of the most unlistenable work ever put out by a major artist. If you can get through that, you’re probably a devotee.
Those are the gripes. And yet, it’s a good album with some amazing songs. “On Sight” is Atari-born furiosity with some familiar lyrical missteps, but it’s energized and worthwhile. “I’m In It” is a fantastic, heavy downtempo track only dragged down by Bon Iver’s very popular fake falsetto.
The production choices on the album are incredible. Most producers and beat makers will hate it, but that’s the point. If everyone’s albums sound great, they cease to be great. Go dirty when everyone else is clean. Kanye made a good call with the minimalist approach.
For those seeking “the new style”, you’ll find inspiration in “New Slaves”, “Black Skinhead”, and the thick keyboards and screaming at the end of “I Am A God”. We’ll have to wait for someone else to deliver the real sermon, though.