Following "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" was no easy task.
“I just spoke to Jesus,
He said ‘what up Yeezus?’”
Kanye West has always retained creative control over his own narrative. From his onset as a starry-eyed, self-professed dropout, to a tortured soul caught in the throes of lustful hedonism, to a self-aware, near-meta caricature of himself, the layers are endless. Yeezy can jovially proclaim to “miss the old Kanye,” while we’re left wondering which Kanye he’s referring to. Such is the nature of Ye, who has served to reinvent himself with every album; perhaps such an eclectic catalog speaks to the dynamic nature of his mindstate, consistently leaping from idea to idea. Respectable in ambition, though occasionally faltering in articulation.
Many, including those unfamiliar with his musical discography, have come to associate Kanye with egoism. Hardly unfair, given the fact that he once likened himself to Jesus Christ. Yet musically, Yeezy is as unselfish as they come. His songwriting sessions have proven to be wholly collaborative endeavors (a notion testified by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig), expanding across all genres. Many rap purists tend to liken the game to a solitary trek across treacherous terrain, no sherpa allowed. Yet Yeezy has opened his studio to all comers, seemingly eager to spread the wealth to his contemporaries.
The open-door policy may very well have played a pivotal role in shaping Yeezus, which currently stands as Kanye West’s most divisive album. There doesn’t exactly seem to be any middle ground where Yeezus is concerned. Some label it a classic, while others decry it as an abomination. Why is that? It’s hard not to notice one particular factor, especially when perusing the liner notes. For one, the album is lined with artists hailing from disparate genres.
Take “Black Skinhead” for example, one of Yeezus’ most accessible tracks. The song itself features a variety of electronic producers on hand, including Daft Punk and Brodinsky. In fact, the former certainly made their impact throughout, crafting the electronic soundscapes of “I Am A God” and “On Sight.” Cult classic “Hold My Liquor” managed to unite indie darling Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) and Chief Keef on the same song; Vernon continued to leave his mark on Yeezy’s sound, adding further vocals to the sexually charged “I’m In It.”
Across the board, the production was simultaneously bleak and adventurous. While many maligned Rick Rubin’s work with Eminem, his work on Yeezus revealed a man willing to make bold choices. During an interview with The Daily Beast, Rubin reflected on the initial state of Yeezus, when Kanye West first brought it to his attention. Describing the project as “meandering” and “unfocused,” Rubin soon found common ground with Yeezy. “The idea of making it edgy and minimal and hard was Kanye’s,” admits Rubin. “We talked a lot about minimalism.”
At ten songs, Yeezus spent a lengthy run as Ye’s most concise body of work. Apparently, the project was originally intended to be sixteen songs; it was ultimately shortened upon Rubin’s suggestion, prompting Kanye to praise his producorial insight. In that regard, all indications point to ego being left at the door. Speaking with Pitchfork, Vernon equated the process to “working on music with friends.” He proceeds to praise Kanye’s visionary scope with utmost respect, while simultaneously noting the collaborative nature of the formative stages. “People are working their asses off to make the best shit,” says Vernon, “and Kanye’s leading the pack.”
While Kanye West’s open door policy brought out some truly innovative musicianship, response from fans proved divisive to say the least. Critics appreciated the experimental sonic aesthetic, though the project felt burdened by the weight of a post-My-Beautiful Dark-Twisted-Fantasy landscape. Recall that MBDTF received unanimous praise on nearly every criteria; those who discredit Kanye’s lyrical ability need only refer to “Gorgeous” or “Power” for a reminder. In short, the bar was high. Though traditionalists felt challenged enough by Dark Twisted Fantasy’s cinematic production, the dystopian vibes of Yeezus proved a bridge too far.
To be fair, the lyrics on Yeezus were more spontaneous than its predecessor, which found Kanye at his most calculated. Perhaps going from such gems as “my childlike creativity, honesty, and purity are being crowded by these grown thoughts” to “hurry up with my damn croissants” was simply too fast a departure. In truth, Ye was dabbling in meme-culture before it rose to ubiquity. There’s an infamous anecdote in which Rubin reflects on the last-minute state of the bars. With two days before the turn-in deadline, Kanye came through to write and finish the vocals for five songs, performing them with “gusto.” Far from meticulous, yet with an artist like Kanye, moves of this nature tend to feel like statements unto themselves.
Now, over five years later, Kanye West has decided to bring Yeezus back into the fold. Ye took to Twitter to unveil a new album cover, a lavender variation of Yeezus’ “artwork,” highlighting a MiniDisc in lieu of its compact cousin. Naturally, many speculated that the project would be a spiritual successor to Yeezus, a notion evidenced by its soon-to-be-revealed title: Yhandi. Yet is a Yeezus sequel something the fans are ready to welcome? Nostalgia has certainly fuelled a renewed interest in Yeezy’s equivalent to Kid A. Should a return to minimalism be tickling his fancy, let the childlike creativity flow like blood and wine.