Kanye West had big shoes to fill following his critically acclaimed modern masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Virtually no one could imagine Kanye creating an album that was more grandiose, more musically stunning, or more emotionally charged than MBDTF. So, as Kanye had done in the past with albums like Graduation and 808s and Heartbreak, he didn’t worry about building on top of the previous release. Instead, Kanye crafted an album that was all the things MBDTF was not: short, aggressive, and minimalist.
In this way, Yeezus holds more in common with the bare ethos of 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak. While that highly influential album featured tribal drums and high piano chords, Yeezus channeled screaming synths often playing only one note at a time.
It is worth noting that the sound of Yeezus, whether intentionally or not, owes much to noise-rap pioneers like B L A C K I E and Death Grips. Death Grips’ 2012 release, The Money Store, was an indie hit and gathered acclaim from many music publications for its avant-garde, boundary-pushing sound. Kanye’s Yeezus follows close on its heels, and while it never gets as noisy as Death Grips cuts like “System Blower” and “Punk Weight”, the connection between the two albums is obvious. Kanye, as he is known to do, repackages the sounds of more obscure artists for a mainstream audience. However, this borrowing of other artists’ sound does not detract from my rating for Yeezus.
The songs themselves feature Kanye’s most aggressive delivery yet, especially on tracks like “On Sight” and “I Am a God”. Kanye’s lyrics on this album are often disparaged by listeners, but for every lazy or uninspired line on this album there are two thought-provoking, emotionally provocative lines. For example, on “New Slaves”, Kanye raps “My momma was raised in the era when / Clean water was only served to the fairer skin / Doing clothes you would have thought I had help / But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself“. On “Blood on the Leaves”, which samples “Strange Fruit” and TNGHT, Kanye spits “Then she said she impregnated, that’s the night your heart died / Then you gotta go and tell your girl and report that / Main reason cause your pastor said you can’t abort that / Now your driver say that new Benz you can’t afford that / All that cocaine on the table you can’t snort that / That going to that owing money that the court got / On and on that alimony, uh, yeah yeah, she got you homie, yeah / ‘Til death but do your part, uh, unholy matrimony“. In a few lines Kanye addresses moral convictions, debt, and deteriorating marital relations. On this album Kanye can still rap verses as poignant as “Through the Wire” and “Gorgeous”.
After 9 songs of unrelenting darkness, on the last track, Kanye references the sound of his early career with “Bound 2”. It’s a quasi-love song to his wife, Kim Kardashian, and an unexpected way to close out the album. Kanye rarely puts out pure love songs, and this is no exception.
Scott’s Spectacular Song Selections include: “On Sight”, “Black Skinhead”, “I Am a God”, “New Slaves”, “Hold My Liquor”, “Blood on the Leaves”, “Guilt Trip”, and “Bound 2”.
Yeezus is easily Kanye’s darkest work, and it’s also one of his best.