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5 smart takes on Kanye West's Yeezus
The latest album by hip-hop's most provocative innovator has earned universal acclaim — but for a variety of reasons
 
Yeezus: Dark, narcissistic, defiant, extravagantly abrasive, and Kanye West's most musically adventurous album yet.
Yeezus: Dark, narcissistic, defiant, extravagantly abrasive, and Kanye West's most musically adventurous album yet. Walik Goshorn/Retna Ltd./Corbis

There are few artists whose new albums are met with as much anticipation and fanfare as Kanye West, the rapper/singer/producer/provocateur who's become as notorious for his outsized personality and social media presence as he has for his brilliant, deeply innovative music. The title of West's sixth and latest album,Yeezus — which, after a leak late last week, is officially seeing release today — is a non-too-subtle hint to the characteristically grandiose themes contained within. (Spoiler alert: The album contains a song titled "I Am A God.")

Critics are nearly as enamored with Yeezus as they were with his last solo album (2010's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy); the album's aggregated review score on Metacritic is 86 out of 100, representing "universal acclaim." But when it comes to Yeezus' particulars, critics are coming up with all kinds of intriguing angles. Here, five smart takes on Yeezus:

Yeezus is Kanye West's boldest, strangest, and bravest album, says Randall Roberts at the Los Angeles Times:

Yeezus is the most musically adventurous album West has ever released, a wildly experimental work that features tracks produced by Daft Punk, Hudson Mohawke, Rick Rubin, and others. It's also West's most narcissistic, defiant, abrasive, and unforgiving. […] Though only 40 minutes long, Yeezus weighs a ton, heavy with gravity and mouthiness, yowls, synthetic noise, deep beats and screams. A multi-dimensional contradiction, West tosses out rhyme-schemed similes that employ racial ideas rich with symbolism but often in service of harsh lyrics that suggests he either doesn't appreciate or care about original intent. It's a baffling, frustrating, and often confusing move. But then consider the source. [Los Angeles Times]

It pushes the musical boundaries of the hip-hop genre, says Ray Rahman at Entertainment Weekly:

The job of an innovator, of course, is to keep innovating. And while 2010's superlative My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy deepened his sonic palate, and 2011's Jay-Z collab Watch the Throne reveled in luxury rap, West's sixth solo effort plunges directly into the darker crevices of his psyche. In some ways it's a 180 on 808s: Where that album was, on the surface, his softest and most vulnerable, Yeezus comes off as his hardest — designed, as the man himself says on ''Black Skinhead,'' to ''f--- up your whole afternoon.'' Believe it or not, that's just 'Ye being modest: This album has the potential to mess with your whole year. It's not surprising that Daft Punk, arguably 2013's other cardinal game changers, are credited on Yeezy's first three tracks — even though there's nothing easy here for le discothèque. Instead, it wallops from the jump with seething rhythms, and aggressive, politically charged lyrics. This dense breathless sound sets the tone for an album that reaches far outside of traditional sample-based hip-hop, unrepentantly stealing and mutating key elements of acid house, clanging industrial, and hard rock; house-of-horrors screams, synths, and squelches leap from the shadows. [Entertainment Weekly]

But it's so dark, says Jon Dolan at Rolling Stone:

Yeezus is the darkest, most extreme music Kanye has ever cooked up, an extravagantly abrasive album full of grinding electro, pummeling minimalist hip-hop, drone-y wooz and industrial gear-grind. Every mad genius has to make a record like this at least once in his career — at its nastiest, his makes Kid A or In Utero or Trans all look like Bruno Mars. Being a work of Kanye West, Yeezus is also a brilliant, obsessive-compulsive career auto-correct. Kanye is 36 years old, a fashion-world comer and a tabloid fixture about to have a kid with one of the dozen or so people on Earth who are more famous than he is. This isn't just a way to stay ahead of the competition; it's a way to stay ahead of himself. [Rolling Stone]

And it's also about Kanye's fatherhood — even if he's loath to admit it, says Steven Hyden at Grantland:

Even if Yeezus doesn't address West's impending — sorry, make that current — daddy status directly, you can feel him trying to process it. Yeezus is a pornographic, self-indulgent, self-parodying, incisive, funny, sickening, and (yes) brilliant unpacking of West's pre-fatherhood self. The most singular and stunning entry yet in the most singular and stunning discography for any pop artist in the 21st century — it's not even close, really — Yeezus amounts to a no-holds-barred accounting of who Kanye West must now protect his family from: Kanye West. It took months for him to make; it may take a lifetime for him to live down. [Grantland]

Yeezus also teaches us about the evolution of Kanye as an artist, says Evan Rytlewski at The AV Club:

Yeezus will be remembered as a lot of things — as the Kanye West album with all the screaming; as the apex of rap's unlikely fascination with Marilyn Manson; as the biggest record of 2013 with no singles — but perhaps most significantly, it's West's first willfully imperfect album, the one where he let the stitches show. With his first albums, West distinguished himself as a master technician, gifted at fusing elaborate networks of samples, bridges, and refrains into seamless compositions. On Yeezus he unlearns all of that, speeding instead from one sound to the next in a series of smash cuts. It's an album of interruptions. Dancehall samples don't decorate these songs as much as they butt into them. Every sound is fighting for itself in a survival of the brashest. [The AV Club]

 
Scott Meslow is the entertainment editor for TheWeek.com. He has written about film and television at publications including The AtlanticPOLITICO Magazine, and Vulture.

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