Last week, Kanye West officially announced the tracklist and release date for Jesus Is King, his upcoming ninth studio album. It’s common knowledge now that album rollout announcements from Kanye should be taken with a grain of salt. We’ve seen this happen for years, most memorably the haphazard yet wholesome rollout of The Life Of Pablo, in which the tracklist was finalized weeks after the initial release.
The most recent unorthodox album rollout came in fall 2018 as Kanye teased Yandhi, a spiritual successor of sorts to his 2013 album Yeezus. It was originally slated for Sept. 29, then delayed to Nov. 23, but 2019 came around and Yandhi never did.
Some time in mid-August, several leaked versions of Yandhi began circulating — in particular, a 28-minute leak on YouTube that compiled nine demos and recordings, presumably from sessions for Yandhi. Since then, the title has become fairly synonymous with this collection of leaks.
There’s a lot of debate about the ethics of leaks. Some argue they are harmful and can cost artists or labels financially, or cause artists to throw away tracks that had potential. But after a song (or album) has been leaked, there’s no going back. Yandhi is an especially interesting leak: It’s very much a rough draft. Most of the songs are unfinished, embodying a certain idea Kanye was reaching for but not quite realized. I took this opportunity to dig into the brief tracklisting for Yandhi for insight into Kanye’s creation process and ask a question: What could have been?
The opening track, “New Body,” is a pop-rap song with appearances from frequent collaborators Ty Dolla $ign and Nicki Minaj. The lyrics celebrate plastic surgery, something relevant to Nicki Minaj herself and Kanye West’s current (and past) partner. A catchy flute melody plays throughout, a vaguely African pop sound maybe inspired by Kanye’s 2018 trip to record in Uganda. The instrumental is pretty middling, though.
Next is “The Storm,” featuring the late XXXTentacion in a mildly awkward and angry verse. The aggression in the verse comes off especially strange because the vocals are unmixed, so he just sounds like he’s pissed off, screaming over a Skype call or something. The song is repetitive and uninteresting. So far, it seemed fair for Yandhi to hit the bin.
“Alien” is the first song to show potential. As the title suggests, it features a surreal and colorful beat with an eerie melody. At one point the instrumental really kicks in and starts to envelop your ears like a grandiose movie soundtrack. The song ends abruptly though and Kanye’s delivery is pathetic — they are clearly first-time laid-out lyrics. If the track were finished with a better performance from Kanye, “Alien” could be a highlight track on a future Kanye West project.
“Law of Attraction” (also called “Chakras”) is probably the most obvious demo on the album, as similar to the previous track, Kanye mumbles nonsensical lyrics to get his flow down throughout. It seems to be a pattern for Kanye in his songwriting process that the flows and emotions and concepts come before any finished lyrics. The layered vocal harmonies are wonderful, and there’s an intensity to Kanye’s delivery that could make for a respectable album deep cut, but the next track, “Bye Bye Baby,” fulfills the same role on an album. It’s similar in intensity with a more interesting instrumental and features a very emotional (and completed) Kanye-core verse, touching on his feelings of insecurity that have shined on his last few records.
Only one track, “Hurricane,” is a really unlistenable demo. The beat is pretty cool and glamorous — it sounds like something you might find on a Travis Scott project — but the weird falsetto vocals are horrifyingly annoying. The song won’t be missed. It’s followed by “We Got Love (Remix),” another high potential track. That’s rumored to have originally been for Teyana Taylor’s album, which would explain why her verse is so well put together beside Kanye West’s awkward and vaguely off-beat contributions.
“Garden” is a beautiful and soulful track that presumably came from a session with the choir for Kanye West’s “Sunday Service” performances — weekly, invite-only stagings in which Kanye West performs gospel-esque versions of music from his catalog. It sounds like an even better version of something you might find on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. The audio is notably low-quality, like it was recorded on a cell phone during a live session. This is a track to be excited about: It’s one of the only leaked songs to appear on the tracklist posted for Jesus Is King, so we can (cautiously) expect a finished release in the near future. The leaked album closes with “Slave Name,” a gorgeous instrumental outro led by a guitar, but clearly incomplete.
The verdict? Yandhi has potential. We’ll probably never see finished versions of “Alien” or “Bye Bye Baby,” something that’s actually deeply unfortunate. The ideas and concepts on Yandhi are actually extremely fresh and exciting. The insight into Kanye West’s creative process is interesting, but unfinished demos aren’t really revisitable. The best fans can do is wait and hope that Jesus Is King embraces the best of Yandhi — if it even comes out.