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Album Review: Kanye West 'Yeezus'

Kayne West

Kanye West’s latest release, Yeezus—a portmanteau of Jesus and Yeezy; a commonly accepted nickname for the cheeseburger munching, fur-coat sporting rapper—is exactly what one would expect: cutting edge.

The album is fantastically produced, with overarching symphonic and sampled elements, almost grime-like flows, backed by wub, dub, trap and industrial beats.

The raw edge and garage feel to Yeezus come from the recording process. West set up a recording studio in his, ‘No Name Hotel,’—a loft in Paris, forsaking his traditional intensive studio routine. The Guardian reports West as saying, “With this album, we ain't drop no single to radio. We ain't got no NBA campaign, nothing like that. Shit, we ain't even got no cover. We just made some real music.”

The raw, thunking beats derived from samplers that sound like they’re malfunctioning, and a lack of consideration for popular culture exemplifies West’s growth musically. He has moved from traditional R&B style beats from his early days, progressing through to the use of synths, samples, auto-tune and keys, to 808s & Heartbreaks, which featured heavy electronic beats, gradually leading to the over-produced masterpiece that was West’s last solo release: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Sonically grating and aurally offensive, Yeezus is the next Frankenstein’s monster of pop that West seems to be able to predict and shape with every release. The style of Yeezus also ties together some of the loose ends seen in his previous records; it’s not way out of left field, it retains West’s watermark and solidifies his role in popular culture.

Lyrically, Yeezus is almost as raw as it is aurally. Acts like OFWGKTA; Tyler the Creator, Earl, Mike G, etc. have re-pioneered cussing and violent and sexist imagery. It would appear West has noted this trend and has become significantly more expressive in the realms of cursing—potentially sick of the, ‘Will Smith of modern radio-rap,’ image that has been following and beguiling him for some time now. That being said, with West’s background, reputation and image, there’s no way he could possibly reach the vulgarity that other popular rappers and hip-hop artists get away with. Some of the more guttural and primal elements of Yeezus seem forced at times and their impact is negated by the smooth transition back into West’s token auto-tuned warble.

The production credits read like a who’s who of music: long time collaborators Daft Punk feature on the album, alongside Lupe Fiasco, 88-Keys and No ID. Yeezus has less contributors than West’s previous release and it’s evident that the trend towards minimalism in electronic music has affected the way he has recorded this album.

Yeezus shows growth in West’s career, something that up until 808s & Heartbreaks, seemed almost impossible. West was pigeonholed for his production skills and suckling at the teat of what was popular at the time. Making music that fits into pop culture and is relevant to a time and place is an art long dead, but West is trying his hardest. This album unveils some grit, and most importantly, attitude, which West has been lacking since his salad days with Dilated Peoples, or his first album, The College Dropout. Yeezus seems real: like it’s about something; what, is uncertain. It’s unhappy at times, dissonant, yet it has the agency to act on its disenfranchisement. It’s not about an unattainable place in culture, adorned with soulful lyrics about emotions and situations that are barely relatable to the general public. That being said, West is an amazing producer, and an incredibly talented artist: he could just be fooling us all.

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