Whenever an artist as bombastic as Kanye West (please refer to him as Yeezus) releases an updated piece of artwork in their medium, it usually spawns an impromptu Internet delirium by/for aficionados itching to get a taste of the pie. Multiply this by a hundred when, as is usually the case in hip-hop, factors like unanticipated leaks just shy of intended release dates and carefully planned marketing tactics mend together to fire up the tension and anticipation for said artwork.
Two weeks ago, Mr. West found himself in this situation as the imminent arrival of his 6th solo album, Yeezus, loomed over the hip-hop sphere. Word of another Ye album had come just two months before its purported release, which rushed fans into processing the situation with only the little time and information they were given to soak in what exactly was going on. Tensions grew as this album, what would later be called Yeezus, played the part of elusive, anti-capitalist piece of magnificent artwork remarkably well (tactfully-marketed departure album would be the more appropriate terminology in this situation).
It’s originally programmed June 18th release was, of course, affronted by a premature leak of the entire album just two days before, which subsequently blew up the music blogosphere into an illusive ruckus. Opinions flared as many took to their social media accounts and blog pages to describe exactly what the hell Kanye West had just come out with, and more importantly, how they felt about it. Yeezus, like the artist behind it, was a polarizing album to say the least. While words like “new hip-hop” and “ART” (my favorite) poured through the internet, they were negated by equal parts “trash” and “what the fuck”?
To give you a simplified run-down of the album (I’m not reviewer), Ye’s production implemented abrasive and minimalistic electronic ingredients you would expect to hear in some underground dance club in London in the year 2235. Most of it resembled what I think robots grunting and turning rusty knobs in a scrap-metal factory in Saturn would sound like, the farthest cry from the soulful expression of pre-2008 Kanye (he did force a few soul samples in between the turning switches to garner both winning and losing results). Yeezus’ raucous, penetrating aesthetic was reinforced by the album’s deliberate downplay on drums. Kanye essentially took everything that traditionally makes a rap beat “hip-hop” and threw it out the proverbial window. And who would the character of the holy trinity Kanye West/Mr. West/now Yeezus be if he didn’t challenge the way we define hip-hop and “rapper” every time the muses in his head turn and whirl in dissatisfaction.
The lyrical themes Ye called to, however, were one of the few elements in Yeezus that stuck to the “traditional” hip-hop route – anti-establishment, braggadocio, misogyny, sexual escapades, drugs and alcohol – all projected in the beloved Kanye rant. His lyrical content and ability were more inspiring in previous works, this time opting for the paltrier vulgar and sensationalist route in Yeezus.
The production, being so decidedly unlike anything we’d ever heard in mainstream hip-hop, moved many to praise Yeezus as the coming of a new era in hip-hop and music in general, the ultimate zenith music had reached in our generation thus far. I reside on the opposite side the spectrum, where most of us could do nothing but scratch our heads as we tried to digest Yeezus and understand the message Mr. West was trying to impart on his listeners. Personally, my appreciation for the album grew after four listens, where I was able to catch idiosyncrasies and even form an attachment to some of my favorite songs off the album, but this sentiment has reached its ultimate potential.
While I’m more fond of the album than at my first listen the day after it was leaked, I’m still cautious to label Yeezus as something of a John Cage “4’33’’” for our modern hip-hop tendencies. My appreciation for Yeezus lies in the fact that it did get listeners thinking outside the box (even more successfully than Ye’s first perplexing album 808’s & Heartbreak). He pushed the envelope in a manner that got people saying “Oh?” and considering the implications of his new sound. But that’s where it ends. I don’t expect artists to start adopting the aesthetic employed in Yeezus on their forthcoming releases nor do I think hip-hop will see a dramatic shift towards bitter robotic groan noises.
And I also recognize that the large attention garnered by Yeezus can be thanked to the marketing efforts pressing the album forward. Ye declared numerous times that he refused to promote the album, but SNL performances, video projections in 66 cities, and interviews with major publications all done leading up to its June release can make any cynic squirm in bed (the video projections could very well be a creative addition to Yeezus, but the other two undeniably have “promotion” written all over them). And the fact that he announced the album just 2 months prior to its imminent arrival (even thought he admitted it had been at least 6 months in the works) sounds like a shifty move on Mr. West’s part to build tension and sentiments among his listeners.
Since Graduation, Kanye has been in constant state of reinvention. The consistency that Kanye met during the era of his first three album releases has been unmatched since he graced us with 808’s & Heartbreaks. At that point Ye himself knew that he had reached stadium status and acquired a certain poetic license in what he could get away with artistically. Which leads us, now, to Yeezus. It did its job. It got some musicheads thinking outside the box and thinking differently about hip-hop, but that’s where it ends. He didn’t reinvent anything or permanently alter the state of hip-hop. In fact, I even want to out and claim that Ye repurposed music techniques already used in other electronic music genres and labeled it a hip-hop. I don’t want to take away from the ingenuity that it took to create an album like Yeezus, but it’s not an album I’m going to be listening to 10 years from now. Regardless, only time will tell the real impact Yeezus will have on hip-hop in the long-run.