Kanye West - Yeezus

Just over a minute into Yeezus, Kayne West is riding the malfunctioning-star-destroyer glitch-screams of “On Sight” when he poses a rhetorical question: “How much do I not give a fuck? Let me show you right now, ’fore you give it up.” He repeats the question, as the screaming robots underneath him disappear into empty black space. Then, welling up like a chorus of angels, we hear a classic-level Kanye soul sample, one of those things that once made his music sound so life-affirming. It’s actually a gospel sample, a full choir pleading that “He’ll give us all we need,” their voices just slightly decayed, like they’re coming through an old speaker. And then that choir disappears just as abruptly, the robot roar returning, the laser-sounds pretty soon working like they’re fighting each other, like they’re pushing themselves so hard that they’re falling apart, while Kanye barks about dicks in mouths. He’s dangling his beloved old self before us, then snatching it back. A few songs later, as “New Slaves” — the defiant blast of wrath that weaponizes the so-self-conscious ambivalent consumerism that Kanye was doing way back on “All Falls Down” — is fading out, soul-sample Kanye comes back, cooing that he can’t lose in Auto-tune over celestial strings while Frank Ocean answers him back. That’s where the old Kanye becomes triumphant. He’s the vehicle for the new Kanye assuring us, ever so briefly, that these forces that he sees assembled against him aren’t enough to drag him down. It’s, once again, a rare note of peace in a dark and violent album.

Those two moments stick with me because they briefly bring Yeezus back down to earth and highlight how far Kanye has come in the nine years since he first stepped out to the front of the stage. And they’re short, since reassurance is very, very low on Kanye’s list of goals this time around. He went into Yeezus to make something stark, cold, bracing, “new wave,” and he’s done it. In the great New York Times interview that preceded Yeezus, Kanye West talked to Jon Caramanica about how he felt at home back when he was producing for Dead Prez: “I was able to slip past everything with a pink polo, but I am Dead Prez.” And we hear some of that duo’s righteous downtrodden-people rage in Yeezus, in the DEA/CCA talk on “New Slaves” or in the sharp provocation of “Black Skinhead.” But more than that, it sounds like Kanye has made an entire concept album based on the distorto-sandworm bassline of Dead Prez’s “Hip Hop,” which means he’s made, by several orders of magnitude, the best Dead Prez album ever.

Those soul samples, the ones Kanye rode into the game, were always part of Kanye’s Chicago heritage; think of the incandescent Curtis Mayfield horns that Just Blaze sampled for him on “Touch The Sky.” But as Kanye himself has pointed out, Yeezus is probably the most Chicago album Kanye has ever recorded, and it’s a Chicago album in ways that go way beyond those soul samples. Chicago, after all, is a beautiful city full of lovely and friendly people, a place with a deep civil rights history, the city that produced our first black president. It’s also a freezing-cold wasteland seven months out of the year, a place where the entire administrative system is deeply broken, a place where 41 people were shot last weekend. And for all the beautiful Sunday-picnic soul and gospel that the city has churned out over the years, that cold harshness has also come through in plenty of the music, and that’s the music Kanye’s working with here. Chicago’s early house music was all tick-tock robotic minimalism. It’s all over Yeezus, and Kanye has found a set of production collaborators (Hudson Mohawke, Arca, Daft Punk back in their vengefully brickwalled Human After All state) who understand that sound and who are willing to grind it further down into digital dust. That same empty chill is still there in Chicago music, in drill music, and Kanye makes the connection as plain as possible. The only other rappers on Yeezus are guys from the drill scene. There’s Chief Keef, muttering bluesily and playing the Freeway to Justin Vernon’s Mos Def on the funereal “Hold My Liquor.” And there’s King Louie on “Send It Up,” rapping nothing much but still forcefully hijacking the song anyway. More than the actual rappers, though the foreboding empty space of drill absolutely suffuses the album. And as the rap critic Noz pointed out on Twitter over the weekend, the early industrial music of Al Jourgenson and Wax Trax is also Chicago music, and that’s here, too, in the apocalyptic pound of those first three tracks and the id-barrage “I’m In It.” In fact, the only huge and obvious musical influence here that isn’t Chicago music is the scorched-earth dancehall that Kanye samples so liberally on the album’s second half, and that stuff has the same end-times effect as the grating industrial textures. It’s all rupture.

In fact, the music is so dark and heavy and immersive and powerful, so unlike what we expect from any A-list rap star, even Kanye, at this late date, that it took a while to even register what he was so angry about. Yeezus isn’t the political statement that “New Slaves,” the one true masterpiece of a song here, made it seem like it was going to be. Instead, it’s mostly a severely fucked-up album about relationships and sex. “Blood On The Leaves” is probably the most deeply discomfiting song here. The thunderous moment where the honking brass band from TNGHT’s “R U Ready” might be the greatest musical moment on the album, or on any album this year, but the sample I keep thinking about is the other one, from Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit,” the 1939 lynching lament that’s among the most breath-stopping songs in American history. Kanye knows what he’s doing in using a piece of that song, but he’s rapping about the idea that women trap men by having kids with them. That same dumbshit idea was at the center of “Gold Digger,” of course, but that was such a fun and joyous song that it barely bothered anyone. On “Blood On The Leaves,” it’s much starker and nastier, especially in the way its “Strange Fruit” sample implicitly conflates lynching with child support.

And this is where we bring Kanye’s personal life into it. Kanye’s first baby, a daughter with Kim Kardashian, was born maybe 24 hours after Yeezus leaked. And it’s certainly possible to hear the anxiety of impending fatherhood in Kanye’s lyrics here. But in all its nasty anti-woman sentiment and its joyless talk of mechanistic anonymous sex, it’s also possible to hear those lyrics as the ranting of a deluded asshole who isn’t ready to become a parent, or as an uncommonly vicious album-length breakup letter. Even the album closer “Bound 2,” the one song that returns Kanye to his welcoming soul-rap sound and strives for love-song sentiment, has some meanness to it: “They ordered champagne but still look thirsty / Rock Forever 21 but just turned 30.” Listening to Yeezus, I kept picturing the entire US Weekly newsroom sitting around and listening to it, attempting to make some sense of what they were hearing. And on Twitter during the leak period on Friday, I slowly watched my entire feed go from bugging out over the album’s sonics to getting queasy over its sentiments. That stuff works as rupture, too.

When 808s & Heartbreaks came out, I felt the same way: This was a total shithead move, an album-length character-assassination of an ex-fiancee who wasn’t famous and who thus had no real way to publicly respond. These days, I go through periods (mostly in wintertime, mostly when I’m stressed) where 808s is my favorite Kanye album. Poisonous words have been a huge part of Kanye’s persona from the beginning. So have total clunker lyrics, and this album has its share of those; Kanye does after all, call himself “a Raptholic priest” and claim to be “speaking Swag-hili” in the space of one verse. But on every one of those past albums, the nastiness and the clunkers have blurred and faded and, in the case of the clunkers, become oddly lovable, evidence of a sort of genius that’s powerless to detect its own terrible ideas. They’re also cathartic, even in their stupidity, especially when you find yourself succumbing to the same sorts of stupid ideas that Kanye brandishes. Yeezus, like all the rest of those old albums, isn’t a perfect work. But it’s a complicated and forceful and fascinating and all-consuming one, an album to play when you’re punching down brick walls with bare fists, and that’s enough for it to be my favorite album of 2013 thus far.

Yeezus is out 6/18 on Def Jam.

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Comments (170)
  1. lovely write up.

  2. I had a similar response to the album that Tom did save for the conclusion: fascinating production, but abysmal lyrics (and also, Kanye is still a subpar rapper) do not make for an AOTY.

    • I’ll admit that I put more of an emphasis on overall feel rather than lyical content. So I’m proably the furthest thing from a hip-hop afficianado. But I have some honest, sincere questions: What do you mean when you say someone is a subpar rapper as opposed to just a writer of abysmal lyrics? For instance, is there anyone out there who writes excellent verses but is a shitty rapper? Or, vice versa, is a great rapper but a shitty songwriter? Apart from songwriting ability, what specifically makes soemone a good rapper.

      I’m not trying to prove a point or anything. I’m genuinely curious.

