2013 – Roc-A-Fella/ Def Jam
Rapper Kanye West’s sixth studio album Yeezus is a pounding mixture of hip-hop, industrial, techno, rock, and lyrical poetry, which shifts seamlessly between the disparate musical styles but somehow retains its overarching solidity as an album.
It bursts onto the scene with On Sight which sets this album up to be something really rather special with its hard-trance beat that penetrates deep into the listener’s mind. From here the music continues on from strength to strength with a real display of experimentalism and musical sensibility, the lyrical content, on the other hand, fell more than a little short of my expectations.
Perhaps it was the historically anachronistic line “I keep it three hundred, like the Romans”, or perhaps it was “I am a god, inn a French-ass restaurant, now hurry up with my damn croissants”, but something about the lyrics on this record just came across as reaching for high literary goals but settling for garbled metaphor. I guess most of the rhymes really aren’t all that bad, but none of them are particularly interesting either and so many of them are just so atrocious that it’s actually rather hard to take this album seriously.
Now, usually lyrics this awful would only give me a momentary sense of disappointment, but on Yeezus it is just so clear that Kanye was going for lofty ideals and high literature and when one has such high goals and fails so spectacularly it really is all a bit laughable. I mean, when you make such a biting political statement about African-American stereotypes in a track like New Slaves you can’t just fall back into the same clichés of gangsta-rap materialism straight away in Hold My Liquor, and his butchering of Martin Luther King Junior’s ‘Free At Last’ Speech in I’m In It is just so cringe-worthy that I almost blocked my ears.
I suppose this is all coming across as a bit harsh, and to give credit where credit is due, I would say that, despite Kayne’s persistent misinterpretations of literary references and obvious rhymes, there is a actually a lot of interesting ideas floating around throughout this record. Kanye deals with all manner of things such as racism in America, the perils of fame, and the problems of street life which is really something nice to hear on a rap record rather than the usual spate of ‘bling, bling and more bling’. It’s just a real shame that these ideas and themes were handled in the way that they were. It just made it all so hard for me to get into and appreciate.
But, enough talk of lyrics and album themes because it’s time to talk about the real highlight of this record: the music itself, which is truly just magnificent. Every track just has such a great mixture of styles throughout it, but it’s all expertly connected by a silver thread of intelligently self-aware flair. The New Orleans’ jazz cum eighties Goth-synth of Blood On The Leaves, for example, is a real musical treat for a genre of music that usually works with a pretty standard line-up of drum and bass records. Not to mention that tracks glorious incorporation of Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit to add an eerie quality and duality of meaning to the lyrical content of the song. Really, the music on this record is inspired; it just blends so well such a wonderful mismatch of styles into something that at the same time makes the listener strain their ears out of academic interest and whip their hair back and forth in pure carnal joy.
Still though, the music on Yeezus, as wonderful and exciting as it is, can’t ever really make up for the lack of quality words. I mean, rap really is a genre where the lyrics are brought to the fore and Kanye seems on this album to be actively trying to set himself up as a poet for a generation and when you fall this short of your goal you can never truly produce a great record. I’m not saying it’s bad, but I’m definitely not saying it’s good. I mean, its odd mixture of definite pros and cons make it hard to eve call it mediocre! All I can really say about it is that it’s a strange experience to give this record a proper listen, and I would say that it is worth giving a listen just to see for yourself what it’s like. That said, once the hype around it dies down, I don’t think it’s something that’s going to stick around.
Here is one of the better and more experimental tracks from Kanye West’s latest record ‘Yeezus’
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