- 11 Jul 13
Earning his croissants...
Unless you’re a religious consumer of tabloid gossip, it’s easy to forget that over the past couple of years, while the rest of us have been suffering our discreet, humdrum, bailout-weary existences, Kanye West has been enjoying his harebrained, paparazzi-documented, flamboyantly prosperous life in tandem. In the time it took the inimitable Mr. West to get from one album to the next, some things changed and some things stayed the same.
In Kanye’s world, the changes were big. He teamed up with Jay-Z, the only rapper in the world as famous as he is, took his women’s clothes label, DW Kanye West to two fashion weeks, and began dating, and had a baby with, Kim Kardashian, the only woman in the world who is as simultaneously adored and reviled as he is. I’m going to go ahead and assume that none of HP’s readers can compete with West’s increasingly bizarre day-to-day routine. In fact, I know it, unless you, too, had your bottom teeth ripped out and replaced with diamonds in the past 30-odd months.
Those hoping to get an insight into the designer globetrotting and laughable affluence of the world’s most controversial rapper certainly won’t be disappointed with sixth album Yeezus, a noisy, consuming, vulgar, cheesy, personal, political and typically star-studded 10-tracker, boasting more double meanings than an episode of Twin Peaks.
In a drinking game just waiting to be invented, we can even take a random identifier of wealth and fame – say, fur coats – run it through the Yeezus machine and have a handful of offensive, provocative and hilarious quotes come out the other side. In this case, we’d get, “I wanna fuck you hard on the sink/ After that, give you something to drink/ Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink” (offensive); “What you want, a Bentley? Fur coat? A diamond chain?/ All you blacks want all the same things” (provocative); and “Star Wars fur, yeah, I’m rockin’ Chewbacca” (hilarious). The record’s a shit-stirring hoot, is what I’m saying.
Still, Yeezus is demonstrably not an album about Kanye’s fabulous Alexander Wang-clad lifestyle – at least not in the way that some tracks on Jay-Z collaboration Watch The Throne might have been (did we ever find out what ‘Niggas In Paris’ was about? Wealthy rappers hanging out at fashion shows? Got it.) Nope. Yeezus is an album about what pisses Kanye West off.
Recalling one of the prolific rhymer’s most insightful moments (2004’s ‘All Falls Down’), this heaving, 40-minute rant angrily discusses the poisonous stranglehold of materialism, a subject that West, and, according to this LP, his fellow wealthy black Americans, are thoroughly conflicted by. On the one hand, our incensed narrator embraces everything the high life affords him, the Porches, the diamonds, the ‘Asian pussy’ and so on; on the other, he’s disgusted by the commercialisation of rap culture, a sentiment summed up neatly on ‘New Slaves’ with the lines, “You see it’s broke nigga racism/ That’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’/ And this rich nigga racism/ That’s that ‘Come in, please buy more’.”
West’s outpouring of inner conflict makes for a remarkably refreshing ride. Whatever about those outrageous Chewbacca furs, furious is an undeniably good look on West. Drenched in harsh, industrial beats, ‘On Sight’ is seriously powerful, while, our eloquent soapboxer sounds deliciously animated on ‘Black Skinhead’, against a backdrop of wild, tribal percussion.
Elsewhere, the infinitely quotable LP sizzles with Ye’s two trademarks: outrageous wit (see line, “Hurry up with my damn croissants!”) and equally outrageous egotism (see everything about ‘I Am A God’ Feat. God, an unexpectedly fun ego trip built around lush, warped soundscapes).
From electronically rich and experimental slow jam ‘Guilt Trip’ to an ingenious sample of Brenda Lee’s 1959 hit ‘Sweet Nothin’s’ on the album’s sole breezy moment, ‘Bound 2’, Yeezus is easily among Kanye’s cleverest offerings, thanks in no small part to a cast of on-form supporting artists – he’s aided at various points by a distorted Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon, a gorgeously honey-voiced Frank Ocean, Dancehall king Beenie Man, Gap Band legend Charlie Wilson, fellow rhymers Kid Cudi and Chief Keef, Hudson Mohawke and Daft Punk on production and, erm, God, obviously.
So, while the Lil’ Waynes of the world are happy to go on as emotionless drones long after they’ve lost interest in their art form, it’s comforting to hear that Kanye West sounds as demented, empowered and alive as ever. There are underwhelming melodies, for sure. There are even underwhelming tracks (the grating ‘Hold My Liquor’ springs to mind), but for the most part what you’re hearing is an obnoxious, piercing puzzle, and a brilliant one at that.
Say what you will about the ludicrous baby names and zany dental experiments, Yeezus is the sound of a man who adores what he does. What did I say, eh? Some things never change.
Key Track: 'New Slaves'
- Live Review
- 25 May 23