      • To me, rapper usually means rhyming/wordplay skills as well as personality. Listen to Big L, Mos Def, Big Pun, earlier Eminem stuff, Biggie, etc. and they are clearly a cut above the rest. Flow is great, cadences are innovative and/or hit perfectly with beats, lines are clever as hell and super memorable. These guys make you go…damn.

        IMO:
        Example of a great rapper, shitty songwriter: A$AP Rocky, because he knows sonically what will sound good where, but his lyrics are retarded.
        Example of a shitty rapper, great songwriter: Any ghostwriter out there. Skillz is the classic example, he just didn’t have the charisma/personality/presence to make it.

    • That’s my problem with Kanye every time. Awesome production, mediocre rapping/lyrics.

    • At last I read somebody thinks Kanye’s music sucks because it has an excelent production, but at the end, it doesn’t say anything new. “Gold Digger” is a pain in the ass, it’s the worst, worst, worst song in an amazing album. In Yeezus, the production is the best, the lyrics are just meh sometimes but I’m gomma give him some credit for trying something new and exciting.

  3. Great review. I was thinking this weekend about the eight album run (six Kanye LPs, Throne, Cruel Summer) Kanye has put toghether. Each of those albums (with the exception of Cruel Summer) were, in some ways, both commercial and critical successes. It’s just an fucking impressive run. I think it’s the best run when you factor in prolificacy and consistancy since Bowie’s ’70s run. I think that’s the thing we’re going to be talking about years down the line.

    • Ooh, best album runs. Let’s see. Neil Young had, like, 12 good to great albums in a row.
      Iron Maiden’s first seven.
      Steely Dan’s first seven.

      • Radiohead’s Bends-KOL seven album run
        Sigur Ros entire catalog (seven albums Von-Kveikur)

        Some weaker than others, but not an album below B+ in that whole bunch to me

        • I definitely agree on quality. But while it’s impressive to release a run of great albums, I think it’s more noteworthy when someone does it with so little turnover time. In the nine years that Kanye has released seven albums that he is the major creative force behind, Radiohead has released two, Sigur Ros has released four, only one of which is greatly loved (haven’t heard the last one).

          Not to mention that Kanye has released music thay does the almost impossible feat of pleasing both the “arrogant, self-superior snobs” snobs and the “vast, uncultured masses.”

          • Yeah, I see where you are coming from at that angle.

          • Guys like Kanye always have their wheels spinning. I tend to wonder what type of beat/lyrics library are in his recording studio that he just cherry picks when it’s time for an album. It’s sorta like Prince…pretty sure half of the albums he has released in the past 15 years were him just opening up his music rolodex and freshening up a few beats or verses. I’ve heard songs from him 10 years before they end up getting released. These guys are crazy OCD and constantly working on things.

            Bands like Radiohead go into a studio, collaborate and germinate ideas as a band mostly from scratch, and to an excruciating extent before an end product is complete.

        • My Radiohead and Sigur Ros album runs suggestion gets more negative votes than carson’s Iron Maiden and Steely Dan ones? Look, I’m no hater of those bands, but…who’s downvotin’ the Head??

          This Kanye crowd must still be mad about that Grammy shun Thom paid to Yeezy a few years ago.

        • Radiohead and Sigur Ros are two of my favorite bands, but I don’t think they are applicable here because mainstream middle America doesn’t know who they are or like them.

          Kanye is the first rap dude in a long time to perfect the crossover sweet spot. Rap purists and critics love him, and so does black culture, as do Top 40 ignoramuses. The Roots have a great interview where “Jesus Walks” made them feel they had to go back to the drawing board.

        • Gotta put a word in for my boy Bruce Springsteen from ’75 to ’84:

          Born To Run (75)
          Darkness On The Edge of Town (78)
          The River (80)
          Nebraska (82)
          Born In The USA (84)

          • I’ll take Tunnel Of Love over Born In The USA. I mean, Born is a good album with some great songs, but those synths…I still have trouble with the synths.

      • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • Fuck yeah Iron Maiden!

    • Completely agree AJ. We just don’t see bands or artists who are simultaneously the most popular and the best in the world anymore.

      Yeezus takes his career to a whole nother level. He is the closest thing we are going to see to a Beatles of our generation.

      • I almost threw out the Beatles comparison, but held back because part of me was upset for comparing anyone to my favorite anything of ever. But the comparison is there to be made. Both in terms of consistancy and of never growing comfortable with one sound. Also, people like to point out that the Beatles didn’t really innovate as much as they get credit for. They weren’t the first rock group to incorporate Indian instruments, or release a concept album, or perform only their own songs. That may be the case, but they took those ideas other people had fiddled around with, mixed them all together, and then did it way fucking better than anyone else. I think you could say something similar with Kanye.

        • Career arc is one thing, maybe I misunderstood what plb201 was getting at. I respect Kanye’s cultural significance, and can see where those comparisons are being made to a degree. But I think the biggest comparison lies solely in the critical approval/mass aproval syncronization. Even so, is he really the “best” out there? Even as a rapper I don’t think he’s the best, let a lone compared to the overall world of contemporary music.

          • Okay, for the point of clarification, here’s my rational for mentioning Kanye in the same breath with the Beatles.

            a) profligate consistency: The Beatles recording career lasted between 1963 and 1969 or 1970 , depending on who you ask. In that seven year span they recorded several of the greatest albums and a couple dozen of the greatest songs of all time. Kanye released The College Dropout in 2004. Since then, he has released an album that has been widely considered one of the best of the year every year except 2006, 2009, and 2012. Releasing seven albums in ten years in this day and age is impressive, in and of itself. That each of these albums were considered somewhere between very good and great is fucking insane. We haven’t seen something close to in in 30+ years. Even if you don’t share those evaluations, you have to admit that it’s unbelievable that the possibility exists.

            b) non-complacency: What’s more amazing than the fact that the Beatles only recorded for seven years is that they sounded like twelve different bands in the space of that seven years. On each of the Beatles album you can hear some sense of a new direction, and the steps seemed to get more radical as the years went on. “Love Me Do” sounds nothing like “In My Life” which sounds nothing like “Eleanor Rigby” which sounds nothing like “I Am the Walrus” etc., etc., etc. Kanye, similarly, doesn’t get stuck in a particular sound. While the jumps make not always be as drastic as Graduation to 808s or Watch the Throne to Yeezus, each album stands apart from the rest of his discography as a unique and self-contained work. You could see “Empire State of Mind” being on American Gangster or The Black Album, or maybe on The Blueprint. “New Slaves” would be utterly foreign to MBDTF.

            c) critical approval/mass approval synchronization: Even if you’re not a fan of Kanye, you have to admit that most people are. That includes people who can compare Yeezus to Death Grips, El-P, and NIN, and people who will interpret “I’m in It” through the pages of US Weekly. What I mean is that Kanye is really unique in being adored by high culture and low culture. Sasha Frere-Jones enjoyed the album and wrote about it for the New Yorker, my 17 year old brother who only listens to pop country and commercial hip-hop will enjoy the album as well. If anything, this consensus is more impressive than the similar one that exists for the Beatles (namely, if you don’t like the Beatles, your not worth knowing) because taste are much more divergent than they were 40 years ago.

            Sorry for the length, I just wanted to make myself clear. I can’t speak for him being the best rapper or anyhting. I’m making this comparison as a music fan, not as a fan of any particular genre. And I really don’t think my comparison is that rash. I think my reasons for the comparison are almost completely based on objective facts. Even if you dissent from the critical consensus, you have to acknowledge that it’s pretty heavily weighed against you. That doesn’t invalidate your opinions of course, but you gotta see that for the rest of us there’s something special going on.

