Once a month, I'll be taking an in-depth look at a landmark album in the music industry. This month, we'll be taking a look at Kanye West's 6th studio album - the terrifying, minimalist nightmare that is Yeezus. In 40 bone-jarring minutes, Chicago's disciple delivered what many consider to be without question his most outlandish project to date, an album whose contrast from the maximalist, perfect My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy only two years before is polarizing in itself.
In May of 2013, Kanye West broke silence by tweeting a photo of what appeared to be nothing more than a clear, jewel CD case, enclosed by a red seal.
Above the picture the tweet read one simple phrase: "PLEASE ADD GRAFFITI".
Accordingly, many fans and visionaries took to social media to follow Kanye's instructions, creating their own renditions over what was essentially nothing more than a blank canvas.
In brilliant fashion, Yeezy had intentionally created a mental playground, allowing for each and every participant to decipher and form their own versions of Kanye's initial invention.
This, in it of itself, is one of the many reasons why I believe that Yeezus (as bold and controversial as it is) is unquestionably one of Kanye's greatest works to date. If you read my first 'Monthly Masterpiece' (or have any prior knowledge of the album), you already know how incredibly complex, layered and perfect My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was. Over the course of 13 tracks, Kanye West essentially acted as a conductor for one of the most well orchestrated albums period.
I'd argue, however, that Yeezus may very well be the most important piece of work in Ye's catalog.
Sure, The College Dropout is as influential to rap as any album under the rap umbrella.
808's & Heartbreak did inspire numerous artists, the biggest being chart-topping monster Drake.
And yes, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time - showing the mad genius of rap at his zenith,
But Yeezus is different. Let's pause, because I think using "different" as an adjective to describe this project is as light as it gets. Simply put, Yeezus was a resounding "FUCK YOU" to a music industry that, at the time, was all too accustomed to stylistic normalities from their favorite artists.
In no more than 10 tracks, Kanye West put together an album that has never, and will never be replicated - an album that, to this day and for decades to come will unequivocally stand as the greatest protest by one of the greatest artists in modern music.
So, without further ado, I give you Yeezus.
Let's start with some background:
For nearly a decade, Kanye West cemented his seemingly inevitable legacy as one of the greatest to ever step foot into a recording studio.
In 2003, Yeezy resurrected a genre that was largely on the cusp with his debut studio album, The College Dropout. By acting as the sole producer/creator on all 21 tracks, Kanye took the industry by the horns and slammed it to the ground, masterfully blending elements of gospel, boom-bap and traditional sampling with themes like education, racism and humorous social endeavors.
In 2005, Yeezy turned his takedown of the game into a chokehold with Late Registration - a project that drenched every sound and sonic from The College Dropout in Jazz, Blues and powerful, glossy melodics.
In 2007, Yeezy flipped the script with Graduations - an albums that saw Kanye fully-embodying the now infamously coined "Chipmunk Soul" method, interlocking it without fault into anthemic, stadium-shaking hits on 13 air-tight tracks.
In 2009, Yeezy completely pivoted in his approach, creating 808s & Heartbreak - a project that exists almost entirely as a vocally driven experimentation in electronic neo-funk and melodic snippets, outlining the literal concept of having one's heart ripped into two halves (see album cover).
In 2011, Yeezy reached what many consider to by his peak with two albums: the powerful testament to lavish excess and discrimination in collaboration with Jay-Z on Watch the Throne, as well as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a project in which I've regarded as one of the greatest to be conceived more than a few times (I'm not in the minority with this opinion).
After 2011, a series of blunders that included the Taylor Swift VMA incident, multiple run-ins with the paparazzi and public interview outbursts led many to believe Kanye had nowhere to go but down in the eye of the people.
What followed 2011 was, in many peoples eyes, scarier than any tantrum or media rant.
Much like the years leading up to 2003's The College Dropout, the industry that was rap music was, for lack of a better term, floundering - struggling to introduce new, fresh sounds that pleased the public the same way it did a decade ago. As many new artists tried breaking in to the scene, record labels tightened their grips on musicians, directly forming a strict business model of sorts - valuing financial gain over artistic expression.
In summary, the rap industry was looking for answers; its core devolving into a radio washed, generic asteroid of industry plants and uninteresting names that had no validity beyond FM radio or Billboard Hot 100 charts.
In 2013, that same asteroid veered its ugly head, barreling into the heart of the music world as we know it Just before the inevitable collision, however, a wall slammed down in front of the asteroid, halting the seemingly unstoppable force like Sir Isaac Newton's Laws of Physics in musical form, shattering the asteroid into a million pieces.
Simultaneously, radio stations and listeners across the world stopped, switching their attention to the horrifying structure that loomed before them.
With the attention of millions of eyes, the wall began to paint itself into a macabre mural of terror, like a dark composition by Fransico Goya. The unending mob of spectators watched in disbelief as the canvas smeared itself with acidic beats, industrial sounds and haunting samples.
Like the tweet I mentioned earlier, this wall wasn't a wall at all, but rather a 10-track rebuttal to the slow-fading world of music and the art that exists within it. In essence, it was a literal representation of "taking my microphone and going home", composed by an artist that felt he had nothing else to prove.
A blood red light painted the sky, illuminating a draped in a diamond encrusted headdress.
The masked man lifted his fist, and before the hypnotized viewers had a chance to yell in opposition, he slammed them down in unison, shaking the ground beneath his feet. The speakers hanging from the vast mural exploded into a deafening static - like acid oozing from the sound system into every listeners head.
All at once, millions of eyes rolled back into skulls.
A microphone descended from the red sky above, and the wall turned into a black video board. In an instant, two blinding words displayed themselves onto the screen.
Like a hoard of sheep following a Shepard, the spectators read the two words out loud in synchronization.
I AM A GOD
Behold, the introduction of what popular media labels the "new" Kanye. Up until "On Sight", Yeezy's musical catalog had largely been defined by Gospel drenched samples, chipmunk vocals and humorous social commentary - the exception being 808s & Heartbreak: Kanye's melodic, electronically infused testament to loneliness, following the death of his mother and split from Alexis Phifer.
In some ways, 808s and Yeezus share commonalities. Both are minimalistic in nature, both are electronic, and both address love and sexuality.
That's where the similarities come to a halt. Let me explain:
Both album are minimalistic, but Yeezus draws more heavily on samples - not in the way Kanye critics were accustomed to at that point, however. The soul, gospel and boom-bap sound is all there, but it's stripped back to its vulnerable core. Simply put, Kanye takes traditional samples and splices them into highly contrasting instrumentals.
Both albums are electronic, but Yeezus is for more industrial, experimental and shocking from a sonic perspective - the album is far more terrifying in nature - a stark contrast to the sentimental, sad vibe of 808s & Heartbreak
Both albums are sexually driven, but the divergence the albums take couldn't exist on farther ends of the spectrum of what "love" is. 808s & Heartbreak is a more lyrically sound project, whereas Yeezus is sexually graphic, raunchy and incredibly kinky (for lack of a better word).