Artist: Kanye West
Label: Def Jam
Rating: 2 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Note: I’d pretty much given up doing reviews. When you can stream pretty almost every record and form your own quick opinion, there’s little need for them anymore. However, several people asked for my opinion on Kanye’s new album, and while it’s still fun to write these things, in the words of one James Todd Smith – ‘don’t call it a comeback.’
Unless you’ve been living under a large unequipped-with-wifi rock, you’ll know that over the course of the last week, “Yeezus”, Kanye West’s 6th solo album has got the internet going nuts.
The level of anticipation reached fever pitch the week before the official release date, when the record leaked on line,breaking twitter and facebook, as millions rushed to comment. Then millions rushed to review it. Then millions rushed to argue with these reviews. And all along Kanye received the oxygen of publicity ensuring that no matter what anyone says, this record will sell a buttload. It’s been a long time since an album has so split opinion almost cleanly down the middle. It’s been called an instant classic. It’s also been called complete rubbish.
Most striking is the departure from the rich production work on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. The lush tapestry West created for that record is abandoned in favor of hard industrial ‘noise’ – stuttering, ominous grinding meets reverberating feedback on almost every track, resulting in at times a swirling confusion of noises, best evidenced in ‘I Am A God’ where the last minute and a half of the song is little but Kanye’s guttural screaming.
The production list is lengthy and aside from the contribution of No ID and Charlie Wilson on the truly excellent ‘Bound 2’, everyone else seems to have fallen in line with Kanye’s vision of producing a dark, abrasive noise, which owes a lot to Death Grips.
One of the major things that is revealed as the album progresses is Kanye’s weakness as an emcee on this outing. In the past, I feel, he’s been unfairly overlooked in the emceeing stakes – he’s one of the few who usually wears his heart on his sleeve while spitting, resulting in often passionate and ‘real’ (ugh) delivery. On this album though, his regression is clear, and the minimalist feel of the tracks don’t help to disguise or hide his low points. Over the bleeps and blips of ‘On Sight’ he goes straight to the 1994 book of throwaway freestyle punchlines as he describes how he’ll ‘get this bitch shaking like Parkinsons’. Original. On ‘I Am A God’ he manages to rhyme God with massage, ménage and garage. Astounding.
It’s almost as if, in hanging out with new buddies 2 Chainz and Chief Keef, he’s brought his lyrics down to their level on most records. Is it in an intentional dumbing down (a la Jigga’s ‘Talib Kweli’ line on ‘Moment Of Clarity’) or is this simply a case of the worst, stalest elements of commercial Hiphop rubbing off on the one who has often driven the genre to new and interesting places? (You’ll be excited to know, I’m sure, that Chief Keef’s autotuned appearance on ‘Hold My Liquor’ is as pointless as the song itself.)
Elsewhere, on the rare occasions when he does try to deliver a message, it also falls down because of the lack of support by the beats. I spend more time fighting the urge to mix ‘Black Skinhead’ into Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock & Roll’ into Outkast’s ‘The Whole World’ than wanting to listen to West’s urging for artists to stop all the ‘coon shit’. Similarly ‘New Slaves’ racially charged message of social plight and institutional bigotry is lost over the ‘made for 2 Chainz’ beat.
And that’s really my main issue with the album. Production-wise, (especially towards the end) there are records that could easily sit on *insert your favorite weak radio-ready commercial emcee here*’s new album. There are other records where the lyrical idea is decent, but the beats don’t hold up. And then there are a couple of seemingly good records that only stand out because they’re next to the other noisy muddle – in isolation, they’re ‘adequate’… nothing more.
Many will talk up ‘Blood On The Leaves’, while I saw this as a weaker cousin of ‘New Day’ from the “Watch The Throne” project, right down to the Nina Simone sample. ‘Bound 2’, arguably the closest thing to a normal Hiphop record, although truly enjoyable, still seems like a diet version of ‘All Of The Lights’. (I’d still kill someone for the Charlie Wilson-only version of the record though.)
Overall, “Yeesuz” disappoints. Promising much, it fails to deliver – to this listener at least. I now await it’s baptism as a ‘new classic’. Le sigh.