          • Okay, for the point of clarification, here’s my rational for mentioning Kanye in the same breath with the Beatles.

            a) profligate consistency: The Beatles recording career lasted between 1963 and 1969 or 1970 , depending on who you ask. In that seven year span they recorded several of the greatest albums and a couple dozen of the greatest songs of all time. Kanye released The College Dropout in 2004. Since then, he has released an album that has been widely considered one of the best of the year every year except 2006, 2009, and 2012. Releasing seven albums in ten years in this day and age is impressive, in and of itself. That each of these albums were considered somewhere between very good and great is fucking insane. We haven’t seen something close to in in 30+ years. Even if you don’t share those evaluations, you have to admit that it’s unbelievable that the possibility exists.

            b) non-complacency: What’s more amazing than the fact that the Beatles only recorded for seven years is that they sounded like twelve different bands in the space of that seven years. On each of the Beatles album you can hear some sense of a new direction, and the steps seemed to get more radical as the years went on. “Love Me Do” sounds nothing like “In My Life” which sounds nothing like “Eleanor Rigby” which sounds nothing like “I Am the Walrus” etc., etc., etc. Kanye, similarly, doesn’t get stuck in a particular sound. While the jumps make not always be as drastic as Graduation to 808s or Watch the Throne to Yeezus, each album stands apart from the rest of his discography as a unique and self-contained work. You could see “Empire State of Mind” being on American Gangster or The Black Album, or maybe on The Blueprint. “New Slaves” would be utterly foreign to MBDTF.

          • c) critical approval/mass approval synchronization: Even if you’re not a fan of Kanye, you have to admit that most people are. That includes people who can compare Yeezus to Death Grips, El-P, and NIN, and people who will interpret “I’m in It” through the pages of US Weekly. What I mean is that Kanye is really unique in being adored by high culture and low culture. Sasha Frere-Jones enjoyed the album and wrote about it for the New Yorker, my 17 year old brother who only listens to pop country and commercial hip-hop will enjoy the album as well. If anything, this consensus is more impressive than the similar one that exists for the Beatles (namely, if you don’t like the Beatles, your not worth knowing) because taste are much more divergent than they were 40 years ago.

            Sorry for the length, I just wanted to make myself clear. I can’t speak for him being the best rapper or anyhting. I’m making this comparison as a music fan, not as a fan of any particular genre. And I really don’t think my comparison is that rash. I think my reasons for the comparison are almost completely based on objective facts. Even if you dissent from the critical consensus, you have to acknowledge that it’s pretty heavily weighed against you. That doesn’t invalidate your opinions of course, but you gotta see that for the rest of us there’s something special going on.

          • Yeah, what you are saying makes total sense. I concede my reaction is very biased, and I didn’t take the time to really think about what you were implying.

            What Kanye has accomplished in the pop world is very unique, and I totally respect his place in pop culture. I don’t think he’ll go down as changing the world in the same way The Beatles did at all, but I do see the parallels in their career trajectory.

            It actually almost scares me how right you are. It really bothers me that lyrics as abrasive as his tend to be are what the masses enjoy. I suppose if we’re being honest though, lyrics are rarely what drive mass opinion. Critical opinion maybe, but I trust those who think more critically with the digestion of such lyrics. Not so much a 12 year old girl that thinks KimYe are role models to look up to.

      • and on that note:

      • I’m sorry but…really? Kanye I can see the comparison because both critics and the brainless masses both seem to enjoy him… but this will never even come close to Beatles calibre greatness. “Swag-hili” is not Beatles calibre.

        I know I’m gonna get my ass downvoted to hell for multiple things on this post, but when we start comparing Kanye to the Beatles I just can’t handle it. He is easily the most over-rated and over-hyped artist of our generation.

        And I’m not even a huge Beatles fan.

      • I’ve been trying hard to hold off posting links to my own stuff, but I’d love it if you guys would check out my review. I focused pretty heavily on why this album means what it does at this moment in his career.

        http://happymusicsadmusic.blog.com/2013/06/17/kanye-west-yeezus-album-review/

      • Kanye is the beatles of hip hop. It’s difficult to deny that when he’s doing the triple double no assist with the rap and the track. It’s easy to complain about the lyrical content at times, however its more than serviceable when you consider there are dickheads like lil shawn who can’t even put together a decent verse when then that’s all they have to do, and arguably more skilled lyricists like pusha-t that can’t seem to rap about anything other than their long gone coke days (arguably jay too… but let’s not go there). kanye did usher in the whole self-conscious rap game did he not? when you couple that with the consistency, the quality, and the cultural impact – baby, you got yourself a stew going.

      • I’d argue Radiohead is a better example of The Beatles of our generation. But then you could argue Kanye is the Radiohead of hip-hop.

        • Beatles

          Stones

          Talking Heads

          Sex Pistols

          Guns and Roses

          Radiohead

          Michael Jackson

          NWA/Public Enemy

          These are the bands that paved roads for so many…Kanye is the biggest student of rap. He may seem like it’s all him but when you’re sampling the past artists that he has, thats a man who knows his roots.

          I know there are an infinite amount of bands who have contributed alot, and no means am disrespecting here, but it just always seems to come back to these chaps..

  4. Agree with your thoughts on “Blood on the Leaves.” A lot of the early buzz has pegged that as a highlight, but I’m not so convinced. It sticks out to me as a huge missed opportunity, lyrically. The sample and how the track is generally put together is incredible, but his choice to turn this into a more serious take on –– as you put it so well –– the same “dumbshit idea” he harps on in “Gold Digger” makes for a pretty uncomfortable listen. I mean, the gender politics of conflating having to pay alimony with lynching are pretty despicable. There could have been a great song here about how black men’s sexuality is still a sticky (to put it insanely mildly) thing in American culture, but instead he chose to do something far more asinine and deeply sexist.

    Album’s great though.

    • Is it really conflation though? My initial impression was that it’s an ironic juxtaposition. I’m not sure how well thought out the ideas for the album are, but there seems to be a recurring theme of shallowness/misogyny contrasted with a more noble historical or religious backdrop. The line about the fist in the Civil Rights sign, the switch from “I am a God” to “Hurry up with my damn croissants,” and this song, a marriage of stereotypical (black) male MC fears about commitment against the looming specter of true injustice and dread.

      Like David Lynch’s work, I definitely think Kanye has real hang-ups about women, but he seems to use a song like this to explore and deconstruct these hang-ups. Maybe I’m giving Ye (and David) too much credit with respect to their intentions, but thankfully we don’t have to agree with artists about what their art means. If they were any good at elucidating on the finer points of aesthetic merit, they would be philosophers or novelists. “Blood on the Leaves” is here for us to pick apart and interpret, and I think a take of dark irony is not out of the question.

      • Excellent point. Your analysis is so good that even if it’s not true, I’m just going to pretend that it is.

      • That’s an interesting reading, but it seems a tad generous, at least to my mind. Points well taken though, especially the Lynch comparison. Still, I don’t know… honestly, to me it seems like the most likely answer is that this is one of the tracks that (as has been noted in a few Rubin/Kanye interviews) he had to throw lyrics together for late in the game, which is why they all hew pretty closely to some already well-trod territory for Kanye. The resulting contrast though –– regardless of intent, to my mind –– leaves a pretty bad taste.

        • I agree completely with Tom, Blood on the Leaves was my favorite song on the album the first time I listened to it, but now its just a bummer. He’s just a dick, especially on this song, and the whole political/ racism thing seems forgotten on every song besides New Slaves. Conflating lynching with child support or apartheid with separation of wives/ girlfriends seems counter to the whole run-up to this album. He most certainly is not Dead Prez.

          I just wish such amazing production wasn’t wasted on that shit. Can Killer Mike or someone take this beat for a mixtape track?

        • One thing that primed my interpretation is this recent quote from Kanye:

          ” I mean, I am my father’s son. I’m my mother’s child. That’s how I was raised. I am in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron, great activist-type artists. ”

          How could the son of a former Black Panther use a legendary Civil Rights anthem to equate and conflate the injustice of slavery with his own banal concerns, and ever look in his parents’ eyes again? I guess it could be that Kanye really is that far up his own ass, but I give him a little more credit than that.

          He did bang the lyrics out at the last minute, but that doesn’t need to mean they were phoned in. He could have had some general ideas or feelings he wanted to tap into, and then spewed them out as quickly as he could, like Basquiat used to do with his paintings. Some great art requires time to plan out, others benefit from a more spontaneous approach to yield their resonant meanings.

