Positive Feedback ISSUE 69
september/october 2013

 

Kanye West, Yeezus
by Nicholas G. Taylor

 

kanye west yeezus

Let's face it. It's easy to dislike Kanye West. His antics make it nearly impossible to have anything but disdain for him. His twitter posts are ridiculous. The ubiquitous tabloids pervasively celebrate the fodder from his personal life by reporting every move he makes. If all that weren't enough, Kanye might have the most exorbitant ego on the planet… and it's a large planet.

So why do we tolerate him? He's an artist of the highest order. A musical innovator operating at the top of his game, Kanye creates albums that are extraordinary and fecund.

A key characteristic of musical innovation is its unconventional sound. Kanye West's latest album, Yeezus, might be a tough listen for anybody not familiar with his music or looking for the typical hip-hop album. Hell, there's nothing typical about his albums and they're a challenging listen, even for longtime fans. In a way, that's what separates Kanye from his peers. He first challenges himself creatively, letting the resulting music speak for itself. He doesn't want to repeat his previous efforts and the music often shows as an inner struggle.

Yeezus at times presents an interesting dichotomy of personality. "I Am a God" displays we are familiar with, the boisterous egocentric persona pampered from fame and his confident ego. He raps:

I just talked to Jesus
He said, "What up Yeezus?"
I said, "Shit I'm chillin'
Tryin' to stack these millions
I know he the most high
But I am a close high
Mi casa, su casa
That's out cosa nostra
I am a God

For most, these lyrics are blasphemous and on the surface, they are. However, is Kanye really saying he's a God? Well, not exactly. He is telling listeners his musical efforts are as large as Jesus's message. He acknowledges there's no entity higher than God, but also believes his music is a close second having been rewarded with talent from his years of devout Christianity. "Tryin' to stack these millions" is a biblical reference to The Tower of Babel, as money, to Kanye, is a unified language and easily scattered and confounded by God. Granted, this is a stretch for some of his harshest critics, but let's not forget, Kanye West's first musical success was "Jesus Walks."

On "New Slaves," Kanye speaks candidly about racism and stereotypes.

You see it's broke nigga racism
That's that "Don't touch anything in the store"
And it's rich nigga racism
That's that "Come in, please buy more"

He offers his experiences with racism from two different vantages. First he gives us the familiar example of prejudice, that of being treated unfairly from race and low economic status. Not stopping there, he offers racism from the opposite view of a successful minority and the stereotype of being careless with wealth.

Love him or hate him, you can't ignore him. Kanye West is now a household name. Think about that. He's unfortunately mostly talked about more for his negative qualities and that's mostly his fault. But history has a way for forgetting about such things and when all is said and done, Kanye West's music will speak for itself. Yeezus certainly does.

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