Declaring yourself as a god may blasphemous to some, but it seems to be everyday rhetoric for Kanye West. Does the 35 year old rapper from Chicago really think he’s devine? Definitely.
His sixth solo studio album, Yeezus, almost screams it- in a misguided, haunting Jim Jones (from the Jonestown Massacre) like manner. The only relief from this next level narcissism is the raw pain and emotion that bleed through on the ten track album. Kanye West maybe mortal after all. Or at least he’s just starting to realize it.
Though all the braggadocio, references to sexual conquests, and accumulation of wealth talk is a glimpse of a wounded, fragile Kanye West. His vulnerability is shown through the album’s dark, noise influenced production, and to some extent, his flow. The lyrics for the song “I Am a God” seem to be typical Yeezy “So hurry up with my damn massage, and a French ass restaurant, Hurry up with my damn croissants”. However, the sonic vortex created by the song’s raw production indicates a darker depth to his rap. It ends with a hyperventilating, high pitch screaming, struggling Kanye seemingly running away. Perhaps it’s from the struggle of ignorance that comes from his sense of entitlement.
Yeezus’ overall themes wrestle with the ironies and juxtaposition that occur within West. It’s an almost Freudian fight between his id, ego, and super ego. Believe it or not, he seems to have just discovered his id; thankfully, his super ego appears to be part of the discovery. However, verses like the one on “I’m In It” that quotes Martin Luther King’s famous “free at last” speech in reference to unbuckling a women’s bra shows the ego hasn’t really gotten a hold of the id and super ego yet. But there is hope that he will.
His growing up, from what he refers to as a being a “five year old boy” in a recent New York Times interview, is shown in West’s brave use of Nina Simone’s version of “Strange Fruit” on his track “Blood on the Leaves”. The track explores the relationship of sex, pregnancy, fame, infidelity, and greed that results in children being left as the modern strange fruit. It shows a level of rational thought rarely seen in the rapper who’s known for his misguided gaffes, not his ability to process the consequences of his actions.
There’s no denying West’s talent as a rapper, producer, and publicity artist. He built hype on top of hype by having Daft Punk work on his album while the rest of the world was oozing Random Access Memories. However, the French EDM artists' touch is barely noticed on this raw, percussive, almost under produced hip hop noise album. The brilliance lies in his ability to extend the reaches of Daft Punk mania beyond the current level of saturation, and pull it back so far that their presence remains remarkably understated on the album. West has bragged that this Yeezus is not an album for the radio and he’s exactly right. There is no “Stronger” 2.0.
Bringing in Rick Rubin to tie the album together is exactly what Yeezus needed and most likely what West had planned all along, despite interviews that point otherwise. Rubin, the expert pain extractor and rock rap veteran, gave West additional artistic integrity in the most over publicized low publicity campaign of the decade (the leak and Def Jam’s response was so well orchestrated it wouldn’t be surprising if Kanye seeded it on Pirate Bay himself). Rubin’s genius gave the album the cohesiveness needed to allow West’s artistic ability to shine, no matter how much the rapper’s own delusions of grandeur tried to outshine it.
Yeezus is by far Kanye West’s most ambitious work. It shatters the mold of a societal perception of what hip hop should be. Its shortfall lies in West’s reliance on an obscenity as art cliché. With level of creativity displayed on the album, the shock value of vulgarity becomes gratuitous. If he’s able to free himself of this limitation, the college dropout might just graduate to avant garde.
Yeezus is out June 18th via Def Jam Records.