Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’: 10 Things We Learned About The Album At His NYC Listening Session
On Monday night (June 10), Kanye West lured a couple hundred fashionistas, friends, creatives and some lowly music writers to a loading dock in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood, surrounded them with giant speakers and free booze, and played Yeezus at a volume that could only be described as “loud as fuck.” And the whole time he was smiling, whether bobbing to the beats or talking up his pals like Jay-Z. Yes, Hov was in attendance, as were Beyonce, Busta Rhymes, Aziz Ansari, Tyson Chandler and Timbaland. And many others that I didn’t see.
West started things off by saying that his new strategy for this album is no strategy. He explained why he’s done no videos and no content on YouTube, saying, essentially, that he didn’t want his product sullied by associating it with all the other nonsense on the Web. He made a comparison saying you wouldn’t sell Louis Vuitton shoes at a place with a bunch of off brands. And just before pressing play on Yeezus, he exclaimed, “This album is about giving. This album is about giving…no fucks at all!”
West played through the 10-track album twice. No album is easy to absorb under those conditions, especially with bass that could be heard two avenues away (seriously), but Yeezus is most definitely not a record that’s easily decipherable after just two listens. But a few certainties emerged throughout the night, so here are 10 things we learned about Kanye’s new album. (Plus check out a Vine of Kanye doing some shout-outs over one of the new beats at the bottom.)
1. Kanye The Great handed over the reigns to Rick Rubin to executive produce the LP. This was a pretty shocking announcement that Ye made near the end of playthrough #2. We already learned that West brought in Rubin for an unspecified role, but it was sort of jarring to realize he trusted someone else enough to oversee such an insular statement album. Maybe he doesn’t have such a God complex after all.
2. Daft Punk were involved with four songs. West also made this announcement just before heading out for the night. The French dance duo, who famously appeared in his “Stronger” video, in some capacity contributed to four songs including “Black Skinhead,” “I Am A God” and “Onsite.”
3. Kid Cudi is on the album. It would appear that this listing of credits was completely bogus. From what I could pick out, there was no sign of Skrillex, James Blake or Tyler, the Creator on the album, though it’s still possible they’re credited for some less overt contributions. One guy who was never really mentioned in the lead-up, though, was Kid Cudi, and he’s on a track doing his trademark Cudders croon-rap. Looks like that G.O.O.D. Music split was amicable after all.
4. Speaking of rap-crooning…Chief Keef basically sings during his guest spot. We knew Chief Keef was on the album, but we had no idea West would enlist Chicago’s gruffest, most polarizing MC to sing the hook. On “Can’t Handle My Liquor,” Keef channels his inner Cudi and it was, well, a total mindfuck.
5. Oh, and Chief Keef is on the same song as Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. It’s true, and it works, and that alone might be enough to garner Kanye the Genius label.
6. There are basically no guest rappers. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Kanye was the only one who delivered legitimate rap verses. King Louie may have rapped on “Send It Up,” but I seem to remember it being only on the hook. So, not only are Yeezy and J. Cole facing off for most sales on June 18, but they’re also competing for fewest rap guests.
7. There’s lots of unsettling sex-as-a-weapon lyricism. That “Hamptons spouse” run on “New Slaves” isn’t the only moment that chillingly uses sex as a vehicle for revenge/intimidation. In fact, there’s a sex jam (which may be the album’s high point) that is probably the most intimidating, un-sexy sex jam ever recorded. There’s a line about a fist and a civil rights sign, and I’m pretty sure one line was “So scared of my penis she go to sleep with a night light.” I could have totally misheard it, maybe it was “of happiness” and I’ve made a fool of myself with a ridiculous mondegreen. But the point is, on Yeezus that line ISN’T OUT OF THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY.
8. It’s less sprawling than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and maybe more sonically cohesive than 808s & Heartbreak. Electro. That was the running theme. Whether it was EDM, industrial, Moombahton or ’80s-style synths, there’s a preponderance of squelching and pulsating here. Interestingly, Kanye prefaced the album by saying he listened to some Joy Division and realized he’s not a soul guy anymore, that he’s New Wave. I’d posit he’s darkwave now.
9. In a rather sneaky move, the album ends like old Kanye. The song with the sample-heavy snippet (one of which was Brenda Lee) that was featured on West’s official site closes out the album. It’s a wonderful nod to the Kanye of 2004-05, like he wanted to give us a sign that the sample-screwing underdog is still alive under all that Givenchy and leather. But even the way he uses the samples has changed: rather than helping to bolster the hook (this is basically an album with no hooks), here they serve as abrupt breaks in the action to let you gather yourself.
10. Kanye’s albums streak is alive and well. As I said up top, it’s impossible to evaluate an album after two listens, especially under such strange circumstances. But it’s clear this is not a dud. It may not be as fun as his old shit, it may not be as epic as his last one, but it’s harder, faster and stronger. Time will tell if it’s better.