What’s the most trusted source in music? Trick question; there is no most-trusted source in music. Sure, you can go the hipster route and check sites like Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan. You can go the digital route and check out what’s buzzin’ on Soundcloud, what your friends are listening to on Spotify or let the Interwebs do the discovery for you with Pandora. As for me, I stick to two things that have always worked for me: 1) my brother Kahron and 2) going to the local record store a couple of times per month (mostly Waterloo Records in Austin).
I don’t trust reviews online too much, but I do like recommendations from trusted sources. Unfortunately, music reviewers are accustomed to sharing their opinions about albums more so than telling us what we really want to know: should I or should I not buy that album. As a result of this behavior, I find that album reviews often do more harm than good. They either keep someone from paying for the album in the first place or they encourage iTunes singles purchases by pointing out the songs they like.
All of this is a preface for what you came here for: a blog all about Kanye West’s latest album, Yeezus, and why I think that it’s both worth the buy and it’s a significant album in hip-hop history. First let me start buy convincing you that it’s worth buying. There are three simple reasons and I won’t get too verbose here:
- Kanye West is consistent. From College Dropout to Watch the Throne, Kanye has offered up a mastery of both production and lyrical content that have yet to be matched from one person in hip-hop history on a consistent basis. Only Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” comes close.
- Kanye West knows culture. Aside from his statement in a recent New York Times article that he, “is the nucleus,” you have to agree that his impact and influence on pop culture has been considerable, from the water cooler conversations that stemmed from songs like “Jesus Walks” and “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” to his fashion endeavors including the Nike Air Yeezys and collaborations with Louis Vuitton to his melancholy album 808s and Heartbreaks which clearly influenced guys like Drake and Theophilus London.
- You can trust Kanye West. I don’t mean that every single thing he puts out is Thriller level or even Late Registration level, but 6.5 albums deep (counting Watch the Throne as a full album and the more recent G.O.O.D. music compilation as half a solo effort), he’s proven himself to be more dynamic, more sonically talented, and more interesting (love him or hate him) than any other musician in the last decade. If nothing else, Yeezus is sure to deliver more fodder for your next happy hour hangout with friends.
I know some of you have already downloaded the album and seldom pay for your music, but I honestly believe Kanye West is precisely the type of artists who deserves that $10 or $15 because he’s just that: a true artist. To me, a true artist – be it Kanye or Edward Hopper or Alvin Ailey or Dave Chappelle – is worthy of my dollar if they’re as awesome and driven to push the limits as a certain Chicagoan is.
And in case the reasons above aren’t enough, please know that this album has tremendous significance in hip-hop history. Why, you ask? Because Kanye West represents the new “God MC” in rap culture. It used to be that the God MC was lyrically skilled like Rakim then it became someone who had both the lyrics and the steez, e.g., Notorious B.I.G. and Snoop. Later, it morphed into our 2000s version, the God MC who had good lyrics, but also masterful production teams, style and character. Jay-Z and Lil’ Wayne both embody this era as did Eminem with “Slim Shady” and T.I. with “King of the South” and 50 Cent with his “How to Rob/I Get Money” persona.
The new God MC sits on the shoulders of those legends. So don’t be surprised when Kanye West compares himself to a God. In rap culture, he most definitely is. He’s not just Jay-Z’s little brother, some 7 years younger and more a product of the Internet than the streets; Kanye is also more important than anyone else in the genre right now. Jay-Z makes more money and has a more talented partner, but he’s also a bit more predictable: you won’t see Jay-Z on a telethon saying George Bush hates Black people or upstaging Taylor Swift because of an MTV Video Music Award. Jay-Z is not a businessman, he’s a business man…let him handle his business, damn.
As for Kanye, his business isn’t really business at all. It’s art.
There is only one song and one verse you need to listen to realize that Yeezus - it’s content from album cover to song lyrics to stripped-down beats – is a long time coming. The last verse on Track 19 on Late Registration, “Gone”, which says:
“Ah-head of my time,
sometimes years out
So the powers that be won't let me get my ideas out
And that make me wanna get my advance out
And move to Oklahoma and just live at my Aunt's house
Yeah, I romance the thought of leavin it all behind
Kanye step away from the lime-
-light, like, when I was on the grind
In the "One, Nine, Nine, Nine"
Before, model chicks was bendin over or
Dealerships asked me Benz or Rover, man
If I could just get one beat on Hova
We could get up off this cheap-ass sofa
What the summer of the Chi got to offer an 18-year-old
Sell drugs or get a job, you gotta play gyro
My dawg worked at Taco Bell, hooked us up plural
Fired a week later the manager count the churros
Sometimes I can't believe it when I look up in the mirrow
How we out in Europe, spendin Euros
They claim you never know what you got 'til it's GONE
I know I got it, I don't know what y'all on
I'ma open up a store for aspiring MCs
Won't sell 'em no dream, but the inspiration is free
But if they ever flip sides like Anakin
You'll sell everything includin the mannequin
They got a new bitch now you Jennifer Aniston
Hold on I'll handle it, don't start panickin, stay calm
Shorty's at the door cause they need more
Inspiration for they life, they souls, and they songs
They said sorry Mr. West is gone!”
Even in 2005, nearly a decade ago, ‘Ye was trying to tell us that he’s years ahead and that he felt like “the powers that be” wouldn’t let him get his ideas out. Well fast-forward to 2013 and here we have a well-established Kanye West with a lot more control over everything involving his music so there’s no studio exec telling him he needs a “hot” single or a certain kind of video for MTV or a simpler album concept like Graduate School.
No, what Kanye is doing now is focusing on making people like him then making them hate him so that he can push the boundaries of what it means to be a God (MC). He’s not just doing it for himself, mind you, he’s also doing it for these “aspiring MCs” whom he feels obligated to give inspiration to. Well if you listen to Yeezus then listen to what up-and-coming rappers start putting out from now through 2015 or so, you’ll probably realize that Kanye is somewhat right. He is ahead of his time. He is the nucleus.
As for the album itself, my brother likes it, Pitchfork likes it and Metacritic - the site I visit most for album reviews - adds up the critics to give it an 8.5 out of 10 (unfavorably skewed by a useless negative review by cokemachineglow). I agree with most of the positive reviews. My favorite songs are: "Bound 2" and "Send it Up".