Album Review: Kanye West – Yeezus

[Def Jam; 2013]

We all created this monster. In 2013, to criticize the force that is Kanye West – as much as it will annoy his many detractors – is akin to assigning a grade to Salvador Dali or Michelangelo Antonioni. It’s nearly as hopeless as it is arbitrary.

In truth, there is plenty to criticize in the, dare I say, auteur’s latest, Yeezus. This simple fact has led to an amusing dash of excuses from the media, which this critic shall not quote directly, if only to avoid ruffling feathers. In this unilaterally defensive act, a simple truth has been lost. The work of a true artist, at times, as equally interesting for its blemishes as its brilliant successes.

To the point, Yeezus is perhaps Mr. West’s most daring work of production, calling for assistance from areas as diverse as the dance world, through several Daft Punk collaborations, to Hudson Mohawke and a shattering sample of TNGHT’s “R U Ready,” (which Mr. West purchased, forcing the production duo to rework the track into “Higher Ground” for the release of their EP) the sonic backing to the album is both strikingly simple and deceptively layered. The former intention has been trumpeted at every opportunity in the rapid-fire media barrage supporting the album, with West declaring his interest in simplicity, and late-joining collaborator Rick Rubin expressing his own contributions as stripping away every unneeded element. The latter was the inevitable product of Ye’s obsession for his craft.

The process of recording and release, in fact, are equally of note to the LP as its very contents. While West has long been known as a man who will late to the last minute to put perfecting touches, the odyssey of Yeezus is daring, nonetheless. According, again to Rubin, the album was more a batch of unfinished sounds only weeks before its intended release, with him and West painstakingly piecing together – and then ripping away again – each disparate element, resulting in songs that pull every which different way, even in their often brief lengths.

Beyond this, the lack of supporting singles, with the only press for the album generating from the projections and live performances of “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead,” respectively, could be as revelatory for the music industry as Trent Reznor and Thom Yorke hoped their release strategies would be. As one of West’s own collaborators remarked, they consider their potential audience in need of, “washing the radio out of their ears.” By refusing to market to the charts, West stands to potentially other artists from its grips.

This has allowed him the most freedom in his career, resulting in an album both uncompromising and gleefully absurd. The wordplay is likely West’s most simplistic yet, generating laughable punch lines and painfully recycled quips such as, “careless whispers.” No less, much of the album’s content revolves entirely around how much joy the rapper finds in sticking it to his socialite mistress. Awkwardly wedged between these sex ballads are moments of angry social commentary, begging the question: what, exactly, is the intent of this album?

If anything, each and every Kanye West LP, up to now, has been focused, even ruthlessly so, on whatever his fascination or goal may have been. Ever the paradox, West has here crafted his most indefinite and, simultaneously, truly representative work. The indistinct nature of the material, in actuality, is the record’s masterstroke. Allowed to follow his every whim, embodying the eternally fractured nature of West’s persona: one minute the troubled philosopher, the next a borderline nihilist reveling in only debauchery.

Even through the often clumsy lyricism – which West has expressly stated was his precise intention – the MC is shouting to all who will listen a simple mantra: this time around, he just doesn’t care. He can weep for the powerful’s revision of the past, modern slavery, then fuck Kim Kardashian, put a clumsily autotuned Chief Keef between a sublime Justin Vernon, it’s all his show: he is, after all, a God. Upon first glance (or even the first several), album closer “Bound 2” is a clumsy cap to the sprawling insanity that is Yeezus, but spend some time, after the willfully forward-thinking nature, a tired Kanye can’t help but retreat into his soul-sampling tendencies of yesteryear. If there’s anything Mr. West finds completely alien to his person, it’s restraint, and Yeezus is the perfect, chaotic, and ultimately uncompromising dive into this world. While always maintaining its jaded distance, this is perhaps the closest we’ve come to all sides of the man that is Kanye West.