The great thing about Hip Hop that makes it arguably the best genre of music is its accessibility. There’s so much out there for everyone to relish in with each lane, but for those who look for the top tier, for this generation it’s been only a few worth listing. Arguably at the top of this list, you’ll more often than not find none other than Kanye West.
West has given us more than we could ever ask for in Hip Hop. He’s changed the rules and introduced the genre to more risks than we’d care to take, often succeeding in his daring endeavors. We’ve often found ourselves loving West as an artist for one thing or another, whether it being running his mouth too much or giving us something of quality that we know we’d never get from anyone else.
He’s an anomaly of an artist, in essence. Delivering a string of classic albums and having arguably the best discography in history, while remaining candid about his experiences (both hidden and those we’ve caught in the news) and finding new samples and sounds to express those feelings and thoughts through. That said, it was inevitable that the bar set for West would be possibly unreachable. Inaccessible, stood the expectations that West had to meet, after constantly meeting and possibly defeating every standard. So from here, what would West possibly do on his highly anticipated Yeezus? What would he present for us to be digested and could he possibly make another classic album? It’s one we won’t soon forget.
“Yeezy season approaching fuck whatever y’all be hearing, fuck what fuck whatever y’all been wearing…”
The project opens with one of the few Daft Punk produced cuts in “On Sight” one of the most sonically uncomfortable tracks Yeezy’s crafted yet. Jarring and frazzled at its core, it almost refuses any sort of conventionality, only following form in Ye’s delivery, which is disapprovingly rude. It’s short and unsettling, setting a tone for what’s to come.
“I been a menace for the longest, but I ain’t finished, I am devoted, and you know it, and you know it!”
It takes about 5 seconds before we get the hard-hitting drums that lend themselves to Kanye’s “Black Skinhead.” The instrumental is as punishing as it is uncouth, rebellious and dangerous. Samples run rampant along with Ye’s screeching across the track itself, something that might come off alarming upon the first listen but ultimately serves to be forcefully effective. It pushes West further as he stands and almost protests with his lyricism, forcing listeners to accept his cause and point of view through the music.
“Soon as they like you, you make em unlike you…”
It seems as if West wanted nothing more than to push the envelope and aggravate those who would criticize his work, fans, casual listeners and critics alike as “I Am a God” takes the concept of restriction and continues to smash it to pieces. Claiming his own Godliness, screaming across the song itself and letting his levels of braggadocio reach new heights. He’s at his very crudest on this project, and this track itself serves as a testament to that statement, next to his labeling “Featuring God” on the track itself as well as the possible idea that he’s creating something he expects listeners to tolerate because of his own presence. It’s worth the thought to consider that, but we’ll get into that later on. This track is raw, foul and interestingly peculiar.
“I’m about to air shit out, now what the fuck they gon’ say Now!?”
Sound Familiar? We hear a familiar sound in the lane of G.O.O.D Music’s “Clique” (from West’s label group project Cruel Summer) here, as the sound is dramatized for the defiant “New Slaves.” This is vintage Kanye in MP3 format here as he rants on, throwing a tantrum across the instrumental. West claim’s to see the truth and be aware of the enchaining ideas that surround him, and blasts against them, littered with hints of creativity for the fact that it might not be tolerated without it.
“Babygirl he’s a loner, Babygirl he’s a loner…”
The unlikely couple of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Hip Hop’s resident delinquent Chief Keef join West for the dark “Hold My Liquor” which, to the surprise of many, works. The two collide for the hook and aid in creating the most complete track thus far. There are obvious elements of his previous albums here, coming together with his new insurgent attitude for a ruthless sound. One that Kanye decides to pour his experiences on, discussing his recent memories with a not-so-recent ex. It makes for an interesting listen and an enjoyable track overall.
“That’s why I’m in it and I can’t get out…”
West switches it up next for the raunchy “I’m In It” merging various sounds (for example, dancehall) to result in a unique blend, that might’ve been more appreciated if it wasn’t for the cut-rate lyricism that’s present. It continues the raw theme of the project, but awkwardly it also feels uninspired and as a result it doesn’t hit in the lane that Kanye was necessarily going for, and just comes off sounding oddly different instead of understandably unruly. On the other hand, is that what he was going for?
“Yeah, I told you to wait, so ima need a little more time now…”
Less unorthodox than the others, Kanye opens “Blood on the Leaves” by crooning side by side with Nina Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday’s timeless track “Strange Fruit.” For the first minute we get this slightly cohesive effort before the raucous yet methodical beat roars, and with it, comes West’s impertinent lyricism. Brash songwriting is present throughout the middle of the song regarding his own past experience with a female and his own (clearly direct) opinion before returning to a calm point and concluding almost in the same lane as where he began. It’s a little more logical than what we’ve received with earlier tracks, and also comes off easier to listen to as a result.
“If you love me so much, why’d you let me go?”
Kid Cudi’s assistance is more than welcome and stands firmly above most of the ethereal “Guilt Trip,” This isn’t to say West is irrelevant here, but his contribution to his own track feels more like an introduction to Cudi’s short yet stellar performance.
“We can send this bitch up, It can’t go down…”
“Send It Up” is rough and raucous. Hitting hard with a riotous, repetitive instrumental, Chicago up-and-comer King Louie opens with a gritty grandiose verse and hook, one that feels appropriate as King L meets the expectations of featuring on a Kanye West track. The same expectations, that West fails to meet. Here he continues this luckless trend of making his contribution less than his guest’s in importance, ultimately falling short.
“When a real nigga hold you down you supposed to drown, bound.’
The thoroughly enjoyable “Bound 2” is undeniably what the masses probably wanted and possibly expected from West originally. West combines his gift of creating soulful work with an assist from Charlie Wilson to create a nostalgic ending to his project. Vintage West is shining here, utilizing his honest yet relatable perspective that he carried to projects before him specifically focusing on his love interest.
It’s Kanye West’s job in Hip Hop to push the barrier. To be beyond what everyone expects and deliver what no one else can. He’s taken that role up himself and in reality it effortlessly matches his perfectionism. He’s a loudmouth who has lost his way (as all artists are capable of) and in finding himself the question is, is he trying too hard? Is he failing to meet expectations? Has he just completely lost it with a pathetic attempt at creating something so amazingly different he’s gone off the deep end? Or has he created something to be appreciated but unfortunately, the masses just aren’t ready? At this point, you will interpret as you please, but I believe the latter.
West gives no attention to caution yet leaves it to us to interpret how much he cares about his own work. Is it too self-aware? No. Is it perfect? No. Is it brilliant? No. However, Kanye West is a Hip Hop artist and I can applaud his effort to bring something so eerie, weird and different that we reject it as a default. He forces new sounds on listeners, and at this point the question is “Don’t we deserve that choice?” That answer is subjective. I believe we do but if the artists we listen to truly are as great as we’d like them to be, they’d push their limits to be better anyway. That’s what made Kanye West the best, and debatably the current king of Hip Hop. He’s always pushed it with each album (we’ll forget he was a part of Cruel Summer) and here we continue to get what we wished for. We just don’t know if Kanye is ahead of his time here, as the people may not be ready to process what comes with this.
Stream Yeezus for free here courtesy of Spotify.
Timeless Tracks: “Black Skinhead”, “Hold My Liquor”
Pros: Courageous experimentation pays off for the most part if you’re willing to listen with an open mind. Short listen makes it easier to tolerate.
Cons: Going so far as to make us HAVE to listen with an open mind. I shouldn’t have to list “Short listen makes it easier to tolerate” as a Pro. Double-edged sword syndrome.