Kanye West – Yeezus
Kanye’s still mad even though he’s rich, writes JODY MACGREGOR in response to Yeezus.
In a recording room in Paris, Kanye West leans over the console. His hand hovers above the dials, his eyes flicking back and forth. Finally, decisively, he reaches for a knob marked “FEROCITY” and turns it all the way up. Rick Rubin nods appreciatively. In the background, Daft Punk seem to shiver for an instant. Is it an illusion, or a temporary glitch, or is it possible for robots to know fear?
The intern who brings their morning pastries is running late.
The more people hate Kanye West the more hungry he sounds. After lazily loping through his own subconscious on 808s & Heartbreak, Taylor Swiftgate happened and he had to record My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to prove to us that he was worth all the trouble. Which he did, handily. And now that he’s made both an album showing off all his talented friends and Watch the Throne, an album where respectable family man Jay-Z endorsed him at length, he gets to cut loose again. But instead of lazy indulgence, this time what came out is rage.
Although Yeezus isn’t dripping in expensive cameos like studded diamonds it does feature a lot of producers. Daft Punk, Rick Rubin, Hudson Mohawke, Mike Dean, the Heatmakerz, West himself and several more, often credited six-deep per track. Apparently it takes six other producers to make one Aphex Twin, because that’s the kind of ominous industrial electro he’s backed by for most of Yeezus. It’s dark as anything but able to turn uplifting at any moment, synths and drum machines giving way to choral samples as if it’s the most natural thing in the world when it should be as incongruous as your local church group invading a Nine Inch Nails concert.
Religious analogies come easily and not just because the album’s called Yeezus. There’s a song called ‘I Am a God’ that’s even more egomaniacal than you would expect a song called ‘I Am a God’ to be. What is Kanye a god of anyway? Hip-hop? Self-belief? Vanity? Being provocative? Like Zeus it seems as if the main thing he wants to do with godhood is use it to get his penis inside stuff.
In ‘On Sight’ he enjoys rapping about putting his dick in someone’s mouth almost as much as Nicki Minaj does. The song is full of impressively crass lines about the effect Kanye’s presence has on the club he’s in, like “Soon as I pull up and park my Benz/We get this bitch shaking like Parkinsons”. He’s been saving up all these zingers and now he’s raining them down on us like dollar bills.
“Kanye’s specialist subject is still Kanye.”
‘I Am a God’ opens with a reference to ‘Monster’ and ‘Black Skinhead’ references ‘Power’, giving him another superhero theme song. (It also uses a shuffle beat that depending on your age you’ll either think he pinched from Marilyn Manson or Gary Glitter, or if you’re really young maybe Battles). He goes back further into his own back catalogue on ‘Bound 2’, rapping over the kind of soul samples he favoured on his first albums. But it’s ‘Diamonds From Sierra Leone’ off Late Registration that I keep being reminded of – the way it brought up the politics of conflict diamonds only to toss the idea away in favour of letting Jay-Z rap about how his label was doing.
All the stuff about racism in America on Yeezus is there to provide context for why Kanye’s still mad even though he’s rich. In ‘Blood On the Leaves’ he samples Nina Simone’s ‘Strange Fruit’ but ignores its subject matter, using a song about lynchings as the basis for another song about gold diggers. But then the killer horns from TNGHT’s ‘R U Ready’ kick in, and it’s hard to find fault in something this bombastic and ludicrous. Which sums up the whole album, really.
‘Strange Fruit’ is also referenced in ‘New Slaves’, which does a better job of actually going somewhere with its politics (and, no surprise, the Frank Ocean outro sounds much better than it did recorded on a phone pointed at a building). But Kanye’s specialist subject is still Kanye and even if each album where that remains true brings him another step closer to recreating that scene in Being John Malkovich (“Malkovich Malkovich? Malkovich!”) his navel-gazing remains the best and most fascinating navel-gazing around.
In ‘Send It Up’, another song about a girl in a club, he raps, “Tight dress dancing close to him/Yeezus just rose again.” Does that mean Yeezus is just the nickname he calls his penis? The stand-up routine Aziz Ansari gets out of this album is going to be hilarious.
Yeezus is out today (June 18) on Universal Music Australia.