– By Austin Reed –
RATING: “PUSH PLAY”
First things first: When it comes to Kanye West, inference is useless. Over the span of his six-album tenure, the gamut has been run with little left overlooked. Inaugural full-length The College Dropout launched in 2004 just as quickly as West could remove himself from the hospital bed he occupied in the wake of a car accident that nearly killed him. And it’s no wonder: the 21-track declaration covered so wide a variety of material that it appeared as though West was bursting at the seams to get this stuff on record.
The appeal of Dropout was followed closely by the more radio-ready Late Registration, another 21-track exploration that pitted definitive hip-hop against the curb appeal of his own personalized creativity. By then, “Gold Digger,” “Heard ‘Em Say,” “Drive Slow,” and “Diamonds for Sierra Leone,” had become West’s Top 40 calling cards. But more interestingly, they also served as indicators of the direction the genre was heading. Mainstream and underground were no longer mutually exclusive.
As stated earlier, however, there’s no point in trying to guess at West’s trajectory. Graduation, for as spectacular an album as it was, merely served as an upbeat intermission between the optimistic buildup and the dismal breakdown. 808’s and Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy garnered some of the most positive acclaim in the history of hip-hop despite (or maybe because of) their explicitly somber themes. It was all a brutal practice in self-reflection for West, having just dealt with a myriad of stunts (including but not limited to: the Taylor Swift VMA interruption) that no-doubt sent him down a path of hopeful retraction with no recourse. Track after self-deprecating track delivered unprecedentedly hedonistic lyrics and uncultivated beats. The message was painfully real, and you couldn’t shake it if you tried. It was an abrupt entrance into the mind of Kanye West at his most volatile.
After all there is to say about the ground West has covered, however, there’s much more to say about the ground he is currently laying. Yeezus does well to place a pin in the map of the emotional insanity that Kanye has all-but openly admitted. In an era of hip-hop when sonic mystification acts as a gauge for an artist’s depth, he has effectively raised the bar impossibly high for anyone else to reach. Each track is more caustic than the one before it, which is convenient, since West has learned to embrace (and exploit) the charm of anguish.
In standard form, Yeezus is drenched with guest spots that add certain depth to an already breakneck record. Album opener, “On Sight,” delivers solid-thump ignition with the production help of Daft Punk. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon reprises his role as the Yin to West’s Yang in retro-reverie “Hold My Liquor,” and the sexually decadent dance floor drop, “I’m In It.” But the album’s brightest moment comes in, “Blood on the Leaves,” a lament over divorce that samples Nina Simone’s, “Strange Fruit,” and spotlights the bass-founded intricacy of virtuosic production duo TNGHT.
Despite the widespread confusion that has amassed in the wake of the album’s launch, Yeezus makes a just observation: Harmfully charged emotional admission makes for a damn good musical odyssey. We can only hope that this album is a proper prognosis of the direction hip-hop continues to pursue.
“Yeezus (Full Album)”