Kanye West might be a genius, but he’s also the guy who is dating Kim Kardashian. And to be perfectly honest; you have to be full of shit to do something like that. And Yeezus, Kanye West’s first record since the critically acclaimed, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is as full of shit as it gets.
Still, like it or hate it; Kanye West’s art deserves your respect. Over the course of his career he’s worked his tail off, never took the easy way, and has been a restless innovator. When he goes for something in life, whether it’s his music, his friends, or his girlfriend (or whatever she is), he goes big.
Yeezus is no exception. It is the grandest, fiercest, most over-the-top bout of musical masturbation ever put to tape. And it’s not a bad record, it’s a profoundly disappointing one.
The most baffling part of Yeezus is that it could have only been made by someone so far removed from the rest of the world that they’re completely out-of-touch with it. It sounds as if Kanye’s surrounded himself with nothing, but dick-swingers, starfuckers and yes men. As if he’s been told so many times he’s brilliant that he no longer feels he needs to scrutinize his artistic decisions.
The best example of this is on the album’s ground zero; the unseemly, “I Am A God.” This is a song so gut-wrenchingly arrogant that it will offend everyone a little differently. It’s basically a vehicle for West to cajole us with a great many tales of his insufferable sense of entitlement, a sense that he so thoroughly misunderstands that he likens it to being a God.
“Hurry up with my damn croissants,” he barks at the end of a verse that could easily double as a laundry list of reasons for why he’s a shitty person. “I am a God, even though I’m a man of God,” he informs us with an air of smugness, as if it were an intelligent thing to say.
As if we should start praying to him.
At one point in the song he tries to liken his relationship with God to the mob, referencing cosa nostra, which roughly translates to “Our Thing.” But he flubs the line. Instead he says, “Castra Nostra” which roughly translates to “Our Castration.” It’s an unfortunate mistake, especially since the whole shtick is little more than feigned attempt at bravado. It would be hilarious too if it weren’t so clearly the pathetic ramblings of an empty man trying to aggrandize himself.
The embarrassing pathos doesn’t end there. In fact, Kanye spends much of Yeezus reminding his white listeners that they’re racist and everyone else that he’s richer than they are. He weaves between these two narratives seamlessly, like a dick ninja. It’s as if it were actually how he views the world – probably because it is.
“You see there’s leaders and there’s followers but I’d rather be a dick than a swallower,” he raps on “New Slaves.” And it’s a weak excuse. Over and over again Kanye presents us with these kinds of false choices. “There’s broke nigga racism,” Kanye muses, “and that’s that ‘don’t touch anything in the store,’ then there’s rich nigga racism and that’s that ‘come in please buy more.’” And nevermind that to equate the two is horribly offensive to all of us who’d trade places with him in a heartbeat. The really intolerable part about this is that the argument he seems to be making is that his consumerism has made him a “New Slave.” It’s a lightweight and naïve take on the evils of capitalism, especially coming from someone with his kind of purchasing power. It’s also a far cry from “Niggas be going through some real shit man, they outta work / that’s why another dance track gotta hurt / That’s why I’d rather spit something that gotta perp.” Or to put it another way, for the first time, Kanye has allowed his ego to dwarf his intellect.
Nevertheless, the idea behind Yeezus is admirable. It’s just gracelessly executed. Anyone who’s been paying any attention at all knows that racism and poverty traps still exist, and there’s a need for artists to articulate the injustice of inequality. But that’s not how Yeezus comes off. Instead what we get is an insulting barrage of disparate samples that don’t work together and rants more akin to rubbing our nose in his success than they are to real social commentary.
Yeezus does have its finer moments though. “Blood on the Leaves,” samples Nina Simone’s version of the civil rights anthem, “Strange Fruit.” The song is pretty good and it’s certainly one of the standouts on the album. But while Kanye is swinging for the bleachers here, he doesn’t achieve anything close the gravitas that Nina Simone or especially Lady Day brought to the original. And that’s a problem. Because if your going to sample something as culturally significant as “Strange Fruit,” you better come correct. Instead, Kanye brings vocoder-manipulated lines like, “Now I know you naughty, so let’s get on with it.”
The music throughout is every bit as thoughtless as the lyrics. Kanye has always had a flair for making engaging beats, but here they just sound scatterbrained. On “Bound 2,” he uses three samples that don’t really fit together. He makes no attempt to add anything or manipulate them in any way. Instead he just cuts and pastes them together in a confusing stream that jars the listener. The track suffers from a lack of any sense of cohesion.
This happens a lot on Yeezus. All of it is generously sprinkled with samples that just don’t belong. This is where Kanye’s lack of a filter really comes into play. He should have questioned his decision to use many of these samples, which are frequently forced into the songs, with no attempt to gracefully integrate them. At best these samples don’t add anything interesting and at worse they ruin the mood.
Because this record is such a confused shit show a lot of people are just going to assume it’s brilliant. And that’s a shame. Even if there are a few decent songs, like “On sight” and the majority of the second half of the record. It’s still a far cry from being an important artistic statement.
I would suggest to anyone enamored with Yeezus to revisit a truly profound record that succeeded at many of the same things that Kanye has stopped short of doing here. Compare, if you will, Yeezus to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. And while you listen to it, try to imagine Gaye saying something like, “Your titties, let em out, free at last.”
Yeezus is a sophomoric and counterproductive attempt at black advancement to be sure, but the legacy of the whole enterprise will be its blinding arrogance.
Rating: 2.5 / 5