In the first two minutes of self-declared pariah Kanye West’s sixth album, he has already drawled, ‘I put ma dick in her maaaaaaaouth’. It’s little wonder people mock Kanye, unapologetic, misogynistic, incapable of lyrical or emotional evolution as he is. His one foray into baring his soul (2008’s 808s & Heartbreak) exposed his capacity for emotional reflexivity for what it was: self-inflated, stunted, stupid. Who knows if that was preferable.
But the reason anyone ever enjoyed Kanye was the persona he embodies with less pretence onYeezus than on any album before it: the invincible (and yet wildly unstable) messiah. It’s a grand delusion, perhaps the grandest in its execution hip hop’s ever seen, and its products have been so full of swagger that their appeal is boisterous to the point of delirium. And where his lyricism stagnated on Jay-Z collaboration Watch the Throne and meandered self-indulgently on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus finds Kanye playing to his own strengths. For the first time since College Dropout, Kanye sounds totally within his limited means. The tracks are shorter, the beats are magnificent (Kanye’s found out about trap music!), the 808 is back – and ‘Ye is jacked up and ready to go.
So, what does that mean? Here are a few choice lyrics, to give you an idea: ‘Eating Asian pussy/ All I need is sweet and sour sauce’, ‘Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign’, ‘It’s leaders and it’s followers/ But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower’, and, naturally, ‘I am a god’.
The messianic declarations alone indicate the scale on which subtlety and integrity have been abandoned. You get the feeling that if anyone pointed out to Kanye that his lyrics lack any cohesion and sometimes border retarded, Kanye would counter with the fact that, simply because he is Kanye, they cannot be anything but brilliant. Truthfully, he believes in himself.
On the one hand, this leads to powerhouse rap anthems like Black Skinhead (which has already been employed to great effect in the first trailer for Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Wolf of Wall Street, which is about people dangerously detached from reality, incidentally). On the other, it breeds painful missteps, like Blood on the Leaves, which sees Kanye murder a timeless blues ballad about lynching, Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit, by wailing through an 808, bemoaning his puerile misfortunes.
The best all-rounder track – in that vocals from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon lend gravitas to a lyrically two-dimensional glimpse into Kanye’s origins in the ghettoised suburbs of Chicago – is Hold My Liquor. It is a lesson in triumphant production obscuring reductive, incomplete songwriting, a trick Kanye has pulled and will continue to pull to the detriment of better MCs everywhere.
The best case study track, however, is I’m In It. The production is huge, exploding with syrupy, anthemic, reggae-rap swagger at the chorus. Another falsetto feature vocal from Justin Vernon wraps up some of the best production you’re ever likely to hear – there can be no denying Kanye this talent – but production is only half of hip hop. What does Kanye contribute to the piece lyrically? Fucking women in cars and bragging about being a trendsetter. And that’s Kanye West for you.
Yealots (© Ashley Thomson, 2013) will laud this album as another powerful balancing act – a heroic fireworks display balanced on the knife’s edge of greatness and mental collapse. In fact, it is just big beats matched with a pre-teen’s attempts at profundity. Ultimately, your ability to enjoy Yeezus (the greatest achievement of which is its value as a talking point, because the tunes – outside of a glorious, thumping single and a handful of excellent beats for superior MCs to practice on – are average) will depend on your ability to let go. ‘Don’t think too hard’ is good advice for those who wish to like Yeezus: ‘He didn’t.’