After speaking for Just A Guy and publishing my favorite albums of 2013, I’m going to follow up with one last post on an album that really had staying power for me throughout the year. I guess you could call it my “album of the year” although I hate ranking music like that. I remember listening to the leak and being blown away instantly. I loved it, some people hated it and some were indifferent. After spending a lot of time listening to Yeezus I decided to go in depth and write about it basically track by track. It’s not intended to change any opinions, just offering my interpretation of the album.
Start off by listening to “Lost in the World/Who Will Survive in America” off of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, dreamlike in their nature, these two songs essentially end the grandest album of Kanye’s career. MBDTF is where Kanye shakes off the “rapper” title and transforms into full-fledged artist. After listening to those two songs, dive right into Yeezus and you’ll feel the starkness of the mind of Kanye West. “On Sight,” the opening track of Yeezus, is a buzzsaw of a song that takes you out of the dreamlike quality of MBDTF and transports you to the world of the new Kanye West. Much like the man himself, the song, and the album, is abrasive, unapologetic and difficult to digest. This is the new Kanye West.
“Racism is still alive, they’re just concealing it” – Never Let Me Down
At it’s heart, Yeezus deals with two concepts, racism and love. Racism is the first target and West has a lot to say. People complain that Kanye as an artist has changed over the years, but those complaints are only half true. Sonically, he’s vastly different, but lyrically, his themes remain the same as they’ve ever been. Early in his career, West dealt with the topics of race and racism, but it felt dulled. Sure he broached the topics, but he wasn’t political like some of his contemporaries. He had a middle class upbringing that differed from many of his peers. Not to say he was insincere when talking about racial topics, but, right or wrong, he never came across as disadvantaged as rappers from poorer upbringings. Something changed in recent years and the more you listen to Yeezus, the more you realize it’s a borderline double album. The first “half,” consisting of “Black Skinhead,” “I Am A God” and “New Slaves” is all about race, racism and the reaction to it. Smarter people have wrote more on the racial tones of this album, but when you listen to a song like “New Slaves” you realize that somewhere along the line, someone told West he wasn’t good enough because of his race. The lyrics are more pointed in delivery. Due to experience, he believes in them more and so does the listener. The end of “New Slaves” features a break that harkens back to MBDTF, with West proclaiming “I can’t lose” over and over again. Again, he believes it more, and so does the listener.
“I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger” – Gold Digger
Speaking his piece and transcending the racism leveled his way, the album descends from MBDTF-heights and straight into the darkness of Kanye West’s love life. “Hold My Liquor” is an unbelievably striking song. You can almost see guests Chief Keef and Justin Vernon (I think we can all agree that Justin Vernon/Kanye West collaborations are fantastic) wallowing away in some dive. Keeping with the theme of the song, West delivers a song that sounds like a series of drunken confessions. We’ve all been jilted by someone we care about, and intoxicated or not, we’ve all expressed those feelings in the same manner. West keeps the downward spiral going, “I’m In It” is one of the most vulgar songs I’ve heard in a long time. West is honest here, after his previous encounters, the women in his life are now objects to be used for satisfaction, primarily his satisfaction. Predictably, that line of thinking haunts him on a song like “Blood On The Leaves,” essentially “Gold Digger” without the camp. No longer an impartial observer, the role is reversed. West himself now deals with women that see him as a meal ticket, a mean to an end. Ominous horns and thunderous drums show you there’s no joking here. No Jamie Foxx to provide a wink and a nod on this track. “Guilt Trip” is West realizing this, realizing that he needs to change his life. Originally it was my least appealing track on the album, but after repeated listens you realize exactly where he’s coming from. “Send It Up” is West returning more to form as a person. Enjoying himself and shunning the women that only want to use him, which leads us to “Bound 2,” probably most “classic” Kanye track on the album. Soul-sampling Kanye West from Chicago, who got his start all those years ago with Jay Z, has come full circle. Obviously, it’s a love song dedicated to Kim Kardashian, (the intentionally ridiculous video further proves it) the love of his life. It’s really an incredible sequence that unfolds over 25 minutes. Kanye goes from depraved to redeemed in half an album.
That’s Yeezus. An album that’s not meant for the club. Not meant to be thrown on at a party and meant to be digested as a whole, not broken up by singles. More 808’s and Heartbreak than College Dropout, this is Kanye West growing up, facing the real responsibilities of adulthood and fatherhood. If you have wrote the album off, give it another shot. It’s not a traditional hip-hop album, because no one in traditional hip hop could make an album like this. But it is an album that people will be talking about for years to come.