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Kanye West’s Yeezus: A Track-By-Track Review

Kanye West

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I crawled out of bed this morning only to be hit in the face with Yeezus’s sledgehammer. Kanye West’s two opening tracks – the Daft Punk-produced “On Sight” and “Black Skinhead” – have all the energy of Black Flag and The Stooges and the spitfire delivery of Ghost and Nas when they really get going.

When I recovered from Kanye’s sledgehammer whacks, I realized that his brilliant production contained Daft Punk-esque synth lines (“On Sight”) and heavy tribal drumming and terribly exciting screams (“Black Skinhead”) – which Ye uses to explore the multitudes of his psyche. He’s just as horny as he’s politically pissed off. He’s a real person, after all – he’s Yeezus, and not Jesus.

The high-octane music continues with “I Am a God” – a battle rhyme filled with menacing synth effects and manipulated vocals. The track is so good that Kanye becomes a god in the moment, and over-the-top lines – “I just talked to Jesus. / He said, “What up, Yeezus?” / I said, “Shit, I’m chillin,’ / Trying to stack these millions.” / I know he’s the most high, / But I am a close high…” – actually become humble because they’re funny and punctuated with horror-movie screams. Ye fears his tendency toward egotism.

“New Slaves” – following “I Am God” – is, to use a Philip Roth title, a humbling into social responsibility–dark keyboard lines, sound effects on the vocals, and Frank Ocean’s guest vocal introduce the opening lyrics: “My momma was raised in an era when / Clean water was only served to the fairer skin. / Doing clothes you would have thought I’d have help, / But they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself.” The song is so cinematic in scope that Kanye’s Lennon-like announcement that he wants to be the leader of his generation makes perfect sense. He’s an artist who wants to take on the corporations for whom we’re all the “new slaves.” As he screams, “Don’t fuck with Ye!” at the song’s climax, you realize that he’s a prophet; Yeezus speaking for himself, black Americans, and, heck, all Americans. He’s our Whitman, his body of work is Leaves of Grass, and he contains multitudes, from the microcosm to the macrocosm.

The moody “Hold My Liquor” demonstrates West’s penchant for introspection and self-lacerating lyrics, with Chief Keef and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon guesting. West creates a Keef-Vernon vocal blend that he backs with some 70s’-style guitars and 80s’-style synths, which lead to an incredible dance beat. The atmospherics here are just as beautiful as they’re technically amazing. Only Kanye could make a track like this.

A blast of synth introduces “I’m in It” – the most sexually explicit track on the record. But again Kanye – and guest rapper Beenie Man – isn’t willing to settle with a sexist lyrical flow. The tone is sinister, making the music a critique of the lyrics. And, as the song reaches its conclusion, Vernon again sings lines that take West to an introspective place, in which he realizes that “He’s taken it too far” and that “He’s scared of his demons.”

On “Blood on the Leaves,” Billie Holiday – or, rather, a sample of “Strange Fruit” – duets with an auto-tuned Kanye, who wants “to clear [his] mind” because all “wants is what [he] can’t buy now.” The contrast between the pettiness of West’s desire and Holiday’s socially conscious song indicates the chaos – that could be particular of Americans – of wanting to help others, petty monetary concerns and romantic relationships that come down to financial arguments. As West dresses down a former lover, the music escalates and becomes more disturbing with distorted horns that sound like a demented marching band. Guest vocalist Tony Williams ends matters by saying what West can’t bring himself to say: “Live and learn.”

“Guilt Trip” opens with more new wave synths that swirl around Kid Cudi and Kanye’s vocals. Some lyrics run, “If you loved me so much, / Why did you let me go?” – lyrics that cut to the self-doubt that lies just under the surface of the guilt trip on which Kanye wants to send a former lover. He publicly shames his ex-lover even as he praises himself. But, more importantly, he publicly shames himself.

“Send It Up” is badass gangsta rap featuring King L and Iamsu. A solid beat provides backing for some innovative synth lines that seem to flow in and out of tune. This track just makes you uncomfortable with the violent subject matter – and Daft Punk is again involved in the production in some way.

The final cut “Bound 2” changes gears completely, taking us back to the 50s’. The song really is “prom shit” for 2013. The song’s very funny, especially coming after all the darkness that precedes it – the lyrics are so great that I encourage you to listen to the track. You owe yourself the pleasure.

This track-by-track analysis is all a way of saying is that nothing has changed since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – Kanye West is still the greatest creative mind in hip-hop, bar none.

—Paul Gleason