Sometimes, artists need to shake things up a bit. You could argue Kanye West has been doing that for awhile now, whether it was the excess attached to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the collaborative nature of Watch the Throne or the simply commercialized slant of the production on Cruel Summer. But to say that his latest outing, the strangely yet fittingly titled Yeezus, is a change of pace for West would be a bit of an understatement. Hell, it’s a big understatement.
It’s easy enough to see the difference in approach on Yeezus. Whether it’s the stripped down, almost tribal beats populating most of these tracks or the fiery, almost too-blunt lyricism West fires up, Yeezus does quite a bit to distance itself from the rest of his work. “On Sight” opens the record with a jarring electro-riff that is both raw and strangely catchy at the same time – a seemingly well-placed nod to this record’s nature in many ways. Sometimes it is the nature of the beats (“Blood on the Leaves,” “I Am a God”), while other times the song structures throw us for a loop in a session of sporadic riffing or random segues. It is at these moments where I am most torn as a Kanye fan – I appreciate his drive to do something radical on this record, but it’s almost too radical at moments that it kills the vibe or simply just doesn’t meet the bar he’s gotten to with his rapping career.
That being said, the lyrical content on Yeezus is soaked with self-boosting wordplay that plays itself more like one-hit jabs rather than completely indulgent passages of storytelling. It’s tough not to have expectations with a record that from beat one is totally out in left field – Kanye or otherwise – but the ups and downs of this record are a little bit more exposed on the lyrical side of things. Sometimes, Kanye’s spite is pretty much right on (“New Slaves,” “Blood on the Leaves”), where other times he leaves us a bit dry in terms of tactful delivery (“I’m in It”). Still, his ability to deliver the punchline is still potent, even if a line like “Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign” is a bit more tough to swallow than “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”
But even as I’m willing to be critical of where Yeezus might not live up to the hype it gave itself, both in how it suddenly came out of nowhere and had songs premiered on screens around the world, this album is strangely addictive in a sense that you can barely scratch the surface of its layers in one listen. Where you might be entranced with a beat one time around, you’re getting angry with Kanye about the location of a particular pastry on another listen. It’s not packed with finesse, but that nature of his narration through the record reaches the sometimes manic nature of the fuzzy, distorted synths and punching drum beats that occupy much of Yeezus.
Though I’m willing to say this isn’t the best thing Kanye has done in his career – almost without hesitation – it still portrays his work in a way that isn’t relatively safe or familiar, and for that I respect the content of this record. Yeezus isn’t always on point, but there are moments where you can really get down on what’s being said and played into your ears. Even still, if you give it the chance – and maybe check your expectations at the door – Yeezus is an unorthodox but oddly enjoyable ride through the mind of one of hip-hop’s premier names in the game.