I’ve listened to Yeezus about three times as much as I’ve listened to the new Mac Miller, and boy do I have some motherfucking opinions.
Let’s get the perhaps obvious out of the way: Yeezus is sonically impressive - by turns beautiful and savage. It’s abrasive in all the right places. The (perhaps) more polished MBDTF scuzzed up some vocal tracks while piling feathery layer upon gilded layer in the instrumentals. Yeezus takes the opposite approach. The beat drops vertiginously in and out creating syncopation and unease. The industrial/house/buzzword sound is anti-pop and anti-radio. It makes for a thrilling listen.
OK - got that?
I don’t think anyone would ever say I’m a hater or a troll, but in case you feel like doing that you should know that I really like Kanye West’s music. I mostly listen to Kanye West. I used to mostly write about Kanye West. I’ve been crazy for Kanye West for the last half decade, and I even somehow managed to buy College Dropout the summer of its release. So it pains me a bit to say:
Yeezus is the album I was afraid we were getting rather than the one I hoped we were getting.
Yeezus was supposed to be Kanye’s progressive album.
I mean, I am my father’s son. I’m my mother’s child. That’s how I was raised. I am in the lineage of Gil Scott-Heron, great activist-type artists
Not only that, but it’s supposed to be the work of a settled man. Kanye (if you haven’t heard) is having a baby with his girlfriend Kim Kardashian.
Any woman that you’re in love with or that loves you is going to command a certain amount of, you know, energy. It’s actually easier to focus, in some ways.
That all sounds good, right? But that’s not what we got. Instead, we got Kanye’s perhaps least progressive album to date. Absent is the self-lacerating class consciousness of “All Falls Down”. Absent is the sort of joke-y gender-relations of “Gold Digger”. There’s no sign of Kanye’s prior fascination with the murder rate in Chicago. (Despite this being his, ahem, Chicago album.) Instead, we get a lot of Kanye rapping about fucking white women, which obviously makes him feel like a real man, a powerful man, a revolutionary man. What it really makes him, though, is just a man. A disappointing, very average man.
In “Black Skinhead” there’s this line, “If I don’t get ran out by Catholics / Here come some conservative Baptists”, which I find sort of funny. The dude who made “Jesus Walks” is now, all of a sudden, an enemy of religion. Which I find funny, since later on in the album in the pretty dreadful “Blood On The Leaves” there’s this verse about a side piece.
Now you sittin’ courtside, wifey on the other side
Gotta keep ‘em separated, I call that apartheid
Then she said she pregnant ain’t it
That’s the night your heart died
Then you gotta go and tell your girl and report that
Main reason cause your pastor said you can’t abort that
Now your driver say that new Benz you can’t afford that
Or that cocaine on the table you can’t snort that
That going to that owing money that the court got
Kanye might be anti-choice and pro-abortion at the same damn time. But, whatever. I guess a lot of people feel like that. (Though they probably don’t lament their lack of funds to do a pile of cocaine because they’ve gotta buy some Similac…)
The worse part, to me, is the “apartheid” line there. If you’re unsure about what the metaphor is supposed to be, it’s that in the NBA there’s a section for the players’ wives, and then there’s a section where their mistresses sit. They’re separated. Like how apartheid separated the races in South Africa. Is balancing a wife and a mistress (on a baller’s salary) really as bad as apartheid? I guess, if you’re used to fucking without remorse or ramifications, and you’re a super-mega-egomaniac, then maybe it is.
Kanye’s pretty obsessed with race and sex. In the first song, “On Sight”, he says “Black Timbs all on your couche again / Black dick all in your spouse again.” And in “New Slaves”, he says,
Fuck you and your Hampton house
I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse
Came on her Hampton blouse
And in her Hampton mouth
I think it’s pretty clear, in the very above because of its context within a critique of the industrial prison complex and in the first instance because he says “black dick” that Kanye’s referring to fucking white women. In “Black Skinhead” he says, “They see a black man with a white woman at the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong.”
It seems like Kanye thinks fucking a white woman is a revolutionary act. And hey - it sort of is. (Though not as much for someone at Kanye’s economic status - one thing he constantly ignores, now, though he used to get right. Class critique, that is.) But I’m pretty sure Kanye just wants to fuck all women. And also, his message, is fuck all women. There’s not even a token ‘my girl is so important and powerful’ song on the album. Just xxx imagery and Kanye’s ever-ejaculating id.
Still, these are all somewhat reasonably incisive racial critiques. I mean, I think we all remember this image. We’re easily fed and we easily digest and internalize all manner of vile, racist shit (like the Daenerys storyline in Game Of Thrones) and Kanye’s not only well within his rights to make his critique in this manner, it’s actually pretty powerful.
I can’t get the idea that Kanye might be making similar (but much less boring) music if he were white. I’m pretty sure loving pussy knows no racial, at least, boundaries.
Take the song “I’m In It”, which I recall reading a rapturous review of in Time Out New York, written by a woman, because it was about loving pussy. But there are clunky lines like,
Eating Asian pussy
All I need is sweet and sour sauce
Black girl sipping white wine
Put my fist in her like the civil rights sign.
Wow. As a person of some color, I just can’t. That line is just so clunky, so weird, so point missingly oblique that it sort of makes me sour on the whole album. If the album were 9/10s as thrilling and visceral, I probably would have given up on it immediately. But it’s 10/10 as thrilling and visceral as it is.
Listening to Yeezus, you get the sense that Kanye’s conception of civil rights is the right to civilly fuck whomever he wants, wherever he wants, however he wants. His porn-i-fied description of reality have (aside form the not inconsiderable stuff mentioned above) nothing to do with rights and freedom and everything to do with fucking. And not in an empowering way, I don’t think.
I wanna fuck you hard on the sink
After that, I need somethin’ to drink
Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink
That doesn’t really seem like, you know, Kanye’s trying to raise up his brothers and sisters in civil rights solidarity. It seems like he just wants carte blanche (ha ha) to fuck like a pornstar.
OK - those are my initial impressions! Don’t forget. I think the album (other than “Blood On The Leaves,” which criminally wastes a “Strange Fruit” sample) is pretty sonically awesome and daring. Just, politically, it is not. At least not for everyone. Maybe if your name is Kanye West - but I guess we already all knew that?