Obviously, this isn’t the “real” album cover, but that “bootleg copy of Avengers you bought from a Chinese dude on the 6 train” album cover shit is just not cutting it.
Yeezus was billed as Kanye’s punk album. Graduation was his French dude with a synthesizer album. MBDTF his prog rock joint. 808s and Heartbreak his Phil Collins “I can feel it in the air tonight” shit. But Yeezus was supposed to be the punk one—the record he turned his usual personal-as-political messaging into overt political statements. Kanye embracing his position as “unamerican idol”. We were sold on a noisy, minimalistic production. Ye by way of Suicide (the band, not the act) and Nine Inch Nails; with a lil helping of Mumia on the side. Yeezus is not that album, instead it’s a angry, disjointed retread of 808s & Heartbreak. Drake after a bad breakup, a bad acid trip, and a night spent Youtubing the Black Dice catalog. The disappointment of Yeezus, is that it never fully delivers on the idea of an abrasive and political Kanye; the tragedy is that Ye was close to getting there.
There’s parts of the album that deliver as advertised; “Black Skinhead” is equally menacing and catchy, but also a “fuck you” to all of Kanye’s detractors and (most likely) some of his fans. It’s “Power”, without “Power”’s populist slant. “Power” was Ye talking shit, flashing his black superhero cape; but it also asked you to join him in the sun. It had the ability to inspire singalongs after you got a raise. “Black Skinhead” is Superman scowling down at humans. “I Am A God” works in the same way. It could alternately be titled “I am amazing, let me count the ways”. Mad drunks are gonna annoy the fuck out of the confectionary artists at Dunkin Donuts by yelling “hurry up with my damn croissants”, but no one will ever make the mistake of thinking they too are gods. Only Ye is reified, which is a ideological departure from all of his previous works.
The opening track “On Sight”, is appropriately the type of robotic, overly quantized electro beats, that loft space, art rappers love to spit on. If Kanye wanted to keep it really hood—specifically Bushwick, Providence, Austin, or East Williamsburg—he’s got it here. Even “I’m In It”—a failed experiment on the album—invokes visions of a nightmarish dancehall populated by cannibalistic bodyrollers. These songs, musically the best on the album, sonically recall the noisy, agro production of Death Grips and early 00s EL-P; stripped to their bare essentials. At its best Yeezus does more with less, which is the thematic opposite of Kanye’s work on MBDTF.
The idea of reversal and contradiction is key to Yeezus. “New Slaves” tackles privatized prisons, nouveau racism, and consumerism. It’s a confused messaging, but that happens a lot in punk. We know Kanye has a $300 sneaker that bears his name, yet we know he’s always been conflicted by his desire for status symbols and by extension black culture’s desire for status. “We spend, before we got it.” Kanye is in the unique position to be part of the problem, from both sides. This dichotomy makes “New Slaves” and would’ve been an interesting thread to play out on the rest of the album.
Unfortunately, the lyrics on the rest of the album, are largely a complete fucking mess. There’s way too many stories of shitty exgirlfriends, threesomes, and hatefucking; with no purpose. Let’s be clear personal drama makes for great songs; Ye’s got crazy ex girlfriends, you’ve got crazy exes. Let’s compare notes. The problem with the personal diatribes on Yeezus is their lack of expansion to universal issues. There’s no widely applicable revelations. Put “Blame Game”, “Robocop”, or “Flashing Lights” up against “I’m In It” or “Blood On The Leaves”, and the later feel hollow and very specific to multi-milionaire pop stars. As pure vitriolic, “fuck my ex girlfriend”, sex stories the “romantic” songs on the album don’t measure up emotionally. Kanye talks about fisting a chick, but somehow it doesn’t sound nearly as vile, real, or upsetting as Cam’ron’s misogyny anthem “Girls”. Artistically, you’re left wanting Ye to ditch these concepts altogether or become “more asshole”. There’s no such thing, as a halfway dick.
While Kanye has always walked the line that separates bad dad jokes, from tolerable dad jokes, most of this album is dedicated to some truly horrible puns. A line about eating asian pussy and needing sweet and sour sauce, is lazy. Swaghilli, is dated and stupid. Scraping the bottom of the Swagu bottle with those.
As much as thinkpieces applauded Kanye for taking it to the man with “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”, the rest of the album abandons any discussion of politics. Kanye’s versus on “New God Flow” and “Clique” offer more direct and scathing commentary on Chicago, race, and celebrity than the entirety of this album and both of those are posse cuts. As much as Ye was lauded for putting Chicago on with appearances by Chief Keef and King L(ouie), both of those appearances are wasted. Kanye tosses out references to the drug war, the CIA, and privatized prisons, yet relegates Keef (a perpetual inmate and nihilist) to the role of a crooner on an awful song about an ex you fucked one too many times. Chief Keef on “Black Skinheads” could’ve been Nicki Minaj on “Monster”. These failures of execution are endemic of the core problem with Yeezus.
Thinking back to the stories of Kanye recording MBDTF in Hawaii, there’s the image of him pushing Nicki Minaj to repeatedly rewrite her career defining verse on “Monster”. There was Kanye telling Pusha T he needed to be more “asshole” on his verse from “Runaway”. Going further back, there’s Rick Rubin—producer of Yeezus—recording Slayer’s Reign In Blood in 1986, telling a young Jeff Hanneman “You can do better” to get the best solos out of him. There’s Rubin cutting parts and songs to get a more “intense” experience. I fear at this point in his career, no one is telling Kanye “you can do better”.
 Everything leading up to Yeezus suggested that’s what we were getting; the SNL performance, the guerilla marketing tactics, a song called “Black Skinhead”, the blank CD cover. This is Punk 101 shit, wouldn’t be surprised if a set of Yeezus patches dropped any minute now.