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21 June, 2013@9:13 am

Over the past year, we’ve seen a series of strange episodes from Kanye West, which have included performing dressed in a mask and straight-jacket, and embarking on long, screaming rants during said performances. This, coupled with his very public pregnancy with girlfriend, Kim Kardashian, has almost escalated him to Michael Jackson levels of interest to the media and paparazzi. Never one to control his temper, we’ve seen Kanye try to put on the “nice guy” act during his 2010 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy campaign, resulting in an incredibly, awkward, uncomfortable interview with Matt Lauer, which showed that he cannot hide the man that he truly is.

The strategy moving forward for his latest album, Yeezus, is obviously to embrace his darker side, which means no apologies for manhandling paparazzi or Taylor Swift’s microphone. This is a stripped down Kanye West, a man photographed lately in a simple, all black wardrobe (surely a symbolic gesture), who’s taken a similarly minimalist approach to the release of Yeezus. The album comes with no cover art, has no videos shot for it, and was announced abruptly, just a month before its release. Once the album was 90% complete, Kanye called in Rick Rubin to serve as an executive producer, who broke it down to it’s most basic elements, going for as sparse of sound as possible.

In other words, this is his “Fuck You” album.

But is it any good? Upon first listen, it’s all over the place; a jarring, disjointed, incoherent mess. But like anything, it grows on the listener with each consecutive listen. Admittedly, some of the production does not improve over time, such as the album opener, “On Sight”, an experimental, off kilter track produced by Daft Punk and Benji B. From there, the album gets off to a great start, with the trilogy of “Black Skinhead”, “I Am A God”, and “New Slaves”, each of which find him rhyming with both middle fingers up, over dope, yet extremely pared down beats. It’s here we see the traces of Rubin’s hand.

Yet for an album that is such a departure from anything else he’s done, multiple listens reveal this is unquestionably Kanye. “Hold My Liquor” and “I’m In It” find heavier beats for Ye’s manifesto, while the trap driven “Blood On The Leaves” and “Guilt Trip” slightly hark back to his autotuned 808s & Heartbreak sound. Once it has soaked in, the elements of Kanye’s production style reveal themselves in full regalia.

As a record that challenges its audience, some of these will be hard to grasp even after the listener knows the album front-to-back. Just like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories before it, this isn’t something you can needle-drop, nor deliver a 140 character “review” of it an hour after you snagged the leak. Daft Punk are in fact responsible for two of the album’s best tracks, the aforementioned “Black Skinhead” and “I Am A God”, but also two of it’s worst, with the glitchy opening number “On Sight” and the noisy, elephant-trumpeting closer “Send It Up”. The album ends on an almost Dilla-inspired, classic Kanye production with “Bound 2″.

The fun loving Kanye West of songs like “Good Life”, “Stronger”, and “Gold Digger” is nowhere to be found on this album. Ironically, the success of those songs, actually led to to the paparazzi-hounded, media-scrutinized, no-filter Yeezus persona whom is presented here. This bolder, unapologetic, venting version of West is closer to Chuck D than Jay-Z; his usual brand of beautiful music is exchanged for an almost under-produced sound that forces you to listen to every word he has to say.

Many artists have their own Illmatic – that is, the standard set by themselves that every other release will be compared to, and in Kanye’s case, it really could be any of his albums. While it would have been simple for him to essentially release a new version of the same album every other year, Kanye has taken the road less traveled, and opted to challenge both himself and his audience. While this is not what many were expecting, and some will not be able to enjoy it all, he still has managed to defy expectations and add another solid release to his repertoire.

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29 Responses to "Kanye West – “Yeezus” – @@@@ (Review)"
  • Green Django says:

    Correction Oscar Wilde said that #facts

  • The man the myth says:

    I made the mistake of misreading the chuck d portion of the review, but at the same time, I really don’t care what Kanye has to say about the ills of society. It’s almost as laughable as hearing Obama’s boy toy Jay Z, talk about the ills of the nation. Pizzo, I respect you and loved the Czarface and Ghostface reviews, but just because Kanye is being experimental and trying new things, doesn’t mean it is good. The truth is, this album is beyond wack, and like I said before, I can’t wait until next week to get that Run the Jewels, at least that album will have actual mc’s and real hip hop sounds to it, not daft punk and boring as rhymefest ghostwritten rhymes.

  • Jeezus says:

    You guys are awesome at slaying someone for their opinion! I’m not hearing what anyone has to say that doesn’t acknowledge that Kanye is an absolute genius from his rhymes, to his flow and his production. He deserves to be the every bit the arrogant asshole that he his. And for this album to be labled by many of you as hip pop, that’s some LOL stuff right there. There’s not a pop moment on this album.

    Great review Pizzo and I can’t wait for you to throw a bunch of this album into future installments of Hellafine Fridays.

  • DJ Pizzo says:

    Well, let me add this still only rates a @@@@, which is a “B”, meaning I do believe it has flaws. I hated it on first listen, then really began to like parts of it a week in. I feel that we are usually about a 1/2 @ in either direction with what our reader base is thinking.

    And we’re not moving away from underground to go commercial. We cover everything. We don’t really put things in categories like that, if it’s good, it’s good, if it’s not, it’s not. Over the years, I have gotten over assigning rules to what is or isn’t hip-hop, because I believe said rules limit the boundaries of creativity. That said, releases like Czarface, Ghostface, Killer Mike, El-P, Prodigy and Alchemist, have rated higher than the last couple of projects from Jay-Z, Kanye, etc.

    Our job is to cover hip-hop across the board, that’s why artists like French Montana are covered here. If we only reviewed good stuff, there’d be no @@ rated albums like French’s to compare to.

    I also tend to make sure we are reviewing the album, not the artist. For his behavior, Kanye might get a @@, but his albums usually don’t let us down. I can see why this would not go over well with a percentage of the audience, because there is a predetermined sound that is associated with Kanye that people expect. I applaud him for going against the grain and using the album to actually say something. That’s where the comparison to Chuck D comes in – sure, Chuck was never this level of asshole, nor is he a misogynist. However Chuck, like Kanye, was never afraid to speak his mind, even if it cost him his relationship with the major label system. This also reminds me of Fear Of A Black Planet in some places, because it is so against the grain and has a “fuck you” mentality to it. Different sound sonically, but a bold approach nonetheless.

  • Hodges says:

    I agree with the review, except I actually like On Sight. It’s more of a mood album than anything you can point to as tangibly dope with the lyrics or beats. It’s just a weird journey through a man’s exploration of house and dance, definitely not fit for mass consumption or approval.

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