Expand

Kanye West 'Yeezus'

The music is as good as it's ever been. But the message is worse than it ever was.

Here’s something often overlooked in the whole Kanye/Taylor Swift dust-up that remains a cultural talking point some four years after it happened: Kanye was right.

What he did wasn’t right. How he’s discussed it since hasn’t been right. But his opinion—that Beyonce’s “All the Single Ladies” deserved the award that Swift won—was on the money. And so, the moment serves as a nice microcosm of West’s career. He’s a blazingly intelligent artist who is unafraid to speak his opinion—but he’s unable to do so without being a complete and utter jerk.

He’s a blazingly intelligent artist who is unafraid to speak his opinion—but he’s unable to do so without being a complete and utter jerk.
And so, your opinion of Kanye often comes down to how much ego you can stomach or how much you can divorce your opinion of Kanye the Man from Kanye the Musician—something Kanye himself goes great lengths to unite. That’s why when, say, he releases an album called Yeezus, you’re almost forced to pick a side. His god complex is married to his art. Maybe even a product of it. And so we find ourselves stuck with an unbearably self-obsessed man who is churning out some legitimately incredible work.

And the music on Yeezus is fairly incredible. Artistically, it sounds like something recorded in the year 2020, which might be about the time the general public is ready for it. Here in 2013, it sounds more impressive than enjoyable. It’s a mish-mash of industrial sounds: fearsome bass and primal screams over which Ye rhymes furiously, sounding far angrier than he’s ever sounded. If you caught his SNL performance, you’ve already heard the blistering “Black Skinheads,” which is the closest thing to rap rock Kanye will ever do. That song works as a good picture of how different Yeezus is from anything else Kanye’s done.

The track that (rightfully) has everyone talking is “Blood on the Leaves” which blends TNGHT over a sample of “Strange Fruit,” Nina Simone’s chilling ode to a Southern lynching. That’s a brave move for a song that’s one scant remix away from a dance anthem, but if you’d hoped—as I did—that such a sample might signify an attempt to delve into issues deeper than Ye’s troubled and troubling romantic life, you’ll be disappointed.

Kanye can write spectacular (and spectacularly profane) lyrics in his sleep, but here, his subject matter rarely transcends Kanye’s favorite subject: Kanye. As on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, there are a few moments of genuine introspection in which Ye grapples with why he can be such a pain (though no song here approaches the revelation that “Runaway” was) but there are not many attempts to say anything of significance about the world into which he’s become such a major player. He takes stabs at talking about the corrupt recording industry (“New Slaves”) but Kanye is mostly finding endlessly inventive and appalling ways to talk sex.

Mean-spirited sex is a subject Mr. West has never been shy about, but he pushes limits here. Almost every track has some sort of reference to sex being used to degrade and demean his partners. The opening song, “On Sight,” is designed to shock, no two ways about it, but it’s tame compared to “I’m In It”—featuring his increasingly frequent collaborator Justin Vernon—which is unforgivably cruel.

American hip-hop is uniquely positioned to say something raw and honest about the national climate. It is to today what folk music was to the ‘60s—an unfiltered, unapologetic look at American life. As a recent example, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d City shed a light on growing up in the projects. In detailing his own struggles between feeling pulled between faith of his family and the violence of the world around him, Lamar said something vital about America. Yeezus, true to its name, only says something vital about Kanye.

Case in point: “I Am a God,” one of the album’s best and worst tracks, part of which finds Kanye “chilling” with Jesus, during which he observes “I know He’s the Most High / but I am a close high.” Following the Yeezus leak, it took scant minutes for the Internet to catch onto that song’s instantly quotable refrain of “I am a god / hurry up with my d-mn massage / hurry up with my d-mn menage / get the Porsche out the d-mn garage” and, of course, “Hurry up with the d-mn croissants.”

Kanye West is saying something important, but it's impossible to hear it over the deafening shriek of his own bravado.
It’s a ludicrous song, so much so that most are speculating it’s meant to be ironic. Kanye’s poking fun at himself, his celebrity and how he uses his divine authority to demand luxurious trivialities. It’s a larger commentary on celebrity culture. Perhaps, and if so, it only means we’re back where we began: Kanye West is saying something important, but it's impossible to hear it over the deafening shriek of his own bravado.

On Saturday, Kanye brought a daughter into the world with Kim Kardashian, and there’s a general sense of unease regarding this child’s well-being. However, one of the few things infants are adept at is humbling their parents. It’s hard to feel like a god while juggling diapers.

Could this girl, reportedly named Kaidence (EDIT: Nope. Her name is officially North.), knock some sense into her father? It’d be far from the first time a family humanized a brilliant-but-troubled artist (Johnny Cash comes to mind). While we won’t be getting any Will Smith-like tributes to the joys of fatherhood, it’s not too late to hope for a more grounded Kanye—a man who is, by any measure, one of his generation’s best and most important artists.

The only thing that’s holding him back is how well he knows it.

23 Comments

cyndi dumas

4

cyndi dumas reviewed…

I am not sure why someone would assume the speaker in the lyrics is the same person that is singing, unless he or she has never taken a literature or poetry class in his or her life.
I take much of what Kanye writes as a voice that shows us what we as a society are grappling with in pop culture, not his personal philosophy or intimate confession. I think it is a very narrow point of view to assume he is speaking his heart in every line he writes, brilliant or base.

Lindsay

6

Lindsay reviewed…

Man these comments are discouraging. They show that majority of people cannot stomach Kanye's ego.. and understandably so. What's most unfortunate is when comments say, that Relevant should only position themselves as denounce-rs of culture, instead of criticizers and cultivators of culture. I guarantee that Relevant is the only magazine with a Christian worldview that is choosing to dialogue about the genius which does exist in Kayne West's music. Check out these lyrics from New Slave:

My momma was raised in an era when,
Clean water was only served to the fairer skin
Doing clothes you would have thought I had help
But they wasn't satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself.
You see it's broke nigga racism
That's that "Don't touch anything in the store"
And there's rich nigga racism
That's that "Come here, please buy more"

I do not deny that Kayne is an egotistical maniac, nor that his lyrics can be both existentially brilliant while grotesquely discussing sex escapades. Who else is discussing and remixing Nina Simone's Strange Fruit with concepts of "New Slaves" or a mocking celebrity culture?

I encourage you to read Andy Crouch's Culture Maker which challenges the notion of "Culture Wars" and how Christians are trying to engage with the world and culture around us, that is indeed made in the image of God, fallen, in the process of redemption, and not a surprise to our Lord.

Loud Belle

2

Loud Belle reviewed…

I believe the review is definitely a lukewarm review. Regardless of its creative prowess, not only its blasphemous. I definitely understand the fine line progessive christians teeter when it comes to pop culture. Sometimes I'm not sure if Christians should even engage, because your mission can become watered-down.

Loud Belle

2

Loud Belle reviewed…

 “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, neid not rld norr hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth." Revelations 3: 15-16

Please use your platform to take a stand for Jesus. Let's not be lukewarm.

Angelika Ziegler

3

Angelika Ziegler reviewed…

It is frustrating to see in these comments that we are still approaching popular culture from a perspective that 'because it isn't about Jesus it can't have any good in it' which is absolutely ridiculous. We must be wise about the way we ingest popular culture, but completely rejecting it because it doesn't have to do with Jesus is contrary to the idea of being 'in the world but not of it'. We need to learn to engage in our society and be informed about it in order to be taken seriously by that culture. Thank you Relevant for doing things that are not 'Christian' in many peoples eyes but are more Christ-like than most in this current secular vs. sacred culture.

Please log in or register to review