Album Review: Yeezus, Kanye West

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Kanye West – Yeezus

Kanye’s anti-pop record

Just as his sixth album, Yeezus, was released, Kanye West’s girlfriend Kim Kardashian (the only person on the planet more famous than him) gave birth to their first daughter. Considering his new-found fatherhood, as well the overwhelming praise he received for his last album, the breathtaking opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and his Watch The Throne collaboration with Jay Z, ‘Ye might have been tempted to take things easy for his sixth LP.

Instead we have Yeezus: a pummelling, bleak, vitriolic mix of rage and egotism. Re-imagining ’80s Chicago house with ’90s industrial rock, the album is by far Kayne’s most abrasive and off-putting yet. Sonically, it sits closest in his discography with 808’s and Heartbreaks. But whereas 808’s was aloof and cold, Yeezus sounds certifiably hostile.
There are moments of Blair Witch screams, Jamaican dance-hall samples and lines like “hurry up with my damn croissants” – and that’s all in one song called “I Am A God”. Nobody but Kanye could get away with this kind of shit.

Thematically Kanye is as unadulterated as ever. On “New Slaves” he goes to battle against corporations, privatised prisons, the paparazzi and the New World Order, backed not by a beat but just some severely unsettling sledgehammer synth, until the entire song gives way to a euphoric soul coda courtesy of Frank Ocean.

Kanye’s expressed that, though the album was predominantly recorded in Paris, he wanted it to pay homage to his native Chicago. Aside from the Chicago house inspirations, on “Hold My Liquor” Kanye pairs seventeen-year-old South-side rapper Chief Keef with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. It’s the first regrettable song on the album, with both collaborators sounding unrecognisable. Only Rick Rubin’s masterfully minimalist background saves the song from itself.

Elsewhere, there’s even a sample of Nina Simone’s heartbreaking “Strange Fruit”, one of the pivotal musical moments in civil rights history. And it’s a shame that considering Yeezus contains some of his most voracious takes on race and class yet, Kanye chucks it in “Blood on the Leaves”, a song about gold-diggers and child support.

The album is filled with plenty of Kanye’s laugh-out-loud obnoxiousness. Much like in “Monster” when he hilariously asked “have you ever had sex with a Pharaoh?/ put the pussy in a sarcophagus”, his definitive mantra of race relations on “New Slaves” is “you see it’s leaders and it’s followers/ but I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” And in possibly the raunchiest song of the year, “I’m In It”, Kanye mixes race and romance into something truly perverted, stating he “put my fist in her like a civil rights sign.”

At a meagre forty minutes, Yeezus flies by, an angry, audacious face-palm brimming with desperation and angst. While his old mate Jay Z is readying himself for child number two and inking deals with Samsung ahead of his latest album release, Kanye is unwilling to settle down into a life of sedentary comfort. Yeezus is a confronting blast of dark minimalism, and when it follows the expansive vision of Twisted Fantasy, it only further highlights that behind that seemingly insurmountable ego lurks one of the most inspired, interesting and important artists of our time.

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