Extravagance has been the byword for Kanye West’s creative endeavours over the past few years. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy from 2010, for example, was a production of absurd grandiosity and while the following year’s Jay-Z collaboration Watch the Throne wasn’t quite as gaudy, West’s lyrical braggadocio certainly seemed to balloon to barely fathomable levels.
It might seem that with a title like Yeezus, West’s latest album would continue in that trajectory but it’s actually a collection that does more to deconstruct his status as a hip-hop superstar.
Musically, Yeezus is a powerhouse of brutal noise and abrasiveness that often makes you recoil on first listen. Bass is the primary sonic weapon it gets used repeatedly. Opener “On Site” sounds like a mutated Eighties techno track, throbbing malevolence and power from every beat.
The dancehall-inflected “Track Six” is also built around a lead-heavy groove and the tone is darkened even further by West’s demonic and sexually charged delivery. Things get even more experimental on “Track Five” which melds together a woozy, multi-layered ambience.
Lyrically, the boastfulness hasn’t disappeared by any means but it sits on a far more even keel with outrage, introspection and even humour. The ferocious “I Am a God” skewers the ludicrousness of fame and delusion by spitting out such unlikely rhymes as “I am a god/So hurry up with my damn massage”. Elsewhere, a disgust at modern consumerism informs the righteous rage of “New Slaves”.
The album rounds off on a gentler note with the soulful Bon Iver/Chief Keef collaboration “Bound” but it’s not quite enough to make up for the noise, confusion and white-knuckle excitement that has gone before. If the provocation costs him some fans, then so be it because Kanye West has emphatically rejected the idea of making another slick hip-hop record precisely because it’s what has become expected of him. It’s not quite godlike, but Yeezus certainly feels like it was created by a higher power. HP
Download: On Site, I Am A God, New Slaves, Track Five
Some song titles were not confirmed at the time of going to press