#269: Yeezus, Kanye West
This album came out the year I graduated high school, 2013. God, I had the opportunity to be a fan of Kanye West when he was the coolest person on the planet, and I missed it. In ten years I’m going to be kicking myself by not listening to Olivia Rodrigo.
RS calls this record an example of Ye’s “ever-darkening megalomania,” a phrase that stuck with me. Kanye has certainly been a pillar of egoism since this record’s release, for better and for worse. Maybe because he literally has a song titled “I Am a God.” It’s a great song, depending on how you feel about blasphemy — it even credits God in the liner notes as a featured artist. Damn, dude! And if you think he’s being tongue-in-cheek, there was a notorious interview he gave where he doubled down on the message, so rest assured he’s not.
The ego thing put me off of Kanye until I got to college, when I met a self-described “die-hard Kanye fan.” He convinced me that Kanye’s philosophy was more complex than simple egomania. Listening to Kanye’s complicated reverence of himself on this record reminded me of that conversation, so I reached out to that friend again. He agreed with me: “Absolutely believe that [Kanye has] used his egoism as a way to empower himself … Yeezus is the pinnacle of that.”
There’s just so much to love about this narcissistic, blasphemous record. Fifty percent of the lyrics are genius (sorry, *jeen-yuhs). “Hold My Liquor” rhymes Deepak Chopra with Call 2Pac over, while the X-rated “I’m In It” references MLK and civil rights protest signs while talking about, um, lady body parts. And of course Kanye packs it full of cool production tricks, like the trippy-synth-Autotune combo on “Guilt Trip” and the tuneful, terrifying siren on “Send It Up.”
My favorite thing about delving into West’s career is learning how distinct each one of his albums is. Fantasy is the horror soundtrack, Graduation has the stadium sound, 808s is the Autotune one, and Dropout is the one that makes me anxious to be in school. This is the Daft Punk one (yes, even though the Daft Punk sample is on another one). Daft Punk produced four songs on the record, and man, it shows. “On Sight” is one of them, but it doesn’t sound like them — it sounds like nothing else, lasers shooting as Kanye screams.
The electrobeats are the star here, and my favorite songs were where Ye lets them get fuzzy. It’s so effective on “Black Skinhead,” a provocative song that somehow got TONS of radio play. It’s just so damn catchy, especially when the drums start beating as he screams that we KNOW IT! Kanye has a gift for making provocative racial commentary mainstream — remember “New Slaves”? He performed that on freaking SNL! It’s a terrifying dystopian take on racial relations, and I know that ten years seems not that long ago, but it was, and that shit was revolutionary.
“Blood on the Leaves,” a breakup song with a divine Nina Simone sample underneath, isn’t strictly political. But the sample gives the song this undercurrent of darkness and rage that’s related to race and Kanye’s own inner struggles. It’s profound, it’s Black, it’s biting…
…and then it gets silly. I don’t know if you remember “Bound 2,” but I do. I may not have been a Ye fan, but I watched that music video at least twenty-five times. The green screen is bad, but that kind of makes it great. Obviously Kim looks incredible as a honey-blonde, and she is owning the nudity. But she is riding NAKED on the HANDLEBARS of his MOTORCYCLE. Jesus truly wept.
(I would be remiss not to mention “Bound 3,” a shot-for-shot recreation of the video starring James Franco and Seth Rogen. James doesn’t do a great Ye, but Seth embodies Kim K. Highly recommend.)
Of course it feels cruel to mock this music video now that West is publicly harassing Kardashian. Even my die-hard-Kanye-fan friend didn’t defend that one to me.
I asked that friend what he thought of Kanye’s public meltdowns over the past few years, and he pointed to Kanye’s open struggle with bipolar and medication. He added, “I find that if you listen to [Kanye interviews] in full context, most of his wack quotes are from misguided good intentions, … but that mania combined with his egoism is a dangerous combination.” And you know, I see his point. In fact, the interview Ye got in hot water for isn’t as outrageous as people think it is. He goes on to say:
“Would have been better if I had a song that said, ‘I am a n****?’ or if I had song that said ‘I am a gangsta?’ … All those colors and patinas fit better on a person like me, right? But to say you are a god? Especially, when you got shipped over to the country that you’re in, and your last name is a slave owner’s. How could you say that? How could you have that mentality?”
To me, that says a lot. He’s maybe not being articulate about it, but he’s talking about subverting his own self-esteem. I know a lot of people who have needed to do that at some point in their lives, and that’s I think what’s at the core of Kanye’s appeal. I hope he’s doing well.