No matter what your personal opinion of Kanye West may be there is no doubt that the man is a genius. Love him or hate him, West’s musical vision is right up there at the top and to put it bluntly there aren’t many like him in today’s industry. Yes he may be an egotistical maniac but there have been a number of artists over the years that drive people up the wall, yet you can’t knock them for their talent.
Hip Hop has been a changing game for a number of years now with numerous rappers taking a different approach to the genre, whether it is going down the EDM infused mainstream route or like West has done on his last couple of albums, changing his style and approach completely. When 808s and Heartbreak was released many eyebrows were raised at the introduction, or re-introduction shall we say of Auto-tune, something West still uses to full extent on his latest record Yeezus. To call 808s and Heartbreak a genre defying piece of music may be a little far-fetched, simply because nobody was expecting it. Dan Cairns of The Times spoke on the matter regarding that album, “This so should not work…Yet 808s & Heartbreak is a triumph, recklessly departing from the commercially copper-bottomed script and venturing far beyond West’s comfort zone.” That is what West excels in compared to his counterparts, he pushes the boundaries within Hip Hop and that is exactly what he has done on Yeezus. Since 808s, Kanye’s Hip Hop routes have been questioned yet they still remain throughout each album since, it’s just a different breed of Hip Hop, with a entirely new sound and style.
My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy followed after a brief hiatus from music making, to which critics praised its ambitious musical range, lavish production style and the divided topical themes. Many have branded the album as an incorporation of West’s previous work including soul, baroque, electro with symphonic elements. Alex Denney of NME stated “It’s an utterly dazzling portrait of a 21st-century schizoid man that is by turns sickeningly egocentric, contrite, wise, stupid and self-mocking.” Until the release of Yeezus, that record was for me the best Kanye West album I had heard.
On Yeezus, West continues this theme yet does it with such grace. Kanye West is a man who loves to be centre of attention, the infamous moment where he interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Music Awards in 2009, was he really that pissed off about Beyoncé not winning the award for ‘Best Female Video’? Whether it is his “passion for fashion” or his music, he always wants to be centre of attention, the talking point and focal point of conversation, yet his music simply speaks for itself. Personally, Yeezus is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year and is probably up there as my favourite Kanye album. His ability to deliver something different to the tedious mainstream pop culture is one of his greatest traits and Yeezus demonstrates that.
Much has been spoken of the influences that inspired West to make Yeezus along with the number of contributors ranging from Justin Vernon to Scottish producer and ½ of production duo TNGHT; Hudson Mohawk. This album is dark to say the least and way out there experimental combining elements from various genres, but what else would we expect from Mr West? He also continues the theme of using unconventional samples, most notably Nina Simone’s cover of ‘Strange Fruit’ which shows the emotional side of West considering TNGHT produced the track using their ‘R U Ready’ trap inspired anthem. Lou Reed spoke of ‘Strange Fruit’ in his review of Yeezus – “He’s so sad in this song. He’s surrounded by everyone except the one he wants – he had this love ripped away from him, before he even knew it.”
‘On Sight’ is a shit scary opening, especially if you forget how high your volume is, it will scare the Yeezus out of you, and if it doesn’t then you clearly didn’t have it loud enough. ‘Black Skinhead’ was finally unveiled as the first and lead single of the album a week or so after its release date, which is unheard of, releasing an album with no singles prior to the release date, again this is another move that separates him from his fellow counterparts. ‘Black Skinhead’ is the love-child of Marilyn Manson and Daft Punk, or certainly sounds like it is. When I first heard ‘Black Skinhead’ on Saturday Night Live I was speechless (in a good way), I literally had no words to explain what I heard, I mean was this Kanye West? The heavy hitting and exuberant drums bursting into your eardrums and the echoing screeches of West make it one of the most talked about singles of the year.
Now anyone who has a track titled ‘I Am God’ is putting themselves in a very awkward position but if there is one person who can condole doing so, that person is definitely Kanye West. He puts you in a position where he wants to be hated by you, I think Lou Reed summarised it perfectly – “once he’s in your good books (a result of how good My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was) it instantaneously makes you dislike him again.”
‘Hold My Liquor’ is quite simply brilliant, the bad man himself Chief Keef even shows his softer side on this record with a mouth-watering collaboration with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) who’s vocals suit perfectly after a uncharacteristic mellow Keef feature. Of course there are going to be a few moments on an album where you weren’t particularly impressed, in this case ‘I’m in it’ the Evian Christ produced track fits that description but there isn’t any particular reason why, even the vocals of Travis Scott which on first listen irritated me, has grown on me. ‘Guilt Trip’ featuring long term collaborator and recently departed G.O.O.D Music member Kid Cudi is another stand out moment, you can’t resist going a little bit crazy when that bass line kicks in after the heavily auto-tuned vocal intro, even when those chopped n screwed vocals begin your sucked in to it and feels like you’re listening to A$AP Rocky on LSD.
Honestly, to summarise Yeezus in a matter of words is a difficult task, I mean have you listened to it? It is incredible yet eccentric and unusual but I think that’s what makes it so fascinating, I mean it’s minimal yet in your face (Rick Rubin was brought in on the project to strip the record down giving it a raw minimalist sound) which is the opposite to what other artists do. When the record feels like the tone is slowly zoning out you’re suddenly hit with another sucker punch, it keeps you on your toes, I wouldn’t recommend listening to Yeezus if you’re struggling with a hangover or hosting a formal party.
Everything about Yeezus is different, from the album cover to the production and style of how the record was put together. The long list of producers and collaborators on this record is a feature in itself but it’s good to see Justin Vernon featuring again after the triumph that was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, alongside upcoming UK producer Evian Christ, newly recruited G.O.O.D Music member Hud Mo and trustee sidekicks Daft Punk rekindling their successful relationship with West. Not only is Yeezus refreshing to hear but also further cements Kanye West’s stamp on the changing face of modern Hip Hop.