Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: 'Yeezus' (Grade: N/A)

Nothing presented a greater challenge in my short and humble reviewing career than Kanye West's sixth solo LP. My inability to conclusively grade this album (N/A) over the course of the past month will be explained. The archetypal review wouldn't suffice for undoubtedly the most controversially received Kanye album since '808's and Heartbreaks'. This subjective synopsis is only meant to depict the undying tension I possess as it pertains to 'Yeezus', meant only to describe my ultimately impartial standing when it comes to the conundrum that lies within this 10-track LP.

After several complete listens of 'Yeezus', the first and only definitive conclusion I arrived at was this: if you're strictly a rap music fan, this isn't the Kanye West album for you. In fact, you probably hate it. Sonic craze manifests with "On Sight"; the Daft Punk-produced introduction blasts with boisterous electronic and analog synth patterns for a texture that originally feels more like a video game than a rap song. "Black Skinheads", although serving as one of the few lyrically substantial approaches, strays even further from your habitual rap mold; the hip-rock approach accentuates the "rock" portion with it's production of bass guitars, blaring drums, and obviously, screaming. The first two songs jump out at you impulsively, likely resulting in some initial head-scratching. They're loud, provocative, and frenzied. "Blood on the Leaves" presents another contentious encounter; Nina's Simone's "Strange Fruit" sample segues into auto-tune Kanye, eventually clashing with a sample from production duo TNGHT, which adds a vibrant element that's been catering to DJ's and clubs feverishly.

My pressing reservation about this album indeed lies in the substance of lyrical content. After all, this is still the person I consider to be my favorite rapper. The first problem is quite practical, there isn't enough of it; all ten songs do not contain full rap verses, and if he's not singing, well, its "swag-hili". The second problem is it provides me with short handed take aways and mostly Kanye's arrogantly crafted braggadocio. All that being said, I do think his ability to rap anything flavorful over something as radical as "On Sight" is extremely commendable (and impossible for anyone else); I think his delivery and specifically first verse on "I Am A God" can be overlooked, despite it's contention; I think his entrance on "Hold My Liquor" resounds after Chief Keef's ensemble; but essentially, the safest and most memorable verse is "New Slaves". The first released, worldwide projected single and fraternal twin of "Clique" gave us the rambunctious, ranting version of 'Ye that still seems interested in and awfully capable of delivering consciously crass rap music.

What I've come to accept is that I enjoy 'Yeezus' for reasons that largely contradict the standards I've accumulated over the course of Kanye's previous five solo albums. For instance, "I'm in It" is likely one of the more widely listenable tracks due to it's grappling bass undertones, Bon Iver's hovering vocals, and one of 'Ye's vintage reggae samples from Assassin. Synthetically, it's phenomenal, but the content, much like "Hold My Liquor", is essentially pretty shallow. I so much as resent that I enjoy the supplementing sounds of these songs more than Kanye's actual lyrics about "eating Asian p*ssy" and his array of drunken affairs. Not without mentioning "Guilt Trip", which is arguably saved by Kid Cudi after a swift sing-rap scheme from 'Ye over that all-too-familiar "Blocka" sample. Lyrical substance is clearly not the focal point of each song, which for anyone who truly understands and reveres Kanye's lyrical resume', is terribly bothersome.

By the time you reach the final two songs, "Send it Up" and "Bound 2", which represent two distinctly different contexts, a brief journey of distortedness only becomes more dissonant. The former is another cut meant for house clubs and dance halls, with more of a verse from fellow Chicago native King Louie than Kanye himself, concluding with the Beenie Man "Stop Live In A De Pass" sample. Listeners can gravitate and cling to the latter because of the obscure 1971 Ponderosa Twins sample that embodies the sole depiction of classic and vulnerable Kanye. No two songs on 'Yeezus' are necessarily compatible, each seemingly depicting it's own short film as opposed to blending together for a cohesive composition.

I made reference to Kanye's '808's and Heartbreaks' album because of the friction that resulted from the project in 2007. Such an atypical approach and sound, which literally had no rapping from 'Ye, caused dismay among us who rightfully hold Kanye to the highest of rap echelons. For those (like me) who sincerely enjoyed '808's', it became a senseless task to pitch it's musical prowess to those who couldn't understand it, or didn't want to. We face a similar conundrum now, where those in full opposition to 'Yeezus' are adamant in it's minimalist flaws and experimental perplexities. My final dispute lies within the unsettling notion that I can't confidently defend this album, like I felt I could with '808's', or with someone who would dare argue that 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' wasn't a masterpiece. As it stands, I both recognize and acknowledge the areas where people can't get down with 'Yeezus'. At the same time, I won't pretend as if the sounds don't resonate with the vibes of my preference; as if I don't sing along with Kanye's C-Murder rendition in "Blood on the Leaves"; as if I don't love the Prince punch line on "Send it Up"; as if I don't shamefully connect with the dark density of "Hold My Liquor"; as if I don't still admire the Jamaican samples on "I Am A God", "I'm in It", and "Send it Up"; as if "Black Skinheads" and "New Slaves" don't evoke the lashing out mentality that I probably love most about 'Ye; and as if I don't know by now that Kanye West is the ultimate innovator, outlaw, and pusher of boundaries. 'Yeezus' irrefutably transcends any kind of critique on an objective scale, and for those of us who continue to enable the endless risks and attempt to justify each volatile act, I think it's fair to say we're in for more friction and conundrums for the unforeseeable future.



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