Release Date: 6/13/13
When I first heard this album, I had no expectations. I knew almost nothing of Kanye’s music. Needless to say, I was shocked from the get-go. Right off the bat, one is stricken by the abrasiveness of the synth parts, the distorted drums, and the abrupt shifts in sound and style. This album sounds like commercial appeal was one of the last things on Ye’s mind. A truly bold move for such a high-profile artist. Ye was clearly brushing up on his favorite post-punk and experimental rock bands during this era. Of course, the backlash was immense. The fact that Daft Punk co-produced four songs, especially three of the more challenging songs on the album also comes as quite a shock (“On Sight”, “I Am A God”, “Send it Up”).
The decision to strip these albums tracks to their barest elements was a wise one. It really lets each track breathe and the attention to detail paid to the few remaining elements is just sublime. This is in stark contrast to Kanye’s previous album, the maximalist My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This has to be one of the best sounding digital recordings of all time. Just listen to “Black Skinhead”, one of the album’s best tracks and an absolutely phenomenal sounding recording. Like the first track, “I Am A God” also features some loud, abrasive, glitchy electronic sounds, but both “I Am A God” and especially “New Slaves”, are super high-energy bangers. This is not to say Kanye is being highly original here. This all sounds quite influenced by Death Grips and its related underground movement to me, but Kanye adding some more commercial elements to this sound, combined with his seemingly random switch-ups to more typical Kanye-style soul samples, Auto-Tuned vocals, and capacity for nuance, as well as variety of emotion on display, makes for some exciting listening.
“Hold My Liquor” features some of the tamer moments on the album and is quite emotive. “I’m In It” and “Blood on the Leaves” have some incredibly high-energy moments and memorable vocal hooks. “Blood on the Leaves” is a good compromise between his earlier output, 808s & Heartbreak, and the rest of Yeezus. “Guilt Trip” is another nice change in pace and again, features excellent production choices. The album flows quite well considering its variety of sounds. Ye and his team chose a great set of tracks… and set them in the proper order.
The Daft Punk co-produced “Send it Up”, the albums penultimate track, features some of the albums more challenging moments, but it is also one of the most high-energy, and the unexpected vocal hook towards the end is just a giant ear worm. Also, again, the recording just sounds phenomenal. “Bound 2” closes out the album and it’s perhaps the only track that clearly references his older work, though there are still some very Yeezus-esque abrupt changes.
The worst thing about this album is the lyrics, and since it’s a rap album, they’re kind of difficult to ignore. I don’t know what happened in this regard. The lyrics on previous albums generally run the gamut from “pretty good” to “very good.” The lyrics featured here are more “okay” to “bad.” Frequently bad.
Say what you will about the guy, but he’s a creative at heart, and the man’s got taste (when it comes to his own music… highly confused about who he co-sign’s). Overall, Yeezus is an ambitious and bold project that accurately exemplifies Kanye’s artistic integrity and created a fan for life in me with this release.
Highlights: “Black Skinhead”, “I Am A God”, “New Slaves”, “Blood on the Leaves”