Kanye’s feeling Messianic, persecuted and pursued – Yeezus is a howl of anguish. Whether you think he’s brilliant, ridiculous, or (most accurately) both, it makes for extremely compelling listening.
In decades to come critics will look back on Kanye West’s career as the greatest pop art project of the early 21st century. Whether he’s playing an elaborate, deep cover part or we really are witnessing the descent of a brilliant artist into megalomaniacal madness, you can’t deny that Ye makes banging beats and is always a fascinating, polarising, contradictory lyricist.
Yeezus is so damn angry. For a man who got everything The College Dropout and Late Registration yearned for, he’s still “always looking like somebody stinks.” The beats on Yeezus are stripped-back, heavy, industrial, electronic; it sounds like Yeezy’s been listening to dubstep, but he’s not raving, he’s ranting. This is not easily consumable pop music by a long shot.
Lyrically, it’s all sex and racism – and filled with contradiction at every turn. On ‘New Slaves’ he lambasts Black America for buying into consumerism and “spending everything on Alexander Wang” (without pausing to consider his role in pushing haute couture culture to the working class since Graduation; remember “I don’t see why I need a stylist / When I shop so much I can speak Italian”?). On the brilliantly raunchy ‘I’m In It’ he references the Black Power sign – but in the context of putting “my fist in her like the civil rights sign / … and held it till the right time / and then she came like ‘aaaaaah!’”
Highlight ‘Blood on the Leaves’ sees Ye sample Nina Simone’s upsetting, revolutionary lynching tale ‘Strange Fruit’ and juxtapose it (banally) against lyrics about the dissolution of a sexual relationship that bring to mind the themes of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
‘Black Skinhead’ sees him teetering on the edge of a breakdown – a directionless spray of bile over the beat from Marilyn Manson’s ‘Beautiful People’. ‘I Am A God’ ends with nearly unlistenable screams over menacing bass. But amidst the fury there’s the (intentionally?) hilarious and crude lines about “eatin’ Asian pussy / all I need was sweet’n’sour sauce” and demanding that you “hurry up with ma damn croissants!”