Yeezus is Kanye West’s worst album.
Two things to consider about that point:
1. Last week, “Gold Digger” came on the radio. It was a horrible listening experience. Kanye West’s production has developed so much (and consequently influenced the direction of the entire Hip-Hop genre) that a lot of his music doesn’t particularly age well. By comparison, “Gold Digger” sounds trite and bare bones compared to the complexities of a song like “Otis.”
So an album like Yeezus may be sonically better than a College Dropout in some people’s opinion, that’s mostly due to the natural progression of Kanye’s craft. We have to consider the time period when the albums dropped to make a comparison. Comparing College Dropout to Yeezus is like comparing Jerry West to Brandon Jennings. Sure, Jennings is going to run circles around West because of the eras in which they played, but you’re never going to win an argument (or even make an argument) that Jennings was ever greater. So this is Kanye’s worst album but it’s better than some of his other albums. Get it? I thought you would.
2. Michael Jordan’s worst NBA Finals game was a 6-for-19 performance during Game 5 of the 1996 NBA Finals against the Seattle Supersonics. He still scored 23 points. I say that to say MJ’s worst performance is still not bad. Yeezus is Kanye’s worst album. But that doesn’t make it a bad album. Calm down, everybody.
Now, let’s get to it.
There’s a moment on “Blood On The Leaves” where Kanye is wailing C-Murder lyrics over a “4 My N*ggaz” loop while Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” lyrics bounce against the backdrop. And in those few seconds, everything you need to know about Kanye West in 2013 is crystallized before our ears.
The moment is sloppy, brilliant, problematic and chaotic. It’s Kanye.
Yeezus is a conflation of ideas that don’t ever seem to meet fruition. And for the most part, they fall victim to the most based of concepts. As a friend of mine put it, Yeezus is like the Family Guy of Kanye albums as all subtle brilliance is thrown out the window for basic shock.
When Kanye put his face on 66 buildings across the world and rapped about the prison economic system, it seemed like we were gearing up for an album that would finally be the mainstream political album that Hip-Hop has been waiting for. Instead, Kanye combats the stereotypes of a Black man by becoming a caricature from Birth Of A Nation set to invade someone’s house and ejaculate on a rich white guy’s wife.
‘Ye’s ideas towards sex are perverse and…well…hard to parse out without going into a psychological analysis of the man himself. But “I’m In It” is borderline torture porn rap. The dragging bassline makes the track catchy enough, but you almost forget the promises made with “New Slaves” by the time ‘Ye raps about needing sweet and sour sauce to eat out an Asian woman.
But, then there’s the perfect imperfection of “Blood On The Leaves.” Kanye is self-important enough to use a sample about lynching to bring home his fears of alimony checks. In Kanye’s world, the loss of his celebrity is tantamount to personal genocide.
When he raps that he might as well be King Kong at the top level of his hotel with Kim Kardashian, it’s genuine, raw and preposterous. As is the Trent Reznor-inspired beat of “Black Skinhead” that he raps over.
And really, those opening tracks really led to Yeezus‘ demise. As soon as the EDM cacophony of “On Sight” blared out of computer speakers across the country, Twitter sunk its teeth into the sonic disappointment. Ten minutes after the album leaked it was panned by the social media cafeteria. And they have a point: despite the guts it took for Kanye to make the album, the inherent brilliance of the “I Am A God” beat and the lyrical spazz-out of “New Slaves,” the first half of Yeezus just isn’t enjoyable to listen to.
Credit Kanye’s own narcissism, his distracted state of impending new fatherhood or the quizzical way he was forced to rush the album*, but Yeezus sounds like a bevy of unfinished ideas. It’s like Kanye West really wanted to make a revolutionary, subversive album but pressed against the wall of time constraints he settled for a journey of places he can put his d*ck while a cavalcade of ambient noise played backup dancer to his ego.
But for a few minutes, while C-Murder’s lyrics rang out over Nina Simone’s haunting voice, it all seemed worth it. It all seemed like we were watching everything we love and hate about Kanye West in one pivotal moment.
If only Yeezus could have given us more moments like that.
* — Which, really, not enough people are paying attention to this part of the story. Why does an artist like Kanye West have to rush an album out for Def Jam? Did he owe them for not dropping Cruel Winter or something? The idea of Kanye having to pump out two rushed verses – my money is “Can’t Handle Me” is the victim of the rush job – and vocals on the last day is baffling to me.