It’s hard to believe that Kanye West’s debut, College Dropout, came out nine years ago—not only in terms of how much he’s evolved, but also in terms of how much his ego has flourished. With Yeezus, that fortified ego doesn’t quite seem to be warranted. Although it’s a solid addition to West’s body of work, there is something inauthentic about his transition to the more electronic, dubstep side of the music realm. Though West’s talents have always integrated well with other genres, this is the type of album that might be better off as instrumental.
Opening with the electro-tinged “On Sight,” produced by Daft Punk, West establishes an immediate alteration in his musical style. The harmonious collaboration between Daft Punk and West was evident on his sampling of “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”—“On Sight” is a continuation of their seamless symbiosis. The subsequent track, “Black Skinhead,” is a throwback to the West of College Dropout and Late Registration days. The Lupe Fiasco (who helped produce this track) influence is apparent as well, with a sound that vaguely mirrors a Depeche Mode song (namely “Personal Jesus”). More egocentric lyrics abound as West screams, “I’m aware I’m a king/Back out the tomb, bitch!” It’s one of those points on the album where you wish you could remind West that he’s just a man from Chicago. Even Purple Rain-era Prince was never this vainglorious.
Perhaps the most likely thesis statement of the album “I Am A God” (featuring, ahem, God) begins with an abrasive, erratic beat to set the tone for this anthem of megalomania. The assertions and demands of the song don’t quite come off as West insists, “I am a God, hurry up with my damn massage…/Hurry up with my damn croissants.” Overall, the absurd nature of the song makes it about as easy to take seriously as Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
Continuing with an electronic motif, “New Slaves” possesses a sinister air that makes it one of the most memorable songs on Yeezus. The daring, shock-inducing lyrics recall some of West’s more emboldened offerings on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne, including, “You see there’s leaders and there’s followers/But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” “Hold My Liquor” is one of the few tracks on Yeezus that focuses more on West’s vocals rather than the accompanying beat. With a surreal, occasionally harsh aural background, the song mirrors the irritation and confusion of waking up with a hangover. Admitting, “I can’t handle no liquor/But these bitches can’t handle me,” West appears to be at his most melancholic on this song.
“I’m In It” starts out with a salacious series of moans as West utters a variety of sexual musings like “You know I need that wet mouth/Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign.” Thus, it takes no time to discern that what West is in is, well, a vag. Other lyrics like,“Your titties, let them out/Free at last/Thank God almighty, free at last” are just as difficult to take seriously—not to mention probably have Martin Luther King blushing with shame from beyond the grave.
With its immediate biblical reference, “Blood on the Leaves” borrows from Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit.” Blending simultaneous gruffness and gentleness, this song exhibits the same Gemini qualities as West himself—that is to say, auditory duality. The following song, “Guilt Trip” features a desolate tone and is largely forgettable, standing apart solely because of how inconsistent it is with the rest of Yeezus. Featuring vocals from Beenie Man, “Send It Up” actually sounds a lot like the music of Zebra Katz with its ominous and menacing undertones. Yet another track produced by Daft Punk, “Send It Up” is one of the best moments on Yeezus.
“Bound 2” serves as an homage to a 60s Motown vibe—a genre that West pairs well with. The sweet sounding chorus, “I know you’re tired of loving with nobody to love” contrasts sharply with West’s declared desire, “I wanna fuck you hard in the sink.” But somehow, this contrast is what makes “Bound 2” the most favored song of the album.
With the annoyance of West’s self-obsession aside, there are undoubtedly moments of greatness on Yeezus. It’s just that said greatness might be better suited to someone with more humble propensities.