Now four years old, “Yeezus” remains a fascinatingly complex and problematic aberration, even in the career of relentless stylistic experimentation and contrarianism of one Kanye Omari West. A work of wild invention, brash vulnerability, slurred ugliness and almost farcical hubris, its antagonistic rawness was inevitably met with a bemused, polarised reaction.
Its true distinction, however, is that the furore over “Yeezus” never really abated, only escalating into West’s increasingly erratic behaviour and a slew of “I miss the old Kanye” memes. As much as the album is a superficially, perhaps deliberately repellent work in its harsh industrial babble and the obnoxiousness of West’s braggadocio, its divisiveness is inherently rooted in West himself, whose work and personality are virtually inseparable.
So, read as a character study, “Yeezus” makes for bleak listening. The album is cloaked in a fog of paranoia, misplaced grandiosity and perpetually impending doom, West’s reference on “Black Skinhead” to “Middle America packed in/Come to see me in my black skin” feeling more troublingly prophetic by the album’s end. However, the Kanye circus only perpetuates itself here. The celestial beauty of “Hold My Liquor” shrouds a stream-of-consciousness tirade, its acrid introspection folding into the sallow lechery of “I’m In It”—“You know I need that wet mouth/I know you need that reptile”: hedonism compacted into the nihilism that is its logical conclusion.
However, despite West’s boorish vulgarity, rampant egomania and almost defiant tastelessness, something about him remains inexorably, grudgingly likeable. His regular lapses into self-parody, however unintentional they may be, at least endear the listener to him in the complete sincerity with which he beatifies himself—his now-infamous barked order to “Hurry up with my damn croissants” on the pulsing “I Am A God” belies a total, enviable lack of self-awareness. This sparks the album’s captivating openness but also a handful of truly hideous lines, of which “I be speaking Swaghili” leaps out as notably grim.
The clouds briefly part for final track “Bound 2”, which serves as a nostalgic evocation of West’s earlier “Chipmunk Soul” era, complete with affable humour: “OK, I don’t remember where we first met/But hey, admitting is the first step”. However, it’s just a feint in an otherwise heaving, pneumatic, bitterly cynical album that, for better or worse, only deepened public perceptions of West as an unhinged megalomaniac. Perhaps its closest comparative, in its mix of brutish electronic squalls, uneasy confessionalism and scattered fragments of melodic beauty, is Nine Inch Nails’ “Pretty Hate Machine”. The thought that such a title could also aptly describe “Yeezus” is difficult to shake. CO
Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q604eed4ad0