I’ve heard opinions from three people I personally know about Kanye West’s new album Yeezus. All three have extremely negative critiques of Kanye’s shortest LP to date (a mere 40 minutes).
I suppose I can understand why. Yeezus almost completely foregoes the soulful hooks and choruses, by and large, of West’s older albums. Even My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy occasionally played it safe (All Of The Lights, Power), and had its moments of gentler reflection (Blame Game, Lost In The World).
Yeezus, however, will fray your nerves through all 40 jarring minutes. It will test your ability to stand Kanye’s narcissistic, self-pitying, and off-and-on misogynist / racist lyrics. Unlike other songs which struck such self-obsessed chords (“Monster”), Yeezus’ backing beats offer little in the way of distraction from the grating content of the verses. This, I think, is where Kanye’s hip-hop audience and more casual fans will parts ways with the album.
Since his rise to mainstream popularity, Kanye West’s music has largely been lost on tweens and twenty-somethings looking for “pop-ish” hip-hop or club / dance mixes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, though I also think it shows that many of West’s “fans” actually have very little respect for him as an artist, and look at him more like a glorified DJ (and I do consider that an insult). There is very little appreciation for what he has to contribute to the canon, as compared to how many tracks he can produce that are suitable for tonight’s playlist.
This is why, although it is not perfect in every way, I welcome Yeezus. Kanye has struck back hard against an audience that began to demand things of his artistic output, a demand I think no audience has any right to make of any artist. Not only that, it is a polarizing and artistically ambitious – not to mention risky – effort.
To draw on analogy, in 1975, an album called Tonight’s The Night was released by Neil Young, one of my favorite musicians of all time. It was hated by the majority of his fans. Even critics were less than totally receptive to it at the time (by contrast, critics seem to love Yeezus). It was dark, dreary, recorded by an absolutely shitface-drunk band, and incomprehensibly out of character for Young after he achieved fame for hits like Old Man, Heart of Gold, Ohio, and After the Gold Rush. Today, it has a very secure spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All TIme.
To critics of Yeezus, I say this: give it a month or two. Come back to it. Something tells me that if you really do like West as an artist, you will. And you’ll enjoy it. It’s now an integral part of the in-progress portrait of a man who may well be hip-hop’s most progressive force. Don’t be so quick to judge a change of direction.