By Elliot Alpern, Senior Arts Editor
Published September 16, 2013
A week after Yeezus dropped and the music world at large went cuckoo for Kanye, Pitchfork sat down with a few of the hip-hop heavyweight’s collaborators to talk the new release. Among the kind of praise-heavy talk you’d expect to be generated, guest producer Travi$ Scott offered up a fairly transcendental quote about the G.O.O.D. Music crew: “We always undermine the commercial.”
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Look, I consider myself one of Kanye’s countless listeners — I have all seven of his studio albums (if you count Watch the Throne, which is close enough). I, too, got Yeezus the first day I could and had probably played through it three or four times before hitting the mattress that night. In short, I really do think Kanye West is a special musical talent, one of those ahead-of-their-time-type deals. He is, legitimately, an artist.
But I think we need to keep two things separate about Kanye: Yes, he is a fantastic musician. But he is absolutely a one-percent, profit-driven mega-mogul. West is not, as his album seems to suggest a few times, the newest coming of mankind’s spiritual/societal savior.
“Fuck you and your corporation / Y’all niggas can’t control me,” Kanye raps on “New Slaves,” and the crowd goes wild. And then, the crowd finds Kanye’s fashion offerings, including a plain white cotton T-shirt clocking in at a cool $120 (don’t worry, it already sold out within a day of being posted). It’s cool — Yeezy still has a “Fuck you and your corporation” felted baseball cap for $195 if you really feel like treating yourself.
I acknowledge that Kanye isn’t even close to the first music star guilty of the same kind of hypocrisy — preaching to the choir while passing around that gold-plated collection plate. But can we please just stop worshipping the guy?
Looking at his latest release, Yeezus is a pretty solid album, including a few of Kanye’s best, most creative hits in a while. But, brace yourselves — it’s not perfect. Probably not even best of the year.
“But can’t you see how incredible it is that he’s releasing this music in today’s hip-hop world?”
Let me stop you right there. An album should never be judged based on the status of the individual, or strictly how it approaches a music scene. That’s like if I reviewed J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy,” a rather lukewarm novel: “But can’t you see how incredible it is that J.K. Rowling is putting out an adult novel in today’s literary world?” Not really — until you give me something I can hang my hat on, those intangibles shouldn’t have a say in the equation.
Now, like I stated before, I really do like Yeezus as an album. “Blood On The Leaves” is magnificent in its grandeur, and a number of other tracks (“Hold My Liquor,” “Send It Up,” “Black Skinhead”) are repeatedly pumping through my car speakers. But, then, we inevitably get to tracks like “I Am A God.”
Again, I’d like to profess that I’ve listened to the song enough to know, at least, that the hook/title “I Am A God” isn’t purely literal (though I’m sure it didn’t pain Yeezy much to pen a song by that name). The first half of the song actually touches on this, if not to assert the lack of sacrilege when he compares himself to Jesus in the latter verse — but I digress. One of the most distinguishing features of the song is the very recognizable triplet of screams after the hook, something that happens twice.
I don’t want to simplify the issue, but I’ve noticed something about this particular part of the song: The way people react to it tends to tell me what kind of Kanye fan they really are. Most seem to mirror my own actions, either by hitting fast-forward or just changing the song, but every now and again I run into an audiophile or a Kanye fanatic who tells me how much they enjoy those screams, how “primal” and “raw” and “untamable” they are.