Kanye West ‘Yeezus' (Def Jam)
Around the time Kanye West released his blister-raising 2010 prog-rap manifesto “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” it was popular to view West as a binary figure in popular culture, a performer whose public persona as a poorly socialized egocentric with terrible impulse control was in direct conflict with his extraordinary gifts as a conceptual rap artist. Listeners and critics would qualify their effusive praise for his albums by first condemning his behavior, as if one had nothing to do with the other. But “Yeezus,” an angry blast of bile and spit accompanied by the rockingest beats of 2013, shows that there is no convenient separation between the man and his art. Whether he is bum-rushing a pop starlet or creating another human with Kim Kardashian, it's all part of the same package. The man is his art.
The slapping around begins with “On Sight,” featuring Daft Punk back in cyber-synth mode as Mr. West lashes out at his audience, at women and the most pointed target on “Yeezus,” himself. The pounding rarely stops as he goes to town on racists in “Black Skinhead” then satirizes his own concept of importance in “I Am a God.” This first half of “Yeezus” pulses with negative energy, huge beats and big hooks — up through the anti-corporate diatribe “New Slaves” and the just-plain-nasty “I'm In It,” the album, largely produced by Rick Rubin, sounds like a close cousin to early Nine Inch Nails with the self-laceration to match.
To paraphrase “Animal House,” an album as aggressively audacious as “Yeezus” absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture, and we get it in “Blood on the Leaves,” which samples and pitch-shifts Nina Simone's version of “Strange Fruit” for a breathless harangue about ex-girlfriends and courtside gold diggers. Yes, familiar territory, but the last time was just for fun. This time, there is almost nothing to justify taking one of the most harrowing songs in the American tradition and using it to take aim at exes, except that it, and the rest of “Yeezus,” offers yet more insight into the beautiful, dark, twisted reality of Kanye West. These are his problems, and his problems are fairly specific to him, but few people overshare so artfully.