          I even think there’s something to be said about his choice to use Nina Simone’s version of Strange Fruit rather than the far more famous version(s) by Billie Holiday. I highly doubt it was consciously planned, but something drew Ye to Nina’s version rather than Billie’s. To me, the biggest difference in Nina’s take is the feeling of palpable disgust and anger, rather than Billie’s more subtle evocation of dread. Nina makes her judgments quite obvious, and perhaps that’s what makes the incongruity between the sample and the lyrics that much more dissonant, like she’s looking down at utter contempt at this Black Panther’s son and his (nonetheless honestly felt) fears and concerns. It’s a messy contradiction that I think Kanye was at least partially cognizant of when fashioning this album.

          I could be wrong of course, but like A.J., I’ll just go along like it is, for the sake of my faith in humanity!

  5. On point from Tom. If it was a straight goon rap record in the Cheif Keef/Juicy vein where the album is so hard and devoid (usually unintentionally) of morality that you have to admire it’s purity, I would have appreciated it more. Instead we get the Dead-Prez/Black Star era social activism undercurrent which feels kind of gross amongst the other themes of the album. I know people lauded 2pac for this type of duality/hypocricy but I just find it lazy/scatterbrained. 808s is my favorite Kanye album so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

    • Yeah it was weird how little drill music there actually was when I finally listened to the album, especially after kanye talked it up prior.

      • Word. With this style of production (save for Bound 2) I want either 40 minutes of no frills goon stomp or 40 minutes of Dead Prez/Immortal Technique Fuck-The-System shit. But littering headpounding minimalism with bad punchline rap kind of lessens the emotional impact this album could have had.

    • Damn. You nailed it. I agree with everything you said.

      Then again, my favorite Ye album is 808s too.

  6. Favorite Song: “Black Skinhead”.

    The production on it is so raw and distorted, its just a really cool feeling to listen to. Daft Punk were way on their game on the tracks they produced. I wish they would do more boundary-pushing shit like this.

  7. I’m glad it’s ~40mins! Not in a bad way…

  8. I have the same relationship with 808s….it always gets its go around every winter for me. I remember listening to it in the car, with the snow faling and everything, the winter it came out. Does everyone view 808s the same? I can’t imagine it being a summer record to anyone. Anyways, sonically this is my favorite Kanye album ever.

  9. My problem with this album is that it seems familiar. A bit of El-P, a bit of Ghostface, and some other similar sounds that elude me right now. Bound 2 seems like the stand out track, but it only stands out because the rest of the album seems to be either loathing women and just flat out angry. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had its moments of anger, but the anger seemed relevant. The anger on Yeezus just seems there for shock value and nothing else.

    But that’s just on one listen. Maybe it’ll grow on me. But I didn’t need a second listen for MBDTF to know it was a keeper. Anyone else feeling conflicted about Yeezus?

    • YES. very conflicted and agree with your comment 100% Right after i heard twisted fantasy through it felt amazing, like the best shit ever, head fucked and mind blown, but with yeezus I just wanted it to be over so I could go eat.

      Kanye is my favorite rap artist by far but yeezus is missing the kanye magic im used to getting.

      I like 5 out of the 10 tracks. Opens great then goes to sleep for me only to conclude on a pretty good Bound 2.

      oh yeezus.

  10. I just can’t get this scene out of my head:

    Kanye is sitting in a small french cafe with a small entourage surrounding him. His friends are all talking rather loudly and rudely as snooty waiters glance at them angrily. Kanye is silent and is gazing intensely at the door to the kitchen with an expressionless face. This all goes on for 10-15 minutes until suddenly Kanye jumps up, screams “HURRY UP WITH MY DAMN CROISSANTS!!!” and flips over his table, sending glasses of water and crepes and shit flying everywhere.

    I just feel like this must be something that actually happened.

  11. Musically, I can’t get enough of this album. It’s crunch time at work, and most of my life is revolving around that right now, so playing this constantly has been a huge help.

    Lyrically, I’ll admit I haven’t been able to dissect it too much. Partly cause I’m only listening to it while I’m doing other stuff, and partly because I don’t want to. So many people are complaining about the lyrics, I’m afraid it’ll ruin the moment for me. It’s inevitable that I’ll pay attention eventually, but right now I just want to keep punching down those brick walls.

  12. Stop with the Beatles comparisons. Seriously. Some of you have been brainwashed by Kanye. If he didn’t mention this sort of shit himself, no one would be spewing all of this “genius” bullshit. It diminishes what groups like Public Enemy or De La Soul has already done. Listen to some of their records and you can put Kanye’s discography (which is really good, easily some of the strongest of this generation) into perspective. But the grandiose talk of some of the commenters is a sad extension of the man himself. His nacissism is rubbing off on alot of suckers and it leads to some really stupid comments. A decent album, I compare it to MIA “MAYA” more than anything, and some of the lyrics (this is rap afterall, shouldn’t bad lyrics amount to picked apart here a little more?) should not get a free pass. Kanye, as the “couch producer” (his buddy Mike Deen’s words) is resposible for the songs’ overall cohesiveness and impact (although with Rubin I’m still not convinced where that left Kanye). The various producers he hired are responsible for the of the beats’ exceptional clarity, but the cohesion (where Kanye really is present on some of his later albums and which worked really well on Dark Fantasy) is a little off in alot of places. So, sorry, I certainly wish it’s as good as the biggest Kanye fans say it is, but it’s not. It’s “simply” an adventurous album worth plenty of listens and one of the stronger rap albums I’ve heard this year. Some sort of all-time classic. Please,

    • I’ll start this with a disclaimer that I haven’t listened to Yeezus yet because I was waiting for the release date, however I feel I can respond to much of your comment any how.

      You can’t seriously think that Kanye doesn’t belong in De La Soul of PE category if you genuinely love hip hop. Sure his lyrics aren’t any sort of high poetry, but De La had a song called De La Orgy that was just a bunch of fucking groaning, so don’t pretend like the great were so perfect. I think it’s possibly to appreciate great lyricists in hip hop like Nas while also appreciating hip hop artist like Kanye for different reasons, most obviously production.
      Kanye consistently takes his work in different directions, exploring hip hop in ways that perhaps hasn’t been done since the 80′s, and does so with staggering success.
      Yeah, he is one of the most conceited, narcissistic assholes in the world, but artistically he is on another level. As far as how much credit he should get for his production, look at his track record for both his own work and tracks he’s done for others and it seems to support that Kanye is certainly a great producer so I wouldn’t be so quick to discount his involvement.

      I know it may seem like people over hype him because they’re caught up in all the talk, but the same can be said for artist like the Beatles and PE as well. I know I’ve heard my fair share of mediocre/subpar Beatles songs.

      • Which songs were those? Honestly, if you choose from after 1965, it’s kind of difficult to name a Beatles song which is truly subpar, of course, I’m a fanboy…

    • Not being a Kanye fan and thinking Yeezus is overrated – totally fine

      Getting all butthurt whenever anyone compares anything to the Beatles – pretty stupid

      Insulting the intelligence of commenters saying they only like the album b/c they were brainwashed – you’re a douche

    • There’s a difference between between influenced by and being derivative of. I’ve listned to De La and PE, and while you can certainly tell that Kanye has heard those records, the fact remains that none of those records really sound a fucking thing like anything Kanye has released.

      It’s the same bullshit you hear anytime somebody wants to dismiss a current artist. People said the Beatles were just ripping off Little Richard, the Everly Brothers, and/or Dylan. They also said that George Martin was the real creative force behind the uniqueness of Bearles music. Let me be clear, I’m not saying Kanye’s music is better than or equal to the Beatles’. (Above, I was comparing their career arcs).

      If you don’t dig what he’s doing that’s cool. But come up with better ones than “he’s just ripping off so and so” because that argument is fucking tired. After all, isn’t everybody just fundamentally still ripping off Robert Johnson and Leadbelly.

      • While I can’t get behind Kanye being compared to Beatles quality, career arcs is another thing completely. I’ll concede to that. And even if I don’t enjoy his music, I’ll admit Kanye is a talented. The “he’s just ripping off so-and-so” doesn’t fly with me either because like you said, every artist rips someone off somewhere. The originality come off in your spin.

        Maybe it’s because I’m extra picky with hip hop to begin with, but I lose my shit when I hear an artist like Kanye being compared to the greats. He’s just not THAT great to me, no matter how much the critics and general masses seem to sync.

