It’s obvious now that Kanye West just doesn’t do ‘low key’, even when he’s trying really, really hard to achieve that. Yeezus may have no real front cover and relatively few guest stars, but it’s not an album you can easily ignore.
For one thing, there’s the name, which is impossible to extricate from the perception that West is probably the most arrogant man ever to have lived. Plus the fact that there’s a song called I Am A God on this album.
On My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West created an epic concept album (pretty much) all about himself, where he played both the hero and the villain, and he managed to get basically every famous person in the world to appear on it.
This time things are a bit less HUGE, with a minimum of guests (Kid Cudi, Chief Keef, Justin Vernon and King L) and if there’s a theme here it’s probably sex, which seems to feature in every track. There’s certainly a lot less introspection in the lyrics and lot more about racism, with Kanye almost turning his gaze away from himself. Almost.
But the lyrics are very much of secondary importance on Yeezus, it’s about about the music, which sees West pushing the boundaries a bit further than he has so far, and making an album that will alienate some people on first listen and still divide others on the fifth listen.
I’ve seen it compared to Radiohead‘s Kid A, which isn’t strictly an accurate comparison, because Yeezus isn’t as big a shift in sound as that was. It’s experimental at times, but so was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it always still sounds like a Kanye West album.
Plus it’s neither the first curveball he’s thrown nor the most dramatic, with 808 And Heartbreak the winner of that category. There’s echoes of it here, not least with liberal usage of autotune on his vocals.
But the beats are harder, heavier and more antagonistic here, from the fiery opener On Sight to the remarkable (for better and for worse) Blood On The Leaves, which samples Nina Simone singing Strange Fruit. No, really, he went there.
At six minutes long it’s the showcase track on the album and goes in all kinds of different directions, so it will take a while for more than the haunting and shocking samples to sink in, but it sums up West’s approach. I Am A God is one of my early favourites from the album, which production from Daft Punk of all people, while the sub-3-minute Send It Up is certainly the catchiest thing on there.
Having said that, anyone hoping for something like Touch The Sky, Jesus Walks or Gold Digga will come away from Yeezus wondering what the hell just happened. But you honestly don’t have to dig THAT deep to find the gold here. Yeezus isn’t revolutionary music, but it is great music. Kanye West probably doesn’t need anyone to tell him, but he’s done it again and remains at the top of his field.