Record Review: Yeezus by Kanye West (2013)

“It’s like farting.”

So said Lou Reed in his review of Yeezus. He was describing the abrasive opening synthesizer of “On Sight”, the first song on the album. According to Reed, that squelching electronic noise represents Kanye saying: “I dare you to like this.”

Four months later, Lou Reed would die in his wife’s arms while “doing the water-flowing 21-form of tai chi.” Rest in peace, man. Enjoy that white light.

I try never to fart in public. It’s gross. When you fart in public, you are forcing everyone around you to smell whatever is going on inside your bowels. Who wants to smell that? But if you’re alone in a room, and you fart, it doesn’t smell bad. Or at least you don’t mind it. Because it’s yours. Isn’t that weird?

I don’t mind the smell of Yeezus. It’s Kanye’s second masterpiece in a row.

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I went on a cruise recently. My two sisters and I shared this tiny room barely big enough for one. But we made it work.

We were all hanging out in the room one day, and I had Yeezus saved as a Spotify playlist on my phone. We didn’t have service at sea, so I had to save the albums I wanted to listen to before we left port.

Anyway, I decided to try something.

I played “On Sight” over my phone’s speakers just to see what their reactions would be to that opening cacophony.

One sister jokingly said to the other: “Are you feeling okay?”

She thought the other one had farted.

Keep in mind, this sister’s favorite artist is the cast of Smash.

About two weeks later, I was sitting in a movie theater, watching the previews before the second Hunger Games movie. A Motorola commercial appeared on the screen.

And I recognized the background music. It was the beat of “Black Skinhead”.

But Kanye said, just two songs later on the album: “Fuck you and your corporation. Y’all n****s can’t control me.”

Makes you wonder.

Another thing to wonder about: that cover art. Or lack thereof.

yeezus-new-cover

But there is one part of the cover that people overlook. That bright orange square of color.

How did they choose that shade of orange?

I have a form of music-to-color synesthesia. I visualize a color when I listen to music. But that color is not fabricated in my mind. I visualize the color that is seen on the album cover. I think a lot of people do this. For example, What’s Going On is a deep shade of green. Sgt. Pepper’s is a technicolor rainbow. Joni Mitchell’s Blue is…

When I listen to Yeezus, all I see is that orange. But it’s not orange. As I’m writing this, I am realizing that the color exactly matches the color of a crayon I had in elementary school.

87-scarlet-crayon

Scarlet. This album is scarlet.

I have listened to Yeezus probably fifteen or so times. Every song fascinates me. I’ve walked around the “Gothic Wonderland” of Duke’s campus, gazing at the spires and towers around me, just existing within the world of Yeezus. I’m not going to claim that I understand this album. I don’t think it’s something that can be understood.

But here’s how I see it.

The history of pop music has been a series of expansions of consciousness. That’s why the 60’s were so important. In the course of one year (1965-1966), pop music went from this:

To this:

That’s huge. Those songs come from two different universes. The sheer pace at which music moved back then still boggles my mind. New perceptions were formed almost instantaneously.

And that is what we are witnessing here. 2013 is the new 1966.

Kanye has invented a new idiom for self-expression in pop music. He’s Bob Dylan. He’s John Lennon. He’s Brian Wilson. He’s the greatest artist of the twenty-first century. I have no doubt about that.

2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy represented the apex of the standard rap idiom. Where else could Kanye go but into uncharted territory?

“Can we get much higher?” No, we can’t.

So let’s go sideways instead.

Every listen to Yeezus is fresh and startling. And every moment fills me with rapture.

Some elements stand above the rest. That ultra-processed guitar solo that swoops in partly through “Hold My Liquor”. The Justin Vernon vocals of “I’m in It”. That Egypt-evoking sonic orgasm in “New Slaves”. The horns in “Blood on the Leaves”, my favorite song of the year. The harshly epic lyrics throughout the album. “Uh-huh honey.”

Yeezus isn’t a perfect album. It’s defiantly flawed, and that’s what makes it great. I see greatness in Kanye. I truly do. And that’s coming from someone who has 204 Beatles songs on his phone.

I could never analyze this album in its entirety. So I’m going to end this review with my analysis of about ten seconds of it.

It happens at 2:35 in “New Slaves”.

Just after railing against the incarceration system’s unjust treatment of black people and decrying the wealthy white inhabitants of The Hamptons in extremely vulgar fashion, Kanye goes into chipmunk mode.

You read that right. Chipmunk mode. Just after offering a scathing criticism of what Kanye sees as a deeply corrupt American complex, Kanye gives us this:

Why? He’s throwing the listener for a loop. Deliberately disorienting you. Combining the deeply serious with the hilariously farcical. This is something that Lou Reed also pointed out during his review, remarking that Kanye “keeps unbalancing you.” He does this countless times throughout the album, and it makes Yeezus all the more fascinating.

“Hurry up with my damn croissants!”

Furthermore, Kanye is consciously hearkening back to his earlier days. Pitched-up voices were a vital aspect of his pre-rapping production work, and they were especially evident on his debut album, 2004’s The College Dropout. He’s showing us how much he’s grown.

Oh, 2004 Kanye. How things have changed.

So here we are. Kanye just completely revolutionized the game of popular music. But I don’t think Yeezus will prove to be an influential album. Because having influence would imply that someone out there could come anywhere close to copying it.

Best song: “Blood on the Leaves”

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