    • I think the Beatles comparisons were fair, but I do agree with you that “Yeezus” is Ye’s “MAYA” kind of album. Rick Rubin even mentioned Suicide (a huge influence on MAYA) as a reference for the dirty bass chug on Bound.

  13. So what in the hell is getting released tomorrow that’s apparently getting Album of the Week?

  14. It definitely has something addicting to it, at the very least, too much attitude and direction to dismiss it with a single listen or two. That being said, the fact that it isn’t a fully satisfying listen (as, say, graduation) just lowers it a little in my books.

  15. Strong contrubutions from Justin Vernon, I like it.

  16. I played Yeezus for two girl friends of mine yesterday, and they really liked it. I was curious since I’m realizing more and more how misogynistic this album really is. And yet…I’m compelled by this album so much. I think it’s incredible (and I’m not a longtime fan of Kanye’s nor a fan of misogyny). Something about this album feels thematically richer. I’d said in the comment party that I think this album is about what happens when the ego is inflated to such lengths that one believes he is truly a god and, in turn, becomes detached from all moral decisions. I don’t know…maybe.

    That being said…the one song that I don’t get it is “Blood on the Leaves”. The music might be interesting, sure, but the lyrics don’t come together for me.

    Overall though, I think this album is a stunner. It’s commanding and bold certainly feels more important than I was expecting.

    • My main beef with Kanye has always been his choice of themes and lyrics. In fact, it’s my problem with a lot of rap. You seem to mirror my sentiments, so perhaps this is an album I will enjoy once I dive into it.

      But man…if I do end up loving this album I’m going to have to eat so much crow. I can’t stand Kanye as of now, so a turnaround would be monumental. It has happened before though (a little band called Radiohead converted me against my better judgement with a doozy called Kid A)

  17. I’ve been listening to Yeezus and Sunbather as companion albums all week.

  18. What’s a black Beatle anyway?

  19. Let me clarify my Beatles/Kanye comparison. I never said Yeezus was better than Sgt. Peppers or that Ye was as great as or as influential as the Beatles. My point was back in the 60s/70s their were great great bands like The Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc… who were critcally considered the best or among the best bands in the world while being incredibly popular and famous. You don’t really see that anymore, the most popular and famous musicians these days who transcend music and are universally known(and headlining a festival does not achieve this, ask your dad if he knows who Vampire Weekend is) are pretty weak.

    KidChair, to answer your question, yeah I do think he is the best. Yeezus pushed Kanye from one of my favorite contemporary artists to my favorite contemporary artist. IMO he is the man.

    Also, as KidChair inferred, the career arch thing too. Both active for 9 years right? Every album a classic. You were talking about great runs above but Ye isn’t just in the middle of a great run, he is undefeated.

    Also, I wanted to point out that I realize there will never be another Beatles, just like there will never be another Michael Jordan. That’s why I said he is as close as we are going to see.

    • Yeah I overreacted to your statement. I get the comparison now. I’m still just having a hard time getting into Kanye and I’m trolling ever so slightly because of it. But, as I type this I am giving Yeezus my first listen. Have to admit, I’m already liking it more than I usually like his stuff. We’ll see.

      • Speaking of career archs, back when ‘gum did the Kanye albums worst to best whenever that was I said it was way too soon. I was totally right, doesn’t it seem stupid that there is a Kanye best album list that doesn’t include Yeezus?

        • Like anyone takes those things seriously. But if I had to make a list I think I personally would slot it at #2 behind MBDTF. At first I thought it was slightly behind College Dropout and Late Registration but it’s definitely opening up with even more listens

    • you don’t need to clarify SHIT, PLB. STATE THAT TRUTH AND DO YOU YOU BEAUTIFUL KITTY.

  20. Has anyone felt that “Yeezus” feels like “Hell Of A Life” fleshed out into a full album? That was arguably my favorite song on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” largely due to its sinister tone and pornographic lyrical content.

    There’s the make a nun come line, which I feel gets echoed when he talks about getting blown by nuns on Yeezus.

    With “Blood on the Leaves” when he drops the “Unholy matrimony” line makes me think of the: “Married in the bathroom/ honeymoon on the dance floor/ divorced by the end of the night” line.

    When he breaks down into the “Fuck with the lights on” I recall being startled by how the song sort of popped into a different dimension for a few seconds then snapped back in. A similar trick I feel that’s being pulled with “On Sight” and “New Slaves” (that one’s a bit of a stretch, admittedly).

    I recall people having trouble with “Hell of a Life” on his last LP. They liked the whole album but they weren’t quite feeling that song specifically. I loved it even more when I found out the Black Sabbath “Ironman” riff was used intentionally, and also how grimy and honest the lyrics were. “I think I fell in love with a porn star” can be read so many different ways. It could speak to how male men have become overwhelmed by Internet porn that the girls in the videos numb the real life experience of loving a woman. Or you could say it’s a line about Kim K. Then of course the end where it sounds like Ye’s about to cry, or is he jerking off? Who knows?

    Anyway, figured I’d draw that comparison because it’s been on my mind. Obviously I love the new album, because how can you hate an album that starts with “On Sight” ?? That song is a beast, and as I’ve said before, Ye got Daft Punk to sound like Daft Punk.

  21. Ehh, I’ll echo what others here have said and say that the production is interesting but the lyrics are just unbearably bad. What’s the point of making such a sonically raw and ambitious album if you have absolutely nothing interesting to say? MBDTF already explored the “I’m a tortured asshole” thing, now he seems to have devolved into just “I’m an asshole”.

    Kanye’s too stupid to be making serious music. He needs to go back to goofy, light-hearted pop rap. That’s his strong suit. My favorite Kanye album is Graduation, so take that as you will.

  22. Ok, I finally had myself an honest listen. After all my semi-trolling of Kanye throughout these threads the last few days, I figure I’d throw down my two cents as honestly as I can. This is not meant as a slight to those who do enjoy it, so don’t jump down my throat. Just speaking my mind.

    While it won’t be converting me to the gospel of Yeezus, it is pretty striking. As always, I think the production is incredible. There are some bangers that’ll have me coming back when I’m in the mood. Which makes the fact that I still can’t stand the lyrics even more unfortunate. I almost wish this thing were an instrumental album. To be fair, it’s not just Kanye. I haven’t been unironically into the bitches n’ hoes content of mainstream hip-hop for well over a decade. I just don’t find it poetic or appealing in the slightest. There are very few situations in my life where it would appropriately serve as a relatable soundtrack without me wanting to take a shower, burn my clothes and change my name afterward. I know part of this type of music is the fantasy of it, the ironic yin to your yang, etc. But it’s just not me. At least not to this degree of saturation. I’m not about to look for hidden meanings that were never intended just so I could feel better about it.

    So, as with most of Kanye’s albums, I’m left with the same opinion: Damn talented individual with a very loud and obnoxious way of saying nothing all that important. I get why people enjoy him and I respect this album, I just don’t necessarily enjoy it.

    I’m sure PItchfork will crown it with a 9 -10.

    • I think it depends on the personality of the rapper. Lil Wayne is a raunchy pervert too but he gets more of a pass because he comes off as a goofball. He can’t even keep a straight face for like 75% of his verses. And even when he was literally calling himself the Best Rapper Alive on every third song, he STILL came off as less of an asshole than Kanye. Because you never got the impression hat he was taking himself too seriously. But Kanye on this album just comes across as a belligerent dick.

      • Exactly. And like I said, unironically I can’t stomach it. But sometimes people like Lil Wayne and even Kanye on occasion can get me to groove ironically with it. But this album is a little too much. He’s so straight faced with his egomania here it’s a turnoff. And in a lot of cases, that’s what turns me off to rap in general.

  23. If I’m being honest to myself and to you lovely Stereogummers, I’m really struggling with this album. I was looking forward to this ever since the last handclap in “Who Will Survive in America?”. MBDTF was a life-changing and inspirational album for me in that when I heard it, I realized it is actually possible to be artistic, real, and catchy all at the same time. Kanye has proved this time and time again. I think out of all the albums to come out this year, this is the one I’ve been most excited about. After I listened to the record, however, I feel quite underwhelmed, but not because the music is “difficult” or “different”.

