10 thoughts on the rapper's unhinged new album.
Photo: Photo By: Gregorio T. Binuya/Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
Because Kanye West's new album, Yeezus, leaked last week, most everyone who really cares has already heard it, even though it wasn't officially released until today. And the anticipation/reaction has been intense enough to overshadow his other new release (that would be his first child with Kim Kardashian, born on Saturday). Yeezus is an album that takes some time to digest, so most everything you've read or heard about it is probably slightly premature (much like Kanye's newborn, who dropped five weeks before the official due date. Don't worry though, the baby is apparently doing just fine). In other words, the way listeners respond to Yeezus will almost certainly change as they've had a chance to spend some time with it. But that's not going to stop us from weighing in with 10 early observations:
1. This is not a "pop" record. When it was playing here in the Maxim office yesterday (Um, make that this morning! If it had been playing yesterday that would have been illegal. So it was definitely this morning), someone noted that there doesn't seem to be any potential hit singles on the album. And that may be true. And how many fucks does Kanye give about that? Zero. He gives zero fucks.
2. Also, this is not an album suited to playing in an office, even one like Maxim's. It's intense, dark, heavy, and aggressive. This is headphone music, the kind of music that, when you're walking through New York blasting it on your iPod, makes you want to plow through your fellow pedestrians like Richard Ashcroft in the Verve's video for "Bittersweet Symphony." It'd also be great blasting from your car speakers, though it may encourage acts of road rage.
3. This past weekend saw 41 people injured in a series of shootings in Kanye's native Chicago. Yeezus leaked last Friday. Coincidence? Who knows, but the album would make an ideal soundtrack to some violent, urban apocalypse, so when the temperature climbs this summer, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that it acts like Public Enemy in "Do the Right Thing." And that's not necessarily a good thing.
4. In case you hadn't guessed yet, Yeezus may not appeal fans of 'Ye's maximalist pop extravaganzas from previous albums. According to a recent must-read interview in the New York Times, West played a cut of the record for super-producer Rick Rubin, who stripped away much of the bombast, leaving the a rickety framework that Kanye calls "aspiration minimalism."
5. Despite his outrageous fashion choices and gaudy bling, West seems to be conflicted on the topic of urban consumerism. While he raps about his Porches, Benzes, leather jeans, and (hilariously) croissants in "New Slaves," he also calls bullshit on the stereotype of a culture obsessed with the trappings of luxury: "Come in, please buy more/What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?/All you blacks want all the same things." Is he turning a corner? Trying to have it both ways? Who knows!
6. In that New York Times interview, Kanye compares himself to Michael Jordan, Quincy Jones, Steve Jobs, Howard Hughes, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, and more. On Yeezus, meanwhile, he compares himself to (you guessed it) Jesus! So his ego is intact.
7. Throughout the album, Kanye delves into racism, sampling Nina Simone's haunting version of Billy Holiday's "Strange Fruit." On the other hand, he frequently applies civil rights imagery to more, um, prurient, pursuits: "Your titties, let 'em out, free at last/Thank God almighty, they free at last"; "Uh, black girl sippin' white wine/Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign." After hearing those lyrics, what should we expect from his next album? "We shall overcome someday/And I shall come all over you today?"
8. Even though Yeezus is far more skeletal and Kanye's previous releases, he hasn't totally forsaken his trademark use of sped-up soul samples. It's just that here he uses them to dark — rather than sunny — effect (see that use of "Strange Fruit").
9. Whether or not the music-buying public flocks Kanye's way, the critics have already weighed in, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Pitchfork gives Yeezus 9.5 out of 10 stars, Rolling Stone gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars, and EW gives it an A-. So maybe Kanye will finally get that Album of the Year Grammy he's been lusting after.
10. Upon it's release in 2010, Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was hailed as a masterpiece, and topped numerous end-of-year best album lists, but still didn't win that Grammy. Think of Yeezus as Kanye's Terrible Dark Twisted Nightmare. Whether or not it ascends to the heights of Fantasy is yet-to-be determined, but it's definitely worth your time. Just be sure to listen through your headphones or in your car. And be sure to play it loud.
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