Vagabonds on Kanye West’s “Yeezus”

Kanye West’s hotly anticipated “Yeezus” has been making the rounds since its leak/release two weeks ago, catching nods from nearly everyone in the industry, even as obscure as Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. WAC’s own Vagabonds on Video sounds off on the record.


“How much do I not give a fuck?” a snarling Kanye West inquires one minute into his sixth LP “Yeezus.” The opening track, “On Sight” co-produced by Daft Punk twists from a confused electronic clatter to a make shift-beat, setting the tone for the most avant-garde record hip-hop - or popular music for that matter - has heard in a long while. Gone are the soaring melodies of West’s 2010 masterpiece “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” replaced by cruel, grimy, industrial synthesizer driven tracks. The samples, which previously melded seamlessly in a collage with the beats in West’s trademark style are left exposed and naked, revealing them as the alien bits of music they are. The hooks are few and far between, and when they exist they are often spoken. Despite what he says, West is not as free of fucks as he would have us believe, “Yeezus” is a carefully crafted and designed missile of creative expression, his apathy only coming into the picture post-launch.

However sonically different, what we are dealing with on “Yeezus” is not an entirely new Kanye, but instead an artist who has learned the art of restraint. Melodies still exist on the record, take the outro of “New Slaves” or Kid Cudi’s feature on the unearthly “Guilt Trip,” and the appearance of stalwart Justin Vernon on “I’m God,” “Hold My Liquor” and “I’m In It.” Pitched-up samples spice up “Blood on the Leaves” and album-closer “Bound 2.” Besides the synth focus, the most shocking change sonically is the lack of adornment, after all West is the man who blended over a dozen vocalists into “All of the Lights.” Overall “Yeezus,” much like the equally loved and hated “808s & Heartbreak” will be mostly remembered for it’s musical innovation from both it’s predecessors and the entire mainstream of popular music.

Lyrically, Yeezus is pure anger. If the direction of “808s” was internal pain, and “Fantasy” internal reflection, “Yeezus” is external fury. Exactly what Kanye West is mad at is never pinpointed, leading to the simple conclusion…everything. The sharp social commentary of early tracks like “All Falls Down” is violently reconstructed into rants on tracks like that on “New Slaves,” the suave of “Slow Jamz” transformed into explicit sexual demands in “I’m In It.” Major guest features are equally brute, coming from fellow Chicago rappers King L and Chief Keef. Lyrically, the album does lack the drive and motivation of “Fantasy” but comparing the records is pointless and ignores how fitting a response “Yeezus is.” 2010 was a different time for Kanye however, and “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” a globally themed record set on conquering the world. This time around “Yeezus” is sonically based in Chicago, and focuses on self-definition, after all, when you already have the world – it’s time to begin changing it.


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Welcome to post-rap. It's almost as if we got a literal detox instead of the long-promised Dr. Dre album of the same name. Yeezus, the latest offering from industry titan and cultural icon Kanye West, sounds like a rap game Alcoholics Anonymous meeting whose participants have just recidivated, in both the lyrics and the intent. Everyone involved sounds like they were just finger-snapped out of a trance and are coming to terms with their weird realities. Chief Keef brilliantly slurs through his admission of guilt on "Hold My Liquor" with the lines, "I can't control my niggas/and my niggas, they can't control me," a haunting condemnation of his own reckless, violent lifestyle. The whole LP sways drunkenly, and moments of sharpness are fleetingly rare (the CCA-damning "New Slaves," for example). Strictly speaking, however, the actual music contained on Yeezus doesn't matter; its effect on the genre and community, however, does matter more than anyone can currently estimate. The album's ten songs topple in quick succession like bowling pins, but the future of hip-hop is in shambles. Yeezus is an uncontrollable cyclone, chewing up everything in its path and leaving no one behind to pick up the pieces.

There was no "next logical step" from his last album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which I still consider the best candidate for his magnum opus; the questions at the end of Yeezus are so prolific they make me sad that Helen Thomas is retired (I would love to hear her bark them at a trembling Jay Carney). MBDTF was full of rich, meditative, soulful grooves and skillful lyricism from a cabal of talented MCs. Comparatively, Yeezus is a musical salvia trip: short, glitchy, intense and befuddled; it's a big-name rap album more indebted to NIN than MMG. Yeezus is unapologetically non-lyrical; whereas on MBDTF a dozen high-profile artists flexed their rhyme-penning muscles, on Yeezus the instrumentals take the forefront. Ironically and rather appropriately, only two beats on this whole thing are truly fit to rap over, at least in the style of a "So Appalled" cypher, namely the standout "Guilt Trip" and "Bound 2." The former lurches around a twisted sample of Popcaan's drawled intro from "Blocka" off of GOOD Music labelmate Pusha T's middling mixtape Wrath Of Caine; the latter is surprisingly focused on a short soul snippet.

"'Bound 2' is" the only track on Yeezus which even comes close to recalling Mr. West's now distant career in production, from a time when people just wanted his beats and scoffed at his microphone skills. (Ironically enough, No ID is on the boards for that song, not Mr. West himself. An odd bit of outsourcing indeed.) The journey he has made in the past ten years from valiant, humble Chicagoan to a bitter, boastful shaper of popular culture is stunning in retrospect. His early work carries a sort of poignant sweetness: on The College Dropout, it was clear from a cursory glance that Mr. West was a flawed man, but he was working to make good on his promises. Compare that to Yeezus, the most memorable line on which is "eating Asian pussy, all I need is sweet-and-sour sauce." A confusing album which likely demands a dozen listens just to scratch its surface, Yeezus fires silver bullets into the heart of its crepuscular category. I would warn listeners not to believe the hype, but unfortunately it's impossible not to believe in Yeezus.