    On Yeezus, while his production is still groundbreaking (for mainstream hip hop) and at times breath-taking (i.e. the guitars on “Hold My Liquor”), I just can’t get past this ridiculous persona he’s created for himself. I knew Kanye West was an egomaniac way before MBDTF, but this is just on another level. “I Am a God”? At first, I thought maybe he was rapping about a character he made up to symbolize greed or something, but I believe he actually thinks he deserves to be treated as a god. I can’t tell, is he trying to be funny? This whole album is filled with Kanye-style one-liners, and it’s hard, at times, to take his music seriously when he acts like such a clown.

    Kanye used to be more introspective and self-aware on his albums, and now he just seems mad at the celebrity he’s created and perpetuated for himself. His misogynistic lyrics are getting harder and harder to listen to, and in turn, the music suffers.

  24. Did you guys see the interview with Rick Rubin where he said that, two days before the album was due, Kanye didn’t have most of the vocals recorded and didn’t have many lyrics written? I guess that it proves the point that he’s not a great lyricist, but I think it’s likewise shows that he’s not trying to craft a personal statement about his worldview with his lyrics. My take is that he just took a handful of cliche hip-hop lyrical tropes, mixed it in with a modicum of personal experience ,and tried to come up with verses that matched the overall feel of the song. I think Kanye has always been much more focused on overall feel than songwriting. Maybe the verses feel thoughtless because Kanye didn’t put a lot of thought into them. That doesn’t excuse some of the silliness you’ve mentioned, but it somewhat explains it.

    If that’s the case, it’s somewhat of a paradox to criticize him for not putting enough thought into his verses, and then judging his output based on what he did put in his verses.

    • Whether he put the effort into the lyrics or not doesn’t concern me really. I’m willing to accept that he had no intention if getting poetic at all. But, regardless of his intention, it’s simply unpleasant to me.

      I respect your opinion on Kanye though, a.j. You’ve made some great points and have made me think twice about my perception of the album a couple times.

  25. Give Yeezus a few more listens. Kanye’s delivery is rarely angry enough to sell the sound, and the lyrics are (outside of a few entertaining one-liners) some of the worst of his career. Honestly, the thing everyone’s most excited about is hearing a new Kanye album; after you get past the shock value of the sound – which, in reality, is just an easy-listening version of Death Grips – you’ll realize that this is a fairly good album at best, and probably the second worst in his catalog.

    • You lose all cred when you compare this to Death Grips. They’re completely different in every way.

      • In his defense – look at the listening party thread. Everybody in there was comparing it to Death Grips.

      • Not at all. Kanye is clearly attempting to capture some of the dangerous, aggressive, industrial-rap sound that Death Grips has just about perfected. While I’ll admit that I love this production on most of Yeezus, the album’s Lil’ Wayne-quality lyrics make it pretty clear that this dark sound is just another attention grab for Kanye, rather than any sort of meaningful transformation. If the two artists seem to be “completely different” right now, that’s only because one appears genuine, while the other leaves the aftertaste of a cheap shock-rock album.

    • Also, defending the album’s obvious missteps by saying they’re “evidence of a sort of genius that’s powerless to detect its own terrible ideas” ?

      That’s probably one of the best Stereogum-isms since “we need to accept the possibility of a record so excellent we don’t understand it yet.”

  26. It’s a fascinating thing…the insanely talented asshole misogynist. On one hand, I get why everyone is dropping drawers for the album, it’s great. On the other, I think it’s amazing that pretty much everyone bends over backwards for someone who seems like a legitimately horrible person who chose to father a child with Kim Kardashian.

    Whenever Bono pops up on here everyone also takes off their drawers…to shit on him. Why bring him up? Well, Ye’s an arrogant, egotistical dick in the prime of his career and everyone says “he’s an asshole, but…” because he’s making great music. Bono, a known egotistical dick, has probably done more for humans than any other musician through his activism, but because he’s 20 years removed from good music everyone hates him.

    I guess music is pretty important to people. They’re willing to look past a lot.

    • [IMG]http://imageshack.us/a/img197/9379/4n3.bmp[/IMG]

        • Dammit…I thought that the third time was supposed to be the charm. F*** it, I’ll do it live (a.k.a. without a jpg…well, there’s the problem)!

          I would be more impressed with Yeezus if I had not already heard and fallen in love with The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust six years ago. It’s too bad that album was before it’s time, underrated, and overshadowed by the likes of In Rainbows, Kala, and Graduation amongst other notable releases of 2007 (I highlighted those particular albums because they happened to fall closer to TIRALONT’s release date and/or shared certain similar qualities.)

          There are many differences between these two albums and artists but yet I would argue that these albums share similarities in the commentary they are trying to provide and harsh genre-mashed (primarily skittering amongst hip-hop, electronica, and punk (sound and attitude)) backing tracks that accompany the messages. Comparing the lyrical content, Williams is going in and out of character to make observations from different viewpoints, whereas Kanye seems to mostly be in in id mode ( I want to believe that it is an act for his art but I can’t readily distinguish Kanye’s intentions with a lot of his lyrics which I know alot of people love). Although I suspect that some people aren’t or will not be into Saul Williams slam poetry delivery and singing, many would be into his lyrical content and the production/engineering by Trent Reznor. Yeah, the Trent Reznor whose production was rumored to be sampled on Yeezus. Also, speaking of producer coincidences, Rick Rubin produced Saul Williams first album…

          I don’t think that Williams was used as a template for the ideas of Kanye (or I hope he wasn’t), and I applaud the cajones that it takes for someone in West’s position to release something like Yeezus. IMO, the first four tracks of Yeezus are pretty damn great. I won’t give them all of the credit but I don’t think it is mere coincidence that my favorite tracks were allegedly touched at some point by Daft Punk. But then as “Hold My Liquor” begins, the production choices and lyrics begin to make me cringe and the listening experience becomes a frustrating experience. I just think that there were too many cooks in the kitchen in terms of where the songs twist and turn and maybe the project would have been more cohesive with less people involved. Although, I will say that to my ears, the engineering and mixing are phenomenal (I wouldn’t expect anything less from Kanye and his team on that front). Of course, I could get messed up on drugs and/or alcohol and would most likely enjoy the second half of Yeezus (maybe that is the way it is meant to be heard with all of that bass, damn!) but I feel like the music should take me to that high first without me having to alter my state of mind.

          TLDR: For me the “shock” and “genius” of Yeezus was a little bit blunted by the release of an album six years ago with similar ideas and messages, albeit a different approach (hip-hop is mixed a bit more with rock than electronica, although the punk attitude is still present) and IMO more intelligent lyrics/execution. Whether you did or didn’t like Yeezus, as an alternative and/or complementary album I recommend listening to The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust by Saul Williams (with a little help from his friend, Trent Reznor). Also, I’m not a huge fan of Drake but I’ll quote him here, “You should print the lyrics out and have a f***ing read-along.”

  27. Tom: this is a hell of a review. I mean compare it to the Pitchfork murky one: your is truly shines in comparison.

  28. There are politics related to these online reviews. While I do respect Kanye’s artistic abilities and I do think he’s legit, I’m having trouble seeing why he gets elevated a little more than I personally deem worthy.

    But here why I think he gets these sorts of ratings: he is banking on it. Meaning, he pretty clearly states and articulates how much public perception means to him (be it award shows or reviews, or whatever). He is a big, major artist who explicitly states he WANTS these awards and he WANTS the highest reviews possible. Of source, most artists do, but no one goes out and fights for or it and argues for it like Kanye. So, in turn, this gives sites like Pitchfork more currency. Kanye’s career is banking on these reviews right now. Dark Fantasy did not sell all that great. Kanye is not a well liked person. He is hated. If he put out the exact records yet got average reviews, his career would be over. B/c without mass appeal (he is the “villain” of pop music the past 5 or so years) AND critical support, he is without a leg to stand on. So, Pitchfork gains in importance when he releases an album.

    I’m not saying he’s not a legit artist, he puts out fine adventurous music. But so do lots of poeple.

    • AWESOME. I think this is totally true, which also kinda makes me marvel at the evil genius such an effort as successful as Kanye’s would require.

      • Do you honestly believe that Kanye needs good reviews? He’s one of the biggest names in the world right now and obviously gets enough press. He also has been selling well lately with Watch the Throne and MBDTF (which went platinum and opened at #1, so your claim is completely unfounded).
        Not getting good reviews hasn’t stopped Jay-Z’s recent work from doing well; big names in hip hop will sell regardless of critics.

