Did you hear that rumble earlier? It was the sound of the Internet shaking as news tweeted across the world that Kanye West’s sixth solo album “Yeezus” sprang a leak, just four days before its official June 18 release.
The anticipation for the album has been massive since West coyly tweeted the release date for the effort last month. Fans expected a single, but the rollout of “Yeezus” has been unorthodox, to say the least. First, there was the screening of his “New Slaves” clip on select buildings in cities all over the world. The video was never given to conventional outlets like YouTube or MTV. Then came his “SNL” showing, where he performed “New Slaves” and the raucous “Black Skinheads.” And finally, he debuted a slew of newbies last Sunday in New York at the Governors Ball festival. Still, it wasn’t until this week that Kanye did something common for any other artist with an album on deck: he hosted a listening session. On Monday (June 10), West and his Def Jam record label invited peers and media to hear what he’d spent months in Paris and Los Angeles recording.
“Yeezus” is a medley of several genres — new wave, punk, rock, and of course hip-hop. Those looking for vintage soul sounds or even full-on raps from start to finish will be thrown several curves here. It’s an album with numerous emotional layers as well. There are a few lighthearted moments, and cuts about love along with lust. But mostly, West is just plain mad — angry at naysayers, “The Man” censoring his art, and even at his own celeb status.
But after all is said and done, does “Yeezus” live up to the hype? Is West, in fact, the Michael Jordan of music (as he claimed in a recent New York Times article)? Here’s our track-by-track analysis of the year’s most aniticpated — and what will undoubtedly be the most scrutizied — hip-hop album of 2013.
1. On Sight
The album begins like a scene a sketchy downtown dance club, as if Kanye’s trying to figure out what frequency “Yeezus” will tune to. The beat — which comes courtesy of French dance demigods Daft Punk — starts with fuzzy synths that turn solid to prance over the track. “Yeezy season’s approaching,” Kanye raps. “…The monster’s about to come alive again.”
2. Black Skinhead
Over tumbling, industrial-sounding drums (maybe the sort of massacre music they played back during battles at Rome’s Colosseum), West tackles the perception of a black man dating a white woman, saying racist people are “gon’ come and kill King Kong.” He’s a savage on this song, for sure — bent on deading everything and anyone that isn’t “ready for action.” Kanye claims to be wiser than he’s ever been, meaning those in the wrong should probably watch their backs. “If I knew what I know in the past,” he raps, “I would’ve been blacked out on your ass.”
3. I Am a God
Through shooting synths, squeals and mushed bass, Kanye revels in all the negativity he’s endured — the hate received for everything from his fashion sense to brand of hip-hop — and proclaims himself to be a god “until the day I get struck by lightning.” The pained screams towards end make this one teeter towards horrorcore. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon pops in at the tail of this monster to haunt a bit as well.
4. New Slaves
Many are already familiar with this spiteful cut from Kanye’s “SNL” performance in May. The album version is just as viscous. Kanye clowns anyone that’s more sheep than shepherd. “You see there’s leaders and there’s followers,” he starts. “But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” Unapologetic, as usual. “New Slaves” is basic on the production side, mainly relying on a soft bassline until a scrambled mack truck of a synth drives through on the song’s especially aggressive conclusion. “Fuck you and your Hampton house,” Kanye spits, attacking officials in power positions filtering art hiding information from audiences in need of both. It drastically transforms into something soulful and visceral at the end, with West hopping on the voice-altering device Auto-Tune to sing. Frank Ocean helps close the joint with a few coos as well.
5. Hold My Liquor
Justin Vernon opens this woozy track that finds a drunk Kanye stumbling into an exes home for some emotionally reckless and scattered sex. “[The] pussy had me floating,” says West of the night. “Feel like Deepak Chopra.” There’s a healthy dose of Auto-Tune of here, too, as “Liquor” continues album’s string of songs that feature several sonic twists and turns.
6. I’m In It
Here, Kanye mangles his voice and flips to beast mode while talking about the things he’s going to do to a women in bed. “All I need is sweet and sour sauce,” he says after, referring to performing oral sex on an Asian woman. That portion of the song is slow winding — but all of a sudden, it turns into a dancehall romp. “That’s right, I’m in it,” West says repeatedly while an island guest crows every few bars.
7. Blood on the Leaves
Sampling Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit,” “Leaves” opens softly with piano keys bouncing lightly and Kanye trying to shake some thoughts, lamenting about a failed relationship. “I just need to clear my mind now,” he sings. “It’s been racing since the summer time.” Clearly, he fails at trying to slow his mind down. Both he and the beat flip into a quaking rage. “We could’ve been somebody,” he yelps. The raps that fill the second half are cruelly aimed at groupies, then spiral back into Auto-Tuned moans. Seven songs in, and there’s still no sign of “traditional hip-hop” on “Yeezus.”
8. Guilt Trip
This is a brief thumper with Kanye once again looking back at a failed relationship. “This is the time when my heart got shot down,” he recounts in his vocals, delivered as a hybrid of raps and singing.
9. Send It Up
Sirens wail from the start as Kanye preps to enter a party — but not before a girl and her crew ask for him to get them in. “’Can you get my Benz in the club,’” he retorts in wise-ass fashion. “’If not, treat your friends like my Benz: park they ass outside until the evening ends.’” Reggae infects “Up” at the end as well.
10. Bound 2
This one is for those starving for West’s soulful sound of yore. Sampling Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound,” Kanye confronts his “leave a pretty girl sad” reputation with women. “One good girl is worth a thousand bitches,” he says. Singer Charlie Wilson croons on the hook, effectively closing out West’s most adventurous album to date singing “there’s no leaving this party with nobody to love.”