It's ironic that Kanye West waited until he was crowned King of Pop Culture to break ties with the radio music realm by creating a countercultural work of art. Although his latest full-length, Yeezus only contains 10 tracks, it's saturated in experimental depth of the artist's apparent musical and artistic metamorphosis. What West has achieved in this album is a formation of his distinguishable fingerprint, composed of songs and sounds like nothing we've heard before; music that will not be easily ingested by the common listener, and won't find itself duplicated by his peers.
My first spin of Yeezus drew out an impressive mix of emotions. Initially, I was dumbfounded. It was like the first time I experienced David Lynch's Eraserhead; it was dark and industrial and I was totally confused, but at the same time, I was hooked. I knew there was much more beneath my initial judgment of its shallowest depths. Hearing the riotous noise, screams, booming and inconsistent beats, and only mentally grabbing lyrical chunks, you'll easily read into the album as an erratic act of fury. With titles like "New Slaves" and "Black Skinhead", it's obvious that Kanye is addressing serious issues. "Fuck every question you asking / If I don't get ran out by Catholics / Here come some conservative Baptists / Claiming I'm overreacting / Like them black kids in Chiraq bitch" ("Black Skinhead") - 'Chiraq' refering to his opinion that the killing of Americans in Chicago is worse than those in Iraq.
As you might expect, although the album is musically progressive and on its surface relatively difficult to relate to, it contains a rampant amount of typical Kanye lyrical humor and pop culture references. The album's most self-righteous track, "I Am A God", is an over-the-top preaching of his own greatness and importance. While it may seem insensitive for Kanye to declare his holiness, goofy lyrics like the widely joked/memed about "In a French-ass restaurant / Hurry up with my damn croissants," speak to the self-awareness of these grandiose statements. It's almost a moment of self-deprecation that grounds the artist, subconsciously making him more approachable and, contradictory to the song's title, more human in the ears of the listener. Amidst the screaming and sonic diversity, humorous insertions like his reference to The Waterboy ("New Slaves"), and even excessively vulgar lyrics like "Fuck you and your Hampton house / I'll fuck your Hampton spouse / Came on her Hampton blouse and in her Hampton mouth," are methodically utilized as the elements that bridge the gap for the common listener, making it clear that the same-old Kanye is still at work, and there's nothing to be afraid of.
Because of these constant lyrical mood swings, the listeners' experience with Yeezus is an emotional roller coaster. Is Kanye pissed off, or is he happy? Although the overall tone of the album may indicate otherwise, I'm going to side with the latter. I think the layering of moods is what makes this album so intriguing, and at the same time revealing.
Sure, on the surface, the album was written due to his frustration, and his irritability and cocky attitude were both in full swing during his recent interview with the New York Times, but it's becoming clear that Yeezus was the bottled-up, riotous, ferocious release of this temper. Anyone would seem refreshed during such a profound moment. During the interview, Kanye also stated that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was his "long, backhanded apology." According to the artist, MBDTF was his apology to the public, asking them to take him back after controversy. He gave them what they wanted, an over-the-top album for the "skeptical buyers." But now it seems that Kanye has disregarded interest in mainstream music consumers, and he's made Yeezus for himself, as well as his fans.
Further proof of his subversive, triumphant happiness came to light at his epic performance at Governors Ball in NYC. During what the crowd expected to be a typical rant, Kanye told them that he didn't make Yeezus for the radio. He alleged that although the label wanted him to release it in September (according to their figures, it would sell better during that time of year), he wanted to release it in June so his fans would have it for the summer. "When I listen to radio, that ain't what I want to be anymore," he said, and it's hard to imagine any song from Yeezus finding comfort on a Top 40 hit station. So who's to say he isn't responsible for the album's premature leak? Then again, surely a label wouldn't just give away the masses of money that come along with a new Kanye album. And the rapper himself, who's known for having an outspoken personality and putting in his two cents on everything (even if he has to shove in front of the microphone), didn't even comment on its early, 'illegal' release.
With the sociological aspects aside, listening to Yeezus is nothing less than a visceral experience. By partnering with famed producer Rick Rubin, Kanye was able to perfectly shave away the glitz and glam he was aiming to avoid. The minimalistic qualities of Yeezus clear the way for primal percussive pace and heavy breathing, which have as much or more emotive impact on the song themes as the lyrics themselves. Kanye and Rubin's use of sound is comparable to the way Alfred Hitchcock utilized it in his films. Hitchcock once said, "I think what sound brought of value to the cinema was to complete the realism of the image on the screen. It made everyone in the audience deaf mutes." This precisely describes the flashing and deafening surprises that are present throughout Yeezus. The use of startling screams, sudden samples, and random industrial noise help Kanye display his own sense of authenticity, so that despite its inconsistencies, the music produces a pure sense of reality.
Yeezus was an experimental release from the out-of-focus lenses through which the tabloids view Kanye. He wanted to assure us that he's not making an album for the E! Network viewers. He's still an artist, and perhaps the greatest in this game. And while some may see this anti-pop divergence as a publicity scam, I feel that this is the closest we've gotten to Kanye yet. Hell, I've even seen the guy smile a few times over the past few weeks. Perhaps "happy" isn't the greatest way to describe Kanye in 2013. In the Times interview, he was asked why he only looks like he's enjoying himself 30 percent of the time, but when it comes to Yeezus, he seems to be peaking at 100 percent.