Buried across thousands of “What the fuck?” reactions on twitter we find that experimental rapper/producer El-P summed up pretty simply what’s up with Kanye West’s current dose of mad genius: his new album “Yeezus”.
its not new like new new, but its new cause its ye and hes huge and most people dont know the music hes referencing. i respect it.
— el-p (@therealelp) June 14, 2013
Marketed in guerrilla fashion with a little over a month between the formal announcement and release date Yeezus skipped the normal single/promotional cycle that we see from artists this big. I guess we can assume that the music was meant to speak for itself (or, cynically, ride the wave of viral hype) and after burying ourselves with the album for the past few days we have an answer.
Kanye has found a way to tone down his increasingly multiplex productions into something sparser and surprisingly more experimental. The beats are stripped down and distorted, with samples sloppily and randomly put together. Half the music on the album takes cues from harder edged industrial and new wave rock music; the apex of which is ‘New Slaves’ which finds a way to snarl along menacingly without even one drum hit.
Yet even this track is tempered with the Kanye of old…on the album version Frank Ocean pops up to croon over a sped up soul sample stapled onto the end of the track.
The album wavers between nods towards the past and angry kicks towards the future. You’ve get vintage “Late Registration” era Kanye rapping on top of a gorgeous soul sample on the album standout, ‘Bound 2’. You also get punk Kanye screaming out a threatening ‘God!’ over and over again to close out the track ‘Black Skinhead.’
Kanye’s experimental turn isn’t bringing anything new to the table as far as sound is concerned, particularly to artists who have been playing with industrial tinged hip-hop for over a decade like El-P above, but watching a mainstream pop star apply it to their craft is nothing less then a shift in the status quo of conventional mainstream hip-hop.
Kanye has turned everything up to ten in this release, and while it falters at moments (a stoned and auto tuned Chief Keef almost ruins “I Can’t Handle My Liquor”, lyrically Kanye equates anger with misogyny a little too much) it’s a thrilling listen. “Yeezus” ‘place in the Kanye canon will probably be debated for a long time. However the fact that he released an album like this at this point in his career is already an accomplishment based on risk alone. Shine on you crazy diamond.