Hip-Hop’s most outspoken character, Kanye West, delivers his sixth solo studio album, Yeezus, on this day, June 18th. It has been three years since we have heard solo material from Mr. West, the last being My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In the years between, he has collaborated with none other than Jay-Z on Watch the Throne and his G.O.O.D. music team on last year’s Cruel Summer. These in between years were quite instrumental in the evolution of Kanye’s sound. Many call Yeezus a post-punk/deep house hip-hop album, thanks in part to the executive producing hand of Rick Rubin, but the sound itself is not completely new; Yeezy has tested it in different ways over the years.
Overall, the production on Yeezus is a bit more stripped down, and at times dissonant, but maintains an atmospheric quality. Kanye stays true to himself, in regards to his usage of drum patterns and soul samples, but it is refreshing to see more interpolations from reggae artists, including Capleton, Assassin aka. Agent Sasco, Popcaan, and Beenie Man.
Lyrically, Yeezus toys with many ideas, that of consumerism, racism, sex, and relationships. His delivery is quite brash, and bombastic, not holding back in any way. There are points on the album that prove to be a bit more misogynistic than usual lyrically, namely on tracks “Im In It”, and “On Sight”. These tracks exhibit wordplay that you would not consider appropriate for the at the time, soon to be father, but maybe it is totally artistic expression?
We see a slightly more vulnerable side to ‘Ye on “Hold My Liquor”, which recounts a relationship with a past love, thought to be his former fiance Alexis Phifer. He raps, “Five years we been over/ Ask me why I came over”. There is no direct reference to Kim Kardashian and/or his impending fatherhood [at the time] on this album, so if that was what you were looking for, sorry, it is not here. It is thought that the album’s tenth and final track, “Bound 2″ references Kim indirectly in the following lyric: “Maybe we could still make it to the church steps..”
So what are the standout tracks on Yeezus you ask? Tracks “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves” which have been previously released to the public, are very strong overall, delivering razor-sharp lyrics laced in race and anti-consumerism elements, mixed with heavy-hitting production, but there is more to the album.
“Blood On The Leaves” is hands-down the best song on the album. Featuring elements of Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” and additional vocals from frequent collaborator Tony Williams, “Blood On The Leaves” covers all ground musically. The song begins with the almost haunting Nina Simone sample paired with minor piano chords, and an auto-tuned singing Kanye, reminiscent of his work on “808′s & Heartbreak”. It builds up quite quickly adding in another layer of hard-hitting horns and bass, referencing production from New Orleans based label, No Limit. The lyrical content tells a story of love lost, and the breaking up of high-profile couples on a whole.
The production on Yeezus is stellar, but lyrics, at times are questionable. ‘Ye does show somewhat of a personal side, but it misses the mark in regards to the current state of his personal life, that of a new father. For that, we give it four out of five stars.