By David Evans, Regal Radio
“You’re so ugly, you could be a modern art masterpiece!”
R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket
The first time I heard Kanye West’s new albumYeezus, which was officially released this past Tuesday, I thought to myself, in my best Gunnery Sergeant Hartman voice –“What is this shit?”
So, while listening I asked myself, “Was this Yeezy’s attempt to make a musical representation of modern art?” The album left a bad taste in my mouth, like a scallop dish I recently ate at a trendy restaurant. Depending on your appreciation of modern art (or haute cuisine), you may appreciate this album or throw it out the minute you taste it.
West’s sixth studio album, Yeezus is a ten-track set that incorporates the sounds of EDM, rock, and soul samples. Several guest appearances sprinkled through Yeezus include Frank Ocean on “New Slaves,” Chicago rappers Chief Keef on “Hold My Liquor) and King Louie on “Send it Up,” Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) on “Hold My Liquor,” Kid Cudi on “Guilt Trip” and Charlie Wilson on “Bound 2.” Yeezus features many brains behind the boards but is mainly the brainchild of West, Daft Punk, Rick Rubin and Chicago rappers and long-time West confidantes Rhymefest (known for co-writing the Grammy-award winning “Jesus Walks”) and Lupe Fiasco.
West has taken to calling himself a black new wave artist and the new wave influence of the 1980’s is evident in several songs, namely “I’m In It,” “Hold My Liquor” and “Guilt Trip,” which really sits as a continuation of his work on 2008’s 808 and Heartbreak, the album in which he sung every track in auto tune.
If Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho, produced an album, I believe it would sound like this. West (sans the violence) is the pop music manifestation of Wall Street banker cum serial killer Patrick Bateman, as Kourtney Kardashian’s man Scott Disick portrayed in a promo for Yeezus .
This album is a product of West’s id, manifested in the forms of lust, anger and pride. Its dark minimalist sound echoes that of 808 and Heartbreak at times with the use of auto tune in several songs and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at others, when bombastic drums and soul samples are put in the mix.
There is also a significant dancehall influence in Yeezus, incorporating the kind of dancehall samples used successfully by Ye and his G.O.O.D. Music crew on Cruel Summer. To someone unfamiliar with the personality and track record of Mr. West, Yeezus could appear to be the product of someone afflicted with a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder who regardless is driven (externally or internally) to create something, even if it that thing turns out to be a complete mess, which in this case it did.
West’s thought process as expressed on this album seems to differ vastly from the approach he took to making it, as stated in a recent career-spanning interview he gave to the New York Times in which he sounds mostly intelligent and focused. As reported in the Times, the album was produced in three studios, Shangri-La in Malibu, Ca., (known for being the studio of rock greats Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones), No Name Hotel and Studios in Paris, and Germano Studios in New York, which may be part of the reason the album appears to be a rolling mess — Kanye never stops moving and neither did Yeezus, but moving towards what exactly?
In a Grantland review of Yeezus, writer Steven Hyden postulates that Yeezus is a vehicle for West’s catharsis, a manner of exorcising his single-man, rock star demons (drugs, sex, anger) prior to the birth of his child. Hopefully for the fans of West who appreciate his albums more rooted in a progressive hip-hop sound (basically everything outside of this and 808s), this is true one-off.
On a subsequent listens, I found that I did not have as much a problem with this album’s’ production as a whole. I especially the enjoyed the production of “Bound 2,” it’s sped up production reminiscent of College Dropout and Late Registration Ye, as well as the beginning of “Blood on the Leaves,” which samples Nina Simone’s version of the Billie Holliday anti-lynching song, “Strange Fruit.”
West’s lyrics were another matter: angry, hedonistic, narcissistic and unfocused, it was hard for me to identify or understand much of what he rapped about in most of the songs on the album, exceptions to this being the self aware, yet hypocritical “New Slaves,” the committed yet comic “I Am a God” and “Bound 2,” a story of West describing finding the woman he planned to marry, or at least settle down with temporarily.
What I can say about Yeezus is that in future years, the album will be seen as a pioneering album in hip hop (though its record as a social statement could be muddled). This album sits as the highest profile project by a major hip-hop artist to incorporate electronic dance music, house, and new wave into rap. I hope that future artists will take West’s raw mold as expressed here and improve on it.
Follow David on Twitter @davidevans9 and Regal Radio @regalradio1