Hurry up with my damn croissants.
Kanye West, "Yeezus"
This is Kanye West's demand on a song called “I Am A God” -- a song in which he examines his own legacy and comes to the title conclusion. It's sandwiched by “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves,” and this all comes after the opener, “On Sight,” where he asks “How much do I not give a fuck?”
The answer is that Kanye gives zero fucks and that he gives more fucks than us mortals dare grapple with. He's interested in besting himself and making Art. He cares deeply about his place in history and changing history. But this means he's going to do whatever he wants, and if we don't like it, well, screw us. At this point in his career he has to not care and try crazy things. He has to throw himself off the cliff or just walk away.
So, on Yeezus
, Kanye goes over the edge in a production assisted by Daft Punk, HudMo, Malik Yusef and Justin Vernon, with appearances from Frank Ocean, Chief Keef and Kid Cudi. The resulting 10 tracks are abrasive and beautiful, powerful and self-conscious, dead serious and laugh-out-loud absurd. For every outlandish sexual proclamation, there's a jagged-edged knife into the heart of racism. The same song that samples Nina Simone's delicate and poignant “Strange Fruit” will knock you flat when the distorted, blaring horn beat drops in.
The heavily house-influenced production delivers air horns and dance hall vocals on “Send It Up,” while the last 1:30 of “Hold My Liquor” is a beautiful -- not to mention woozy and menacing -- soundscape. “Guilt Trip” features waves of 8-bit flourishes, and the elastic synths of the Daft Punk-produced “On Site” are what the Tron soundtrack could have been. Listen closely to any of it and you'll hear the influence of Kanye's collaborators, and you'll recognize the sounds and ideas because they're not new. But it is new for a Kanye record, and we're in a world where a new Kanye record is an event. As promised, the production has been stripped down and focused on IDM, and that's a long way from the bombast of College Dropout
or even My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
And here's the thing about Yeezus
. More than ever, Kanye is forcing us to examine our reactions to his music. How are you supposed to feel about enjoying the hell out of a banger rhythm that accompanies lyrics about lynchings? What are we supposed to think of Kanye holding racism up for us to gawk at, then hurling it in our faces and getting sexually aggressive? Is it OK to turn that up at a party?
When you're done worrying, you realize this is what art is supposed to do. He got us. Yeezus
isn't flawless. “Bound 2” feels like a limping finish and, make no mistake, a lot of the stuff that comes out of Ye's mouth is patently ridiculous. But it makes you think and feel -- hard -- and sounds fantastic in the process. Kanye didn't step off the cliff. He flung himself off and we're running over the edge after him like lemmings.