Nobody can say West didn’t warn us. His new album, “Yeezus”—which leaked four days ahead of Tuesday’s scheduled release—is as dark and abrasive as the first two songs he put out, “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead,” promised. It’s also as daring and infectious as anything he’s done, and demands to be heard with speakers on blast.
Stark electronic beats, driving dancehall riddims and menacing bass lines underpin his rants on race, sex, commercialism and celebrity. He almost dares you to let your attention wander, throwing in random, tempo-shifting samples and guttural screams just when you might think you know where he’s heading.
On the Daft Punk-produced “On Sight,” an aggressive West raves that “Yeezy season is coming” and that “a monster is about to come alive again” over ominous synthesisers. The French duo also did “Black Skinhead,” which finds West boasting about breaking the rules.
On “I Am a God,” he sure didn’t check his ego at the studio door. He’s explained in interviews that the title refers to his “God name,” and on this track it’s clear that a man of his celebrity operates on a much higher plane than most people. “I just talked to Jesus/ He said, ‘What up, Yeezus?’/ I said, ‘(Expletive) I’m chillin’/Tryin’ to stack these millions.’”
“Chillin’” isn’t the best way to describe the intensity with which he delivers his societal critiques on “New Slaves” and “Blood On the Leaves,” which samples Nina Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday’s searing “Strange Fruit.”
By the end of the album, West finally takes some of the edge off with the smoothed-out “Bound 2,” which features Charlie Wilson and an old-school sample of the Ponderosa Twins Plus One hit of the same name.
Like everything else West does, “Yeezus” is immediately stunning, but requires repeated listenings to be fully appreciated. Luckily, it’s only 10 tracks long. Give him credit for not taking the easy route and compiling a bunch of radio tracks.
Instead, he created a polarising, multi-layered body of work that probably will be debated all summer. Who does that besides Kanye West? Maybe he’s a Yenius.