Kanye West’s sixth solo album Yeezus drops tomorrow. It also happened to leak onto the internet a couple of days ago, so I had a listen.
Some lo-fi YouTube fan-uploads of a couple of songs, ‘Black Skinhead’ and ‘New Slaves’ showed us that if we were expecting a hip-hop album from Kanye West, then we’d be disappointed. No single, no radio-promo, no iTunes pre-orders. “I got this new strategy. It’s called no strategy. I got an idea how to sell more music: it’s called make better music.“ By not promoting his album in the traditional sense, West left fans desperate to hear his latest concoction.
The album is littered with tantalising features and production credits, including Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and multiple productions by Daft Punk. However it was the enlisting of Rick Rubin as executive producer which ensured an album that “lacked focus” was finished to Kanye-standard, just days before it was due to be submitted to Def Jam.
Yeezus does not start gradually, or ease you in. Yeezus grabs you by the throat and forces you to give it your full attention. There are no comedy skits or interludes, no fucking around, just straight into the music. ‘On Sight’, the opening track, sounds like Death Grips got their hands on it. They didn’t, but the immediate wall of noise that greets you, you could be forgiven for thinking so.
The album crashes into perspective, ‘Black Skinhead’ in particular, with its rumbling, thundering drum beat, one that is such a welcome change from the drum-machines you hear under every other rap song. The beat is so infectious, and West’s lyrics are so charged, that you can’t help but be swept along by it.
The opening four songs are all high-tempo, chest-beating anthems, but ‘I Am a God’ is, as you can guess by the title, not a modest track. Three minutes and 52 seconds of bragging and deity-comparisons are a departure from the political call-to-arms of ‘Black Skinhead’ and ‘New Slaves’, but it doesn’t seem out of place.
The album does trail off slightly towards the end, not to say that the songs are bad by any means, but from such a fiery start, songs like ‘I’m In It’, just a song about sex, feel like an afterthought. Dance-floor destroyers TNGHT continue their astronomical rise with a production credit of their own for Blood on the Leaves, which takes a sample of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, layers it with some auto-tuned half-singing from Kanye, and then descends into organised chaos with the introduction of a sample of TNGHT’s ‘R U Ready‘.
Overall, Yeezus is a very good album, if not a masterpiece. A particular highlight is the production; the industrial, punk-ish sounds are a surprising but welcome change from the omni-present 808s and bone-shuddering basslines in modern hip hop. What’s more, West never struggles to be heard on any beat, his lyrics hover above the cacophony, forcing their way into your brain. It’s highly unlikely that Kanye’s next album will sound anything like Yeezus, but if this is a one-off foray into this kind of sound, then he’s showcased his admirable versatility yet again.