Brad Beatson likes bad bitches.
When I initially listened to each of Kanye’s last four releases, I was confused. Where was the guy from the first two albums? I’m a Buffalo Bills fan, so I can take more than a few losing efforts, but these just felt different. Then, after I let them settle a bit and I really gave them a listen, I began to enjoy them quite a bit and even started to love them. When I saw the “New Slaves” projection and the subsequent buzz began to build towards June 18th, I began to brace myself for what I would hear. And then I pushed play, and I loved it. I think I’ve finally accepted Kanye for who he is and I believe that Yeezus is a tremendous display of artistic progression.
Whether Kanye is voicing his frustrations with society as a whole or with his personal relationships, he does not waste a single moment in describing these pains. For me, the record seems to break down into three central categories:
Shock Value: When I first heard the line “Coke on her black skin made a stripe like a zebra, I call that jungle fever” (“No Church in the Wild”), I thought it was horrendous. It was like the first time I saw “Yonkers.” Then I let it marinate for a bit and accepted it for what it is: shock value. For better or for worse, this is the stuff that’s going to stick in your head. It’s like when you were little and you were watching a movie with an adult that had a sex scene or some un-bleeped profanity. It’s arresting, it makes you uncomfortable and it’s at least momentarily unforgettable. There are plenty of shock value lines all over Yeezus, and if you let them get to you I understand why you’d “give up” on the album. But then you’d also be missing out.
Self Awareness: The reason I started loving Kanye West in the first place was the line “We all self conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” He seemed like a regular dude who was trying to make it and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Of course, now he’s made it. Over the past few years he’s been criticized for losing his soul because apparently all he’s been talking about is how much money he has? If money’s what you’re really worried about, then sure, that’s what you’ll hear him rap about. Almost everyone doesn’t know what it’s like to have the god-like persona where every single time you go outside there’s a 100 percent chance somebody will not only recognize you, but also expect you to at least acknowledge them. We also really have no idea of what goes on in these glamorized romantic relationships because they’re run through an ad-dollar-driven media filter. So maybe Kanye isn’t the same person he was when he dropped College Dropout, but are you the same as you were 9 years ago?
The first verse on “Hold My Liquor” is my favorite verse on Yeezus, because to me it’s the most relatable. The story finds Kanye waking up hungover, after he drunkenly decided to meet up with an ex. He cares about her, wanted her, and also loves that she loves him in any state of mind. Of course this is completely one-sided, but still, he’s admitting to it. He talks about how her friend comes over and tells her how Kanye’s no good for her and how he doesn’t belong with anybody right now because he’s too selfish. He ends the verse the same way he begins it, by waking up hungover. Although this time he’s hoping he can recover from that lifestyle, because it leads to nothing but bad decisions. I’ve been this guy before. I’ve sent the drunk text at 1 a.m., with only one thing on my selfish mind. I’ve woken up the next morning and felt absolutely terrible about my actions. I know that it was awful, and clearly so does Kanye. It’s great to hear him share this kind of embarrassing story.
“Bound 2” is one of the best songs of the year and one of the better love songs in recent memory. Here we find Kanye, once again tortured by heartbreak, telling Him and Kim Kardashian’s love story. The most meaningful lines are when he references making it to Thanksgiving and hoping they make it to Christmas. This is a guy that is so passionate but for one reason or another, his relationships have failed him in the past. So much so that he’s painfully prescient of how suddenly they could end. The bridge by Charlie Wilson speaks to nearly everyone whose tried to put themselves out there and feels like they haven’t received the love they deserve in return. He ends the final verse on the album by saying that before they move forward they’re going to have to forget. To truly accept each other in love, they have got to be willing to let go of the past and just focus on the now and where they’re going. What’s more self-aware than that?
Cultural Studies: Verse 4 on “Blood on the Leaves” talks about the inevitable effects of extramarital affairs and the types of people they involve and he rips “selfie culture” apart. In “New Slaves,” Kanye brings up the privately owned prison system and the played out “turnt up” culture that is currently plaguing rap music. “Black Skinhead” could very well serve as the Millenial’s anthem as it drives home Kanye’s absolute hatred towards classification. These aren’t throwaway lyrics or ideas, and it’s great that Kanye is using his power to share them.
As a piece of art, Yeezus succeeds. Kanye was able to architect a complete project by collaborating with others to put out what he thought to be the best piece possible. On a release date that was promoted as a competition, Jermaine Cole released the rap equivalent of an episode of New Girl and Easy Mac dropped Friends of Mac Miller. We’re in somewhat of a rap renaissance right now where we are blessed with a truly remarkable stock of MC’s, and yet Kanye still stands out. He doesn’t play it safe, he isn’t afraid to offend, and he continues to push his sound forward. He didn’t compromise his vision, and he was able to troll us all. Well played.