I'm one of those guys. Ever since College Dropout hit the scene I've been a banner carrier for the oft-reviled Kanye West. He is what rap is supposed to be. Braggadocio to the extreme and the sort of rock-star status that only comes when you are making hits so damn big that hardly anyone in the rest of the game can touch you. He's hit us with auto-tuned soul, industrial grind and synth so heavy that I could scarcely determine whether it was rap anymore.
His latest, Yeezus , brings the darkest and most extreme music the man has ever made. This is his Kid A , this is his Trans . I honestly thought he'd scraped down at the bottom for My Beautiful Dark & Twisted Fantasy yet here we are with something even more primal and urgent. There are tracks on this album that offer up nightmarish throbbing beats, grind-synth and vocals drowning vocoder. It has all the staples and themes of what we've come to expect of Kanye but somehow he went to a much more internal place.
What he's done, in the process, is redefine a game he's already helped to shape entirely over the last decade. He's not only ahead of everyone else but ahead of himself even. There were moments listening to this that I had to put the track on stop and just digest. Rap rarely does that to me. Mr. West has managed to accomplish that with his last two albums.
The album opens with one of three Daft Punk produced tracks "On Sight". It's a jarring track that offers up shocking notes yet, sonically, is fucking rich and succulent. We take a journey from there that delivers Jamaican dance-hall alarm and clatter, auto-tuned Soul and some things that might sound familiar if you heard 2008's 808 and the Heartbreaks .
"Hold my Liquor", for example, is a ballad with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver wailing away on the undercurrent of the song with Chief Keef dishing out lyrics that let us know just how forlorn a gangsta can be. The title's big single "Black Skinhead" reminded me a lot of a Marilyn Manson joint like "The Dope Show" just repurposed into being an almost black power anthem yet not.
This could have easily gotten away from Kanye, though. Rick Rubin and that magnificent beard tamed the would-be snarling beast and made it cohesive. The impact of each note and thump hits so hard that there isn't a need for more. It's minimalism in an abrasive and excessive medium that I find so irresistible. "I Am GOD" delivered one of the surprises of the entire album for me with just how nightmarish the throbbing beat was. I felt like that could have been right at home in an episode of American Horror Story honestly and I couldn't get enough.
Lyrically Kanye can be, at times, far above the flock in terms of quality and sometimes not so much. Here he is a bit all over the map but I will say he gave me one of the best bits of spit this year, "Black girl sipping white wine, put my fist in her like the Civil Rights sign." Fuck yes.
Perhaps the best track, though, comes in the sampling of a Nina Simone classic "Blood on the Leaves".