        As far as whether or not his albums get reviewed fairly, sure it’s possible that he gets better reviewed for being Kanye, but it’s not like people are giving a 5/6 a 9/10 score because of that. Yeezus is a strong album, maybe not a 10, but there is no way to consider it below a 7/8 without some serious bias in the opposite direction that you are hinting at.

        Lastly, you seem to focus this whole idea on Pitchfork ratings. Do you have any fucking clue how many people actually see those? Pretty much only music blog regulars, and that sure as fuck isn’t going to change the entire consensus on an album, especially one that leaks early so people already have a week to come to their own conclusion.

        • If he put out the exact records yet got average reviews, his career would be over”

          Pitchfork gave 808s and Heartbreak a 7.6 (aka average), and it clocked a 75 on metacritic.

          Kanye’s career is hardly banking on these reviews.

          His music is just damn good the majority of the time. That’s why he thrives.

        • I don’t necessarily think he NEEDS good reviews, but I’m positive he craves the hell out of them. As far as his career, I think people would still buy his albums despite his reviews. The general public doesn’t care what the reviews say. But, Kanye DEFINITELY cares. In that regard, if his music was critically panned on a wide scale (or at least by the publications he respects most) I could totally see him crashing into self-destruction, which in turn would affect his output completely.

          In that way, I do think it would ruin his career to get bad reviews. Kanye’s success is fueled by his massive ego more than probably any popular artist out there. But I’m also willing to admit this also drives his quality. He cares more about reviews than sales, unlike most hip hop artists. This is why I marvel at the genius manipulation required to keep it going. I think he knows exactly what he’s doing, and while I personally don’t enjoy it, he has turned himself into simultaneosly one of the biggest and most respected artists out there.

  29. okay guys i got an idea i think that memories sample from send it up explains the whole track 5-9 theme. cant hold my liquor and seems to be about his ex-fiance. guilt trip we can assume is too, and blood on the leaves is about amber rose, send it up is him remembering the nightlife, and i’m in it is him recounting the crazy sex he’s had up to this point. He’s having to say goodbye to all of this with the baby and probably marriage coming up so he’s clearing his head before all of this resulting in Bound 2 which is about falling in love and the only happy song on the album. but then i dont understand why include tracks 1-4 on the same album other than he doesnt give a fuck. but this album is 100% for him as he said in the ny times interview and its likely his most self-expressive piece of his career. this helps me to be less judgmental on his lyrical choices because they do seem to have a purpose.

  30. “If he put out the exact records yet got average reviews, his career would be over”

    Pitchfork gave 808s and Heartbreak a 7.6 (aka average), and it clocked a 75 on metacritic.

    Kanye’s career is hardly banking on these reviews.

    His music is just damn good the majority of the time. That’s why he thrives.

  31. A little late to the party but here’s a great article from the Atlantic that gives a perspective I hadn’t thought about. It makes sense, too, because most of the songs seem to follow a arc and have a theme, even if a lot of the lyrics are just filler.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/06/the-shocking-poignance-of-kanye-wests-i-yeezus-i/276919/

    • I’m not buying this idea of Yeezus being “an exorcism of sorts before a new, possibly more peaceful phase of life” until we hear the NEXT album.

  32. Regarding the lyric gripes:
    Has anyone considered the possibility that the style over substance movement (which Kanye started more or less segued into rap with watch the Throne) has trickled into this album? I agree the lyrics range from anthemicly triumphant to silly reachy-ness. But how important are lyrics supposed to be?

    I’d like to make the point that particularly in genre’s outside of rap, many artist’s approach to lyric writing is primarily from a phonoaesthetic perspective, hell plenty of beloved bands are writing music in languages that aren’t even in English. When we critique these songs, do we criticize the meaning of the lyrics? More importantly: Is lyrical prowess essential for a song to create a powerful bond between musician and listener? Dare I say that perhaps some reviewers are too preoccupied with what music is “supposed” to be?

    Returning to the album in question, in particular one song: I would just like to say that on “Blood on the Leaves,” – which has received criticism from not only here but significantly more scrutiny in the New York Times review – here we clearly have reduction of a song about race inspired lynching, to a disposable mo’ money mo’ problems situation. The reactions have ranged from outrage to annoyance. Let’s take a step back for a moment… This is Kanye West after all, not some shmo, he’s certainly aware of the political and moral implications of “Strange Fruit,” PERHAPSSS the idea of taking something so racially sacred and using it in the manner in which he did is an execution of the art-form of deconstructionism.

    Much like paying out the behind to get a sample of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” (a song with very graceful vocals) and reducing it to grunt noises and using it as a template to rap about how hard you ball, deconstructionism is a statement in and of itself. Remember that people? Remember how fun and refreshing that was? But now we sit here and criticize the same technique, because despite how stellar”Blood on the Leaves” song sounds, we have to dismiss it because the lyrics are superficial? Consider the possibility that the purpose and meaning of the song lies in the decision of how it is executed, not the lyrics themselves.

    For the record I’m aware of how silly some of these lyrics are and how difficult it is for some of us to get passed them. But I’m also very aware of the always refreshing, consistent intelligent decisions made by Kanye West. The most interesting thing about this man is the dichotomous impressions that this man has made on the public: his behavior and attitude (particularly in the past 5 years) have suggested hes a complete moron who doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut, however his body of work artistically has been consistently stellar from his work as a producer all the way up to pop superstar; the man has not made a bad tune little alone executed a note poorly in a decade. For really the first time in his career, this dichotomy is upfront and overt on a solo album, but was this a mistake? Laziness? Are these lyrics any reflection of something less than some level of intentional brilliance? With any other artist I would be inclined to say so, but not this man, and especially not on this album.

    tl;dr Stop bitching about the lyrics and loosen up a bit.

    • If I read “maximalism”, “minimalism”, “deconstructionism”, or any other “ism” associated with Kanye’s music and lyrics I might be “going Bobby Boucher,” myself. I want to give the man the benefit of the doubt in his “art” because yeah, he has had some remarkable moments and is arguably a genius. But please don’t defend his music by telling people to “stop bitching about the lyrics and loosen up a bit.” I don’t like to speak on behalf of others, especially people that I personally don’t know, but I suspect that Kanye would take offense to some of your questions and statements on the importance of lyrics (especially in hip hop) in the music.

      You and a few others may have already forgotten or aren’t aware, but three months ago, Kanye spoke to Hot 97 to argue about his placement on MTV’s Hottest MC’s List. In the beginning, he spoke calmly and even put others ahead of himself but he voiced his criticism and talked about why he deserved a higher spot. By the end though in classic Kanye style, he got pretty heated and hung up the phone in anger. My number one takeaway from this interview ( and practically every other one he has ever had) was that he was completely confident in his lyrics and vision. I don’t know if his confidence is marked with delusion, he is in on the joke (acting as an Andy Kaufman type artist), or a little bit of both. It is hard to tell for me, which is another reason why I’m extra critical of his work. I (and, hopefully many others) don’t think that he or any other “legendary” artist deserves a free pass on criticism because of what he or she has done in the past. I don’t think you are completely wrong in your interpretation (it is “art” by the way) and we may never know unless the man directly says so himself. But of course that would potentially compromise the “art”, many rants (like this) and conversation about its value would never happen, and no one would be completely satisfied…So, yeah it could all be an act for a bigger statement (pop) etc. but I’m not completely satisfied with that view because it gives Kanye too much power and even he agrees with me (“No one man should have all that power”)…Oh, is that what this album is about?!?#EUREKA

      TLDR: I wasn’t trying to come off as an asshole (Has Kanye ever said this? Yeah, he did…and then he took it back), but I didn’t agree with a few of your statements and I tried to explain why…but by the end I had an epiphany and maybe you were right from the beginning? We’ll probably never know for sure, (sigh), f*** art…I still think that he needs to step up his bars, though.

    • YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES

      The other thing about the lyrics on this album, and a lot hip hop, is that what rappers are saying doesn’t matter so much as how they deliver each line, and the rhythm they are able to generate with their voice, how that compliments the beat, and how it contributes to the overall tone of the song. There is a lot more going on in a hip hop song than the freaking lyrics. Sometimes lyrics matter, but a lot of the time I genuinely don’t think rappers want you to focus entirely on the message of the lyrics.

