ARTIST: Kanye West
In the brief and mysterious run up to Yeezus, the prevailing school of thought was that it would be his club record, one inspired by Chicago house and drill—both a testament to parts of his hometown previously untouched and the natural extension of West’s jet-setting and admiration of high art. While those cultural aspirations certainly define the record’s sonic format and provide a framework for understanding it, the man who once took Freeway and threw him on a track with Mos Def once again proves that his aesthetic innovations are in service of a singular viewpoint—and this time, it’s a confused one.
But where inferior records complicate the artist's conceit and fail to isolate their thematic through-lines, Yeezus is confused only as far as West himself is: How does a rich, black American reconcile the baggage that comes with each of those descriptors? Furthermore, he has (as he says on “I’m In It”) “the kids and the wife life/but can’t wake up from the night life”. The triumph and bombast of “I Am A God” gives way to the powerlessness of “New Slaves”; no amount of focus on his id can kill the romantic in West. The critical and popular reaction to the album has unfortunately been co-opted by thinkpieces and angry tweets about the hedonism that defines Yeezus, but to object to the content misses the point—that very content is what West is wrestling with.
For the forty minutes the record runs, West—making a daring departure from 2010 masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy—deploys sparse production dominated by synths and rumbling low ends. The result is an intoxicating atmosphere that he populates with distorted vocals and lyrics that are ostensibly about the consequences of the aforementioned nightlife, but are as frenzied and immediate as the night itself. While there are few moments as undeniably brilliant as “All Falls Down” or “Runaway” (though “New Slaves” comes close) and while it doesn’t quite measure up to classics like Dark Fantasy, The College Dropout (2004), or Late Registration (2005), Yeezus is an excellent album that fully articulates a thoroughly taboo point of view. Where West pined for domesticity on 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak, he’s now found it—and he feels trapped.
“Got the kids and the wife life, but can’t wake up from the night life”