On “Ready to Start”, a song off Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, there is a line that goes:
“All the kids have always known that the Emperor wears no clothes / but they bow down to him anyway, ’cause it’s better than being alone”
Kanye West has always been that enfant terrible who refused to “bow down”, and consequently, has often paid the price of “being alone” – a theme frequently explored and indeed, elevated to the status of messianic sacrifice, most notably in his 2010 masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
It seems only logical then that Mr. West, having dabbled in comparing himself to superheroes and pharaonic God-Kings, escalates the analogy to the ultimate apotheosis, and this bring us to Yeezus.
Right from the near-paranormal chorus in the first track, “On Sight”, Mr. West makes it abundantly clear:
He’ll give us what we need
It may not be what we want
The song begins with jarring distortions that smack the complacent listener in the jowls, forcing them to pay close attention – Yeezy is back and he knows who’s been naughty.
It is wise at this point, to abandon all expectations and commit to trusting Mr. West through this this new aural landscape. “Black Skinhead”, and “I Am a God (feat. God)” feature grating, dystopian synthesizers, like a post-Orwellian Depeche Mode or an acid-industrial LCD Soundsystem. “New Slaves” with its martial, ominous drum-circle beats, invokes an atmosphere of intrigue and menace straight out of Lord of the Flies. Accompanying these electronic acrobatics are fiery screeds against the complacent rap industry, racism in all its circa-2013 subtleties, and much more (with the mandatory nods towards Maybachs, fellatio, and haute-couture, of course).
The pace relents a bit as one crosses the halfway point (though not by much). Tempering the mood are songs talking about more quotidian subjects, such as “Hold My Liquor” which paints a grim picture of alcohol addiction, or the album’s longest track “Blood on the Leaves”, which chronicles the heartbreaks inevitable when love and fame (with a side of ecstasy) mix. “I’m in It” and “Guilt Trip”, provide temporary familiarity through their use of AutoTune, and indeed, wouldn’t seem that out of place on 808s & Heartbreak,
The balletic “Runaway” from MBDTF seems to have exorcised some of Mr. West’s personal demons (for now). With Yeezus, we see him imbuing his art with a different kind of bravado, not mere MC posturing, but the kind of ballsiness that comes out of having nothing left to prove. Indeed his place in history is now beyond assured, and all he wants to do now is — in his own words — “pop a wheelie on the Zeitgeist”.
Yeezus is a bird-flipping, deliberately contrarian, take-no-prisoners album. If some of these songs may be plausibly re-purposed as singles and candyfloss club music, it will be hard to sing along without a strong ability to overcome cognitive dissonance.
Many of Mr. West’s critics have been getting their panties in a bunch over the decision by an egomaniacal rap artist choosing to blatantly liken himself to the son of God. I could just say to to them that they’re entirely missing the point, but I want go one step further –
I’m not a man of many strong convictions — life is far too complex for them to always to be correct — but one thing I would wager on is that the universe has a love for irony. The day the world comes perilously close to fucking itself into oblivion, our savior will not be some polymath of angelic virtue, but an arrogant genius who hates everybody’s guts and is merely doing us a favor.
With Yeezus, Kanye West has made one of the most persuasive — and definitely the most literal — arguments for his case.