Forget what you’ve heard. Yeezus may be very good, but it isn’t a masterpiece. It isn’t the Second Coming. In fact, Kanye seems unburdened of expectations after all the accolades his last album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy received. He doesn’t need to assemble an all-star cast-list again or create that perfect radio-friendly hit. Instead he can make the album he wants and focus on (cliché alert) push the boundaries of rap.
Despite the title, a mix of Kanye’s nickname Yeezy and Jesus, there a very few religious references on the album. Ignoring a cringe worthy pun where Kanye anoints himself a ‘rap-lic priest’, it is mostly an analogy for how he sees himself. He has arrived at a point both in the music industry and the world where he can say or do anything and have it received as scripture. This has led to his most radical sound change since his 2008 autotune album. Every song is a mix of dance hall and acid house, with production by Daft Punk on four songs. Despite being completely alien to mainstream music, it is undeniably listenable. It’s a credit to West’s skills as a producer that the beats don’t overwhelm the lyrics.
The closest to a conventional single he offers is New Slaves, which meditates on how consumerism is used to keep both rich and broke black people down. He is deliberately provocative, saying “Doing clothes you would have thought I had held, but they wasn’t satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself.” It is unlikely to get as much radio play as his previous singles but is destined to be discussed for a lot longer. He also addresses racism on Black Skinhead, backed by pounding tribal drums. His view may not be the most nuanced but he throws himself wholeheartedly into it, half-rapping half-screaming lines like “My black leather jeans on, My by-any-means on.”
Kanye has always walked the line between criticising social problems and ignorant misogyny. He tilts slightly too much towards ignorance to make for comfortable listening, however his trademark twisted humour is here in spades, and you may often find yourself laughing despite yourself. He attempts to address his usual themes like celebrity and excess, although too often gets distracted by his latest sample or vocal distortion technique to make a cohesive album. Nevertheless, it is a rollercoaster ride at only 41 minutes, with more twists and turns than you would expect from most artists’ whole careers.
Those fearing his relationship to Kim Kardashian would feature heavily have nothing to worry about; Kanye never mentions his fiancée by name. There may be several love songs, notably Bound 2 and Blood on the Leaves, but these are crude tales of clubbing and doing drugs rather than romantic. He also courted controversy by sampling Strange Fruits, a famous civil rights anthem, and turning it into a song about a one night stand. Nevertheless, taste has never been one of Kanye’s strong points – creating outrageous, in-your-face albums that you will come to love is.
Listening to Yeezus in one go is like going out for a wild night in a new town, meeting some strange new characters and taking some strange new substances. It’s crass, brash and undeniably good fun. It won’t be a religious experience, although may feel biblical when you wake up and you will be keen to repeat it as soon as possible.