Going into this year, this album was my most anticipated. I didn’t know much about it at all, no name, no release date or who would be involved in terms of producers or features. I just knew that it was a new album from my favorite rapper. Kanye West’s last album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of my top ten favorite albums all time. I love all of his previous albums and would grade all of them as an A. It just figures that Yeezus would be something I would love. Before hearing his May 18th Saturday Night Live performance, I was cautiously optimistic. Both songs, “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” were angry, focused, and filled with conscious references. I figured the final product would be his best yet.
The album gets off to a robotic start with the Daft Punk produced “On Sight”. Daft Punk actually co-produced a few tracks on the album and did a really good job. This is a good song except it was short. It feels like Kanye could have fleshed this one out more with another verse at least. I did enjoy the line “One last announcement. No sports bra, let’s keep it bouncing,” and a few of the other examples of Mr. West’s signature wordplay. I also like the callback with the line, “I need you right now” to another Daft Punk collaboration, the smash hit “Stronger” from Graduation. With this, the album gets off to a good start.
Although the studio version lacks some of the intensity of the SNL performance, “Black Skinhead” also co-produced by Daft Punk, is still a furious track. Lyrically West is on the attack. He comes after everyone that has come back on him. The lyric, “If I don’t get run out by Catholics, here come some conservative Baptists,” is just one example. I like the tribal sounding beat that is reminiscent of Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”.
When I first heard that there was a track called “I Am A God”, I was really worried. In actuality it is not nearly as bad as I had imagined. Kanye lets you know a little about his beliefs, “I am a god, even though I’m a man of God. My whole life in the hands of God.” Despite the previous line Kanye still comes across as a little blasphemous, with faux conversations with Jesus and lines like, “I know he the most high, but I am a close high.” Regardless of thoughts on the lyrical content, the Daft Punk co-produced song itself is pretty good and even features Justin Vernon of Bon Iver.
“New Slaves” is an engaging track and my favorite on the album. It features Frank Ocean on the bridge and is the last song of the songs that Daft Punk co-produced. I love the rich nigga/broke nigga racism lines. He addresses a lot of taboo and controversial opinions and I applaud him for using his platform to voice them. It is that sense of conscious rapping that initially drew me to Mr. West in the first place. “Y’all throwing contracts at me, you know that niggas can’t read.” Everything on this song is raw, the beat, West’s voice and especially the lyrics. He attacks the prison system, privileged 1%ers in the Hamptons, and the media for their respective roles in creating new slaves.
I didn’t initially love “Hold My Liquor” but it grew on my with subsequent listens. The features from Chief Keef & Justin Vernon are well done, surprisingly. I also think it is a nice change of pace as it slower and less aggressive than the first four tracks. “I’m In It” is definitely my least favorite song and not even a Justin Vernon feature can save it. This sex obsessed track is just too blunt except for the “Unh I know you need that reptile” line. That was pretty clever.
“Blood On The Leaves” This song has a really prominent sample of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and features Tony Williams. I like the pacing of this song too. This song is about leaving the club and party scene. Some of it Kanye misses and other parts he will not miss at all. The last verse of the song seems like a sequel to “Gold Digger”, a reminder to high rollers, ballers and players that there can be a downside to the party life.
“Guilt Trip” is another short song but I feel like it feels more complete than “On Sight”. The lyrics are strong and give a little insight into his relationship with Kim Kardashian. This is another great example of how great Kid Cudi is on a hook. The siren goes off and “Send It Up” begins. The song features King L and Beenie Man more than I would have liked. They aren’t bad I just wanted more gems from Yeezy like this, “She say ‘Can you get my friends in the club?’ I say ‘Can you get my Benz in the club?’ If not, treat your friends like my Benz park they ass outside ’til the evening end.”
“Bound 2” feels like a classic College Dropout track with a soul sample which is great. The track sticks out like a sore thumb though so that might bother some people. Charlie Wilson lays down some great vocals as usual on the hook and bridge. There are some great lines like “Rock Forever 21 but just turned thirty.” This seems to be another song that references his relationship with Kim. It is great to hear these heart-on-the-sleeve, deeply personal lyrics from West. I also really liked the way Kanye ends the album’s last verse, “After all these long-ass verses, I’m tired, you’re tired. ‘Jesus wept'” The album and all of his work in general, is the best when Kanye is delivering clever lines like those. Perfect way to end the album.
The album is less layered and complex musically than his previous releases and in some places it works well and others it is severely lacking. Overall the album is solid but it is on the bottom of my rankings of Kanye’s discography. I will still play this a ton and enjoy it but I think this album was made to be as raw and impetious possible. This is fine, except it needed a little polish, even if it was to just hide some of this disc’s evident scars never seemed to take the time to clean it up. If he did then the album would have been ever better. After all my expectations, the reality fell a short, it was still a good album but compared to the other masterpieces in Kanye’s collection, it was simply good, but that makes for an entertaining listen.