Let’s clear the air a little first. Obviously, Yeezus isn’t EDM. Obviously. The man behind the seminal My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF) and albums such as Jay Z’s The Blueprint is unlikely to ever produce anything with a pumping four on the floor beat. Yet Kanye has taken an interesting stand on his latest album saying, “I knew that I wanted to have a deep Chicago influence on this album (so) I would listen to like, old Chicago house music.” We would expect nothing less from Kanye. If any hip hop producer were to start taking heavy influence from EDM, it would be Kanye. Right from the beginning, he was the immovable rock in the stream. Tight beats, unconventional personal lyrics and a notorious lavish lifestyle (with the ego to match) Kanye became the deliberate provocative, the missing link in a world full of bland pop stars.
So how does Kanye breathe ‘house music’ into his works? One of the fantastic things about MBDTF is that it’s almost a ‘group effort’. The track ‘So Appalled’ for instance, features no vocal talent from Kanye. He instead produces a haunting, rumbling beat that samples Manfredd Mann’s Earth Band (of all things) and he employs the talents of Jay-Z, Rick Ross and other rappers. Kanye is more than happy to sit back and bring out the skill of others, more than happy to relinquish his control to make good music. This is evident in Yeezus. Daft Punk, Hudson Mohawke, Gesaffelstein and TNGHT (and apparently Skrillex) to name but a few, all put in the effort. This is quite an interesting and exciting team Kanye has assembled here. If the mere mention of Daft Punk producing even more new music didn’t get you into a tizzy, then you should probably stop reading. However, if you’re like everyone else, then you’ve snapped this album up with gusto. But bear in mind, Daft Punk did proclaim that this was the most ‘primal’ work they had ever produced. They weren’t lying.
The album opens with On Sight which sounds like Daft Punk circa 1997 in a parallel universe. Abrasive, angry and arrogant. The hard acid synths coupled with the trap percussion rattle away beneath Kanye’s proclamations of what’s yet to come, if only in the world he seems to live in. The track sets up the next few tracks on the album perfectly, as Black Skinhead rears it’s ugly head. Black Skinhead which we are now all familiar with thanks to that SNL performance, still packs a punch. However, something seems missing, as if Kanye isn’t quite giving the rough raw energy that he displayed when he first performed the track. “I’m doing 500 and I’m outta control.” Aren’t we all Ye.
New Slaves is easily Kanye’s best effort on the whole album. Hudson Mohawke’s influence is clearly felt in the predatory basslines and swelling horn sections. I am a God is a personal favourite and seems to have a surreal sense of humor. “I just talked to Jesus/ He said, “What up Yeezus?” Is Kanye poking fun at himself? Is he pointing out that it’s all for show? Or has he finally lost the plot?
Hold My Liquor is definitely one of the hair raising and best tracks on the album. Reeling back from the acid heavy trap mayhem, Kanye goes back to recreating those magic moments on MBDTF with Justin Vernon. The industrial stabs every bar compliment the melancholic pads while Kanye pours out his usual problems with love and drink. Epic moving stuff.
Up next is I’m In It. By this stage I was definitely starting to wonder if Kanye was in a right state of mind when he wrote this. “Eating Asian pussy all I need is sweet and sour sauce.” Oh my God. The dog bark samples, blaring sirens and that orgasm… It’s certainly a visceral listen. That’s even before the bonkers Send It Up starts.
Blood On The Leaves alone achieves everything 808s and Heartbreak couldn’t. Kanye and friends have fully utilized the autotune, which sounds great with the rattling trap percussion. The Runawayesque autotuning adds a similar epic feel that made Runaway from MBDTF so good. Blood On The Leaves sets up Guilt Trip perfectly, which contains a great effort from Kid Cudi. Once again it carries on in a similar vein of 808s and also contains essences of MBDTF with warm sounding violins sighing over tumbling rising synths.
Finally, Bound 2 rounds up the gritty, forlorn mayhem and sounds like an unreleased track from his earlier efforts. However instead of the crisp sampled melodies he was renowned for, the track contains an element of playfulness and grittiness, as if J Dilla himself was overseeing the production. The weird sample of Brenda Lee’s “Uh huh honey” adds another surreal element that would seem out of place on any other album, once again creating a strange sense of humor. However this didn’t stop me from feeling so strangely empty when the album finished. “I know you’re tired of loving/With nobody to love.”
Yet for all his EDM Chi-town influences, there isn’t a danceable track in the whole album. You couldn’t dance to this anymore than you could wading through sticky molasses, freeing your feet quickly only to get them stuck again. The songs stop and start, rattle and roll like a rusty automobile. Yet one of the most celebrated and important Chicago house tracks of all time is Mr. Finger’s ‘Can You Feel It?’ The reason why it’s so celebrated is it’s lush and soulful production combined with the jacked up bass and drums makes you feel something, it makes you move. Tracks like On Sight and Hold My Liquor also convey this sense of bravado and weakness so eloquently with their hyped up percussions and bass and occasional moments of melancholy bliss. Like all good house music it still makes you want to jack your body and lose yourself. Yeezus is therefore no exception as there is no mistaking it’s power. The lyrics range from heartfelt problems with drink and relationships, to the surreal and megalomaniacal. “Yeezus just rose again.” Coming in at a mere 40 minutes, it would seem fair to criticize it as too short. Yet its brief length seems deliberate and appropriate for the album. For a man who gives absolutely no f#### whatsoever, you would expect nothing less. This is Kanye West we’re talking about here, the man who mortified Taylor Swift, the man who once owned Twitter with a slew of insane Tweets and the man who once appeared on a magazine cover as Jesus Christ Himself. For a man with such a ballsy attitude, this album exposes his Chi-town roots and fits his impressive discography like a hand to a glove.
It’s out now. Buy it on iTunes here.