Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’: Album Review

When Kanye West was creating Yeezus, he was (supposedly) in love, and on the cusp of fatherhood — cloying stuff that’s supposed to lead to “Glory” or The 20/20 Experience‘s contented glow. But Ye is not fucking with that “Suit & Tie” shit, and instead turned out his loudest, angriest and most subversive album yet. (There’s a hefty dose of ex obsession, as well.) It’s a 10-track blast of dystopian bangers that suggests an urgency, as if he thinks he’ll never be able to make an album like this once he’s a dad.

The few tidbits of information we were given about Yeezus leading up to its release indicated this would be West’s protest album. Turns out that was all misdirection and it’s actually his sex album. And like sex, Yeezus is exciting, primal, exhausting, disgusting and, well, pretty mind-blowing.

West’s songwriting strength has always been his hooks, and so the boldest move in an album full of bold moves is his decision to abandon earworm choruses, betting that each song’s sonic assault would stay with listeners the way the refrain from, say, “Gold Digger” did. And it’s a winning gambit — industrial scrapes grind your speakers down to dust, depth charges of bass rattle your gut, jagged synths slice through yawning emptiness. Kanye described it as his “minimalist” album, but we probably could’ve guessed that Kanye’s minimalism would still create an unholy racket that makes everything else out there — rock, rap, dubstep — sound like little puppy sneezes.

Executive producer Rick Rubin sandblasted away all the extravagance of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch The Throne, as most songs fall in the three or four minute range. But the rhythmic shifts and codas survived the purge and came out stronger, making the intra-song detours more unpredictable. Right when you think a track has hit its groove, the beat disintegrates and morphs (see: the “New Slaves” and “I Am A God” outros, Charlie Wilson‘s “Bound 2″ refrain, etc.). As a result, Yeezus never lets the listener get comfortable, instilling a sense of unease and restlessness.

(If this all sounds unenjoyable so far, I assure you that the clanging and rumbling is tamed just enough to make the material suitable for your workout mix or at two in the morning in some shadowy, sweaty den of debauchery.)

As with all of Kanye’s albums, the opening stretch of tracks is pretty much unimpeachable. The first four songs are as invigorating as they are foreboding, initially making Yeezus seem front-loaded. But it’s actually the middle of the album where things get radical. “I’m In It” takes the most doom-laden dancehall foundation West has ever used, along with the creepiest screwed-down vocals he has ever used, and combines that menace with filthy, Weezy-esque sexcapades. To cap it off, Bon Iver‘s gentle Justin Vernon does some mecha-crooning about starfuckers.

West follows that with even more lunacy on “Blood On The Leaves,” probably his most dissonant, self-indulgent song to date. On top of TNGHT‘s monstrous trap stomp (which sounds like the Inception trailer on all the steroids), Ye samples the civil rights classic “Strange Fruit,” and proceeds to use it as a motif for a song about child support and side beef. By the end, West’s Auto-Tuned mewling, Nina Simone‘s screwed yelping and TNGHT’s blaring foghorn tangle into an obnoxious, hypnotic bleat.

To close things out, after nine tracks of demonic, “Mercy”-style throbbing, 808s sadtronica and Dark Twisted Fantasy Nightmares, West suddenly tosses the sinister stuff to the side and offers up the soulful, playful “Bound 2,” as if to fuck with everyone who can’t fuck with post-2008 Ye.

This resurrection of early Yeezy serves as a clever reminder that Yeezus operates on the pop scale, and will likely shift that scale. With this album, West has brought the dark underbellies of micro-genres like glitch and grime into the mainstream arena — similar to how Radiohead introduced countless rock fans to minimalist electronica via Kid A. Like many significant albums, Yeezus serves the essential function of being a musical shepherd.

So, yes, we may have wanted a more political use of “Strange Fruit.” We may have wanted an album full of “New Slaves”-style rhetoric. Hell, we may have just wanted a damn melody. But as the choir in “On Sight” declares, “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.” Nobody asked Kanye to do a witch house song about fisting, but it turns out that’s exactly what pop music was missing.

Idolator Score: 4.5/5

Carl Williott

Are you praising Yeezus or is it the work of a hip-hop heretic? Let us know below, or by hitting us up on Facebook and Twitter.

  • MCG

    A 4.5 out of 5? I’m sorry but this album doesn’t deserve anything over a 3. Aside from New Slaves and Black Skinhead this is clearly Ye’s worst album to date. Same garbage autotuned bullsh!t and forgetful hooks that should’ve been left behind with 808′s. The self proclaimed hip-hop deity has become more concerned with boasting his image than creating quality music. Counting down to Magna Carta…

  • Jrsct

    Overrated. Different isn’t always better.
    Kanye is combining over the top techno beats with soulful samples? What? How did this get a 4.5?

  • Praise Yeezus

    kanye’s FU to the pop music industry that he helped create in the 21st century. Proud of him, for doing what he loves. Personal gratification over creating BS for the masses. Read “Hunger Artist” by Kafka and you’ll understand Kanye’s motivation. Yeezus was Kafkaesque.

  • jim

    not good album overrated

  • Chishiba Bernabéu

    Black Skinheads and New Slaves, thats all i can say for now.

  • ChewTheDirt

    The album is loaded with anti-climatic beats made on a 1996 Garage Band, numerous egotistical lines about the many sports cars he owns, and of course, his new hit single I am God. Someone needs to club this POS. I am God? Are you kidding, bro? Your an artist who makes songs that a majority of the population says they like but immediately follow up by saying “good song, but I hate Kanye”. Congrats, you will be remembered as the guy everyone shook their heads at. “A living, breathing rockstar”. More like a living, breathing embarrassment. – ChewTheDirt.com

    • Joel Haushinka Pragnell

      Thank you for the Garageband reference, my thoughts exactly!