In terms of my music-listening habits, I find that I'm much more of an album guy. That is, I find myself preferring to invest in entire albums rather than listening to singles on
iTunes Rdio. Moreover, I've always been the type of listener who listens to one or two albums over and over, as if on a binge. I'll listen to these few albums until I inevitably get sick of them, but the illness is always temporary. I know that, eventually, I'll come back to these albums whenever the mood strikes again.
In fact, I'm in binge mode right now. I've been listening to Kanye West's new album, Yeezus, virtually non-stop since its release on June 18. It's a terrific album, and I believe its the best of Kanye's six.
* * *
It's hard for me to fully articulate exactly why I love Yeezus so much; it's just so raw and different than anything Kanye has ever done. I think the most apt, succinct explanation is I love it for the sounds. They're different and funky and catchy enough to my ear that I have my head bopping the entire time I'm listening to the album. Furthermore, a big tell that I really like an album is that I listen to it from beginning to end without skipping tracks. Yeezus is undoubtedly one of those albums.
Yeezus is reminiscent to me of Kanye's 2008 album, 808s & Heartbreak, which incidentally happens to be another of my favorite Kanye albums. Like 808s, Yeezus employs sparse, funky beats with some rapping and the occasional Auto-Tune. The two albums are clearly different, to be sure, but I find their similarities interesting, and I wonder if Kanye used bits and pieces of 808s for inspiration. I wouldn't be surprised if he did, because there are a lot of similar ingredients between the two works.
As I mentioned, a clear sign that I really dig an album is that I listen to it straight through without skipping. Again, Yeezus is unquestionably one of those albums. A big reason for this, I think, is the work of executive producer Rick Rubin. Rubin is one of my favorite producers, him being the mastermind behind Jay-Z's "99 Problems" and the last three Linkin Park albums, including LIVING THINGS. That I adore Rubin isn't so much about him as a beat maker --- though the one he created for "99 Problems" is incredibly good --- but rather the influence he has on the artists with whom he's working. He lets them experiment, be different, and encourages boundary-pushing. Such is the case with Kanye and Yeezus.
Here's Rubin on West, in an interview with the WSJ:
He is a true artist who happens to make music under the wide umbrella of hip hop. He is in no way beholden to hip hop’s typical messaging musical cliches. Hip hop is a grander, more personal form because of his contributions, and hopefully his work will inspire others to push the boundaries of what’s possible in hip hop.
Rubin is right on here. Kanye West makes hip-hop better, and Rick Rubin makes Kanye better.
I will never apologize for my liking rap music, and I will forever proudly proclaim that Kanye is one of my favorite rappers. People can hate on him for his narcissism or for the fact he and Kim Kardashian named their daughter North (she's keeping her dad's last name), but that doesn't reflect upon Kanye as an artist. He is an artist in the truest sense of the word.
* * *
Though every song on Yeezus is great, there are a few that I am particularly fond of. These are the tracks that I keep on coming back to when, invariably, I don't want to necessarily listen to the entirety of the album.
These favorites are, in no particular order:
"On Sight" is produced by the Daft Punk guys, and a perfect intro to the album. I love the beat, especially at song's end. "I Am A God", with its insanely pompous title, is in my mind the anthem for the entire album. "I'm In It" is crass and overtly sexual, but I like it. But "Blood On The Leaves" --- wow. It starts slow, with Kanye on the Auto-Tune, then he drops that glorious, infectious beat. It's fucking amazing. Out of all ten songs on Yeezus, I must listen to "Blood On The Leaves" most often. Just a great, great song.
In his review for The Talkhouse, Lou Reed writes:
People say this album is minimal. And yeah, it's minimal. But the parts are maximal.
It's all the same shit, it's all music — that's what makes him great. If you like sound, listen to what he's giving you. Majestic and inspiring.
I like sound --- and I like this album. A lot.
If I were to rank Kanye's six albums in order of most favorite to least, it'd go:
- 808s & Heartbreak
- My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
- The College Dropout
- Late Registration
What can I say? I have a thing for the Auto-Tune.
* * *
What I appreciate most about Kanye West is that he isn't afraid to experiment musically and break conventions. He takes risks with his music. Which is why I believe getting Rick Rubin aboard this project was a stroke of genius. Rubin and West are like two peas in a pod in that sense. Both men collaborated on something truly remarkable that I think will appeal to music fans, not just rap fans.
I don't know that I could heap more praise onto Yeezus, other than to say it's been roughly a month and I still haven't tired of listening to it I'll refrain from going to extremes and say it's one of the greatest albums of all time, but I will reiterate what I said earlier: Yeezus is Kanye West's best album to date. It's raw and minimal. There were no promotional singles before release. Even the album cover is minimal --- and beautifully minimal at that. In my mind, Yeezus is the best album I've heard all year thus far. If I were a betting man, I'd bet Kanye will be able to add another Grammy to his trophy case.
I will say this: if you discriminate against hip-hop music and/or Kanye for whatever reason(s), you're definitely missing out. Yeezus is a sonic adventure that's too good to be missed. Whether via iTunes, Spotify, or Rdio, you should do your ears a favor and listen to this album.