There’s very little context when it comes to Kanye West, at least context that isn’t pretty obvious. The 36 year old rapper has always worn his heart on his sleeve, both musically and publicly, yet every eccentric outburst has seemingly (and consistently) been matched with something genius to fill our ears with. One would think it’d be rather difficult at this point not to just simply take him for who he is, but with the announcement of his sixth solo studio album, audaciously entitled Yeezus, the head-scratching somehow continues on. Despite everything we know about ‘Ye up to this point, this should all really be business as usually, but, once again, it’s clear he’s going right for our collective jugular and before even hearing one note of music, he’s determined to captivate us and make sure we are all fully prepped for the experience he’s set up for us. So alright, Mr. West, we’re listening.
The album title itself can really only be so shocking, almost to the point that it’s not even worth going back and forth with “Did he really go there?” He did, let’s move on. Quite frankly, it’s far more interesting about how he’s going about releasing Yeezus. The first thing that jumps out is the whole “no single” thing leading up to its release, which actually is unlike Kanye. Instead, he has chosen to rely on the greatest form of promotion to ever actually exist: word of mouth. Sure, he set up selective projections playing “New Slaves” and had a small handful of television performances, but, at large, there was mostly just hype. For a man who has never shied away from “going big,” the sheer minimalism of the project manages to read slightly out of character. I mean, even the cover art is completely non-existant; it’s just a jewel case with a sticker. So, once again, Mr. West, we have no idea what is actually going to happen here, but you’ve got all of our attention. The only thing left to figure out is if the music itself is actually good.
Taking Yeezus track-by-track would be far too conventional for what the record actually is; in a way, it wouldn’t be doing it justice. What we have here is an album that throws more at you in a short span of time than any one brain can physically comprehend in one listen. The range of sampling spans from Marilyn Manson (“Black Skinhead”) to Nina Simone (“Blood On The Leaves,”) and featured guests include everyone from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to Chief Keef (…on the same track) to Frank Ocean, and production assistance comes from legends like Daft Punk and Rick Rubin. On paper, it looks like one exciting mess, but what it sounds like is… well, one exciting mess, but in the best way possible. In the general sense, Yeezus is far more stripped down than his previous long play, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but don’t let the simplicity fool you. There is nothing subtle or even sane on the record; Kanye is completely possessed. The songs change direction so arbitrarily that it’s never obvious that a new song has begun until it’s actually a good portion of the way through. It works, though. Every time it seems like there’s no rhyme or reason to Yeezus, it all falls masterfully into place. Even sticking a track like “Hold My Liquor” in the middle of a sea of bold declarations like “I Am A God” (featuring God, FYI,) “New Slaves,” and “Guilt Trip” doesn’t seem to disrupt the flow.
The only thing that is seemingly impossible to properly sum up is just how the whole dark, big-balled, batshit crazy thing actually comes off as so endearing. Kanye’s arrogance is abundant, yet it only manages to make us like him more. Outside of maybe “Blood On The Leaves,” which boldly samples Nina Simone’s recording of “Strange Fruit,” there isn’t so much a highlight that resonates more than its peers, but listening to Yeezus from start to finish is an experience that can’t be broken down into 10 individual tracks. His alarming yelps on “Black Skinhead” exemplify just how tribal the record is. This is not the kind of album that can be compared to any other, or even treated like a calculated pop release. This is an avant garde, one of a kind tour de force. It’s so dark, frenzied and reduced to its barest elements that at times it doesn’t even feel like a finished product. That’s just where the beauty in it lies, though. Those times that are the most uncomfortable or incomprehensible are the most brilliant. Yeezus is Kanye West’s herald, and just what’s going to come of it is yet to be seen. History will probably refer to it as his most important, but for the time being we all just have to be ok with his enigmatic self possessing us in the same way he has clearly been taken over. I’m not sure there’s anything left to say.