  33. I’m really enjoying Yeezus, despite the occasional lyrical blunders. So far, my favorite albums of the year are, in no particular order:
    Yeezus – ‘Ye
    Sunbather – Deafheaven
    Teethed Glory and Injury – AoP
    Posthumous Release – Coma Cinema
    Kveikur – Sigur Rós
    Push the Sky Away – Nick Cave & Co.
    mbv – M.B.V.

  34. On the lyrical front, I think it’s important to note that you can engage with the album without necessarily endorsing the viewpoints expressed therein. The lyrics are vulgar and misogynistic, and you’re allowed to think they’re vulgar and misogynistic. (I know this probably sounds condescending, and of course you know that you’re free to have opinions, but I’m getting to something, I promise!)

    That said, I think the lyrics actually do more to undermine the album’s bravado than reinforce it. What I mean is: If the tortured screams at the end of “I Am A God” don’t undermine the whole “I Am A God” message, then certainly what follows does. If the only thing you can do in the face of an unplanned pregnancy is whine and complain, and compare your plight to the plights of those who died during one of America’s darkest eras, then you’re not all that powerful, are you? The man can’t even get his damn croissants when he wants them.

    Plus, would an album that’s ostensibly about being a god-like figure feature such dark production, and such dark lyrical content? There’s nothing triumphant about Ye’s ascendance. He’s tortured, trying to build up an image for himself with words and bravado and ego that can’t stand up to the album’s schizophrenic sounds, let alone reality.

    In another potential reading, could it also be that Kanye’s sort of giving the people what they want? When he snarls “Fuck your Hampton house/I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse,” he’s totally playing on the idea of black men on the prowl for white women (as he does when he raps about what people are want to do when they see a black man and a white woman on the top floor). That he does it in such a politically-charged song should indicate that a lot of the problems society has with race, or that people have with Kanye, shouldn’t be laid at the feet of black kids in Chicago, or Kanye, but at the feet of those who propagate the problems to begin with. If you treat someone like a monster, eventually all you’re going to see is a monster.

    Or at least, these are the kinds of high school-level English class analyses that gets me comfortable with loving this album (and I really do love this album), despite the potential ambiguity surrounding just what Mr. West intends to do with that sweet and sour sauce, exactly. (I don’t know how deeply Kanye thinks about these things).

    Hell, I might go so far as to say that this album wouldn’t be the same without the offensive lyrics. Say what you will, but taking that deep, dark thought in the back of your brain and stretching it out over forty minutes for people to gawk at is a crazy, crazy thing to do. It’s also a large part of why this thing is so damn engaging.

    Anyway, feel free to poke holes in this thesis. I’m just thinking aloud here.

  35. What exactly does “evidence of a sort of genius that’s powerless to detect its own terrible ideas” mean?

    I don’t think I have seen a more blatant, preposterous defense of a lackluster performance since “we need to accept the possibility of a record so excellent we don’t understand it yet ” in the Premature Evaluation of Animal Collective’s “Centipede Hz”.

    • “we need to accept the possibility of a record so excellent we don’t understand it yet.” Yes, that’s fucking ridiculous, but I think there’s legitimacy to the idea that those who are capable of genius can act with such decisiveness, confidence and commitment, that they are unable to see when they have committed to terrible ideas. Maybe you need to act with that type of confidence to make genius, but it blinds you to terrible.

  36. Personally I think this album is overrated the production is pretty awesome as always with Kanye but the lyrics arent that good. Its nothing I havent heard before hes not really trying to get anybody to stand up for anything. He speaks out against commercialism but thats all he really is im sure I could find a hundred lines on this album where is. Kanye is you dont wanna buy something you dont have too obviously you realize whats going on so take a stand and maybe more people will follow but I guarantee hes not gonna stop driving fancy cars or buying expensive clothes or give an insane amout of money away to the needy Im taking so much money that it hurts. I mean the production is a weird cool I love that shit but his lyrics are not trying to change anything really I see these Beatles comparisons and one of the big differences there is John Lennon probably actually cared Kanye West wants you to think he cared. I dont know Im tired of this insane praise for lackluster albums just because Kanye West has really good advertising. Really is you wanna hear an amazing album that has great production and something to say: Killer Mike- R.A.P. Music best rap album of 2012. Or listen to some Big K.R.I.T. that shit is pretty good too.

  37. I don’t get the gripe about lyrics all that much. As an admittedly nerdy hip hop fan who cherishes lyricism, I’d put Kanye’s lyrics at slightly above average. That could be a deal breaker were it not for his charisma, his ability to flow well over his beats and how well he marries his lyrics to the production. Either way, lyricism isn’t everything. There are some emcees (see: Canibus) who in my mind are fantastic lyricists but lack the compelling delivery or decent production to make them more listenable.

    As for this album, I’d say Kanye knocked it out of the park again. The production is raw and distorted (see: Black Skinhead & I’m In It) and covers a lot of ground in 10 songs, with elements of industrial rock, Chicago House Music, dancehall, etc. It’s not as massive as MBDTF, but then I think that’s a strength in this case. Had he tried to follow that album with something similar, I don’t think it could have compared. This takes things in a slightly different direction sonically even if it doesn’t necessarily do that lyrically.

  38. I’m confused. Kanye didn’t have any children before Saturday, right? Why does he seem so upset about paying child support?

  39. Only feeling two tracks. “Bound 2″ and “Guilt Trip”. Ye my n!gga but you can’t put syrup on shit and convince me it’s good. Hope he rebounds on the next LP.

  40. as someone who has only listened to 808s and Heartbreak, and MBDTF – I think Yeezus is the best of those 3, primarily for its conciseness.

    maybe it’s just that I can’t listen to rap for too long, but personally the 40 minute album length is perfectly digestible and more than that, every tempo shift, production trick, orchestration change, rap verse, and vocal line feels so precisely and meaningfully placed. Nothing goes on for longer than it should, something which I felt was a flaw of MBDTF.

    The first four tracks in particular are brilliant. We’ll see how the album holds up after even more extensive listening, but I’m feeling pretty positive about it.

    • WHat?!? I can understand if 808s and Dark Fantasy were the first Kanye albums you’ve ever listened to (surprising as that is), but after that, did you have no desire to listen to his other work?

      • you’re right, they are the first Kanye albums I’ve listened to – I do have a desire to check out his other albums, but I wanted to really dig in on those 2 – and then of course other albums from other artists were released and I spent time with those, so I took a break from Kanye. I’ll get back to the rest of his discography at some point – the Yeezus release certainly sparks my interest again

        • I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts, as you work “backwards” through the catalog. I think some of them have aged surprisingly well, and others poorly, but I would like to know how someone without too much prior knowledge views them in 2013.

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  42. the first half is great, then Kanye feels compelled to bust out the bullshit autotuned vocals again and he he looses me.

    kanye badly wants to be an artist like Kool Keith of MF but he doesn’t have the creativity or the skill and it falls flat.

  43. Kanye’s production on Pusha T’s “Numbers on the Boards” reeeeeeeeeally sounds like Dead Prez though. Not that the entirety of this record doesn’t sound like them too, but the bass on that Pusha song is very clearly indebted to “Hip Hop.”

  44. People are saying that Yeezzus has strong music production but is lyrically week and that more talented rappers… Like Big L, for example are the only rappers worth listening to.
    Kanye is lyrically unappreciated the same way 2pac was…It’s his emotional delivery…. because its not how cleverly he could mince words… its what he choose to say and the way he said it… that made his lyrics more memorable…Just my opinion.
    Guilt trip is the most easily digested track on Yeezus…surprised that he didn’t drop that as his first single.

  45. The second half of New Slaves is truly magical.

    The whole debate of Kanye’s lyrics I think is irrelevant. I personally just take Kanye for the experience.
    I think these lyrics are totally mediocre yet often pretty funny and wholly grotesque.

    Also the second half of “New Slaves” is golden. The transcendent Kanye West moments are still here, they’re just a little more difficult for the listener–and I believe this to be intentional on Kanye’s part.

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