My Thoughts on Yeezus When It First Came Out (That I Still Stand By Today)

When I was 12 or 13, my mom sat me down and placed my newly-purchased copy of Antichrist Superstar in front of me and, like one of those creepy child psychologists on TV, asked me if I was ‘okay.’

When I assured her I was (confession: I probably wasn’t), she then asked me why I decided to buy the album in the first place, as if it was the manifestation of all the blossoming feelings of apathy and rebellion that were about to dominate my adolescent self for the next few years. I remember rolling my eyes all over her question, claiming that she had no idea how to understand non-traditional beauty (I know…).

I bring this up not just because Kanye samples “Beautiful People,” the standout track from Antichrist Superstar, on “Black Skinhead,” [writer/editor’s note: turns out this isn’t a sample just a very similar beat, but stick with me because I need it for the analogy about to happen right now] but because it takes the same kind of patience and mindset to find the beauty in Kanye West’s Yeezus that it does to appreciate Marilyn Manson (whom I will defend has a few pretty great songs, including his cover of “Tainted Love,” the music video for which is a promo for the eternally underrated Not Another Teen Movie).

Kanye West, the pop star who wants to be something to everyone and everything more than that, has unleashed upon the world an album that does its best to shock and frighten away any casual listener that might not be worthy of understanding and appreciating its magnitude, while at the same time barraging a quote-hungry media with some of the most grandiose, hyperbolic statements of his career in regards to this album.

And while much can be (and has been) written about Kanye’s new worldview, the most fascinating article I’ve seen so far about the album has been Pitchfork’s collection of quotes from those handful of collaborators on the album. They provide valuable insight into the mind and work habits of Yeezy, and they explain some of the message that this album is trying to get across.

They also, unanimously, praise Kanye as a workhorse and a genius.

Hudson Mohawke, one half of TNGHT and a regular contributor for Kanye these days, describes it by saying, “A lot of the record is trying to avoid obviousness,” which is a great way to encapsulate all the helter-skelter twists and turns that appear at near every curve of the album. Next-generation rapper Travi$ Scott defines it as a need to “undermine the commercial.”

So this is Kanye’s punk album, adorned in industrial hip-hop.

The opening track, “On Sight,” grinds its way violently through eardrums with the help of rusty buzzsaw synths and, as Mohawke says, “puts a message across that this is a very different record.” But this kind of sonic onslaught isn’t a haphazard mess; up-and-coming beatmaker Evian Christ details that “the atmosphere is very focused. It’s a room full of people who are working towards the same idea.” This is Tyler-Durdian meticulously-planned anarchy punk (there’s even a Fight Club reference on “Bound 2″) clocking in at less than 40 minutes runtime.

But it’s that kind of obsessive tweaking — what veteran producer/engineer/mixer Anthony Kilhoffer distinguished as “dissecting, or recreating, or considering the relevance in contemporary music” — that lets the more-accessible moments in Yeezus shine brighter than anything Kanye has ever done. There is so much unabashed personality in moments like the first verse of “I Am A God,” the vulgarly seductive lines of “I’m In It”, or even just Justin Vernon’s first words to intro “Hold My Liquor” that it allows the bigger picture beauty of the album to blink itself into view, even if just for a second. The lack of, as Justin Vernon himself put it, “pedestrian fuckery” on the record lets each replay of it rock-tumble the hard edges of the tracks into something that is continually more satisfying with each listen.

Travi$ Scott says that one has to be “really dialed in to understand” the delicacies entrenched in this album, but I believe that’s why Hudson Mohawke is right when he claims that its initial inaccessibility will be what is “going to give it more longevity and put it in a category of records that you’ll go back to in 10 years time.”

In the meantime, start working on this album now and enjoy all the non-traditional beauty it has to offer.


Originally posted on Brightest Young Things on June 26, 2013