"Yeezus," our last piece of the old Kanye turns 10 years this year.
"Yeezus," the sixth studio album by Kanye West (also known as Ye) may have been his last great album when considering raw creativity, appropriate track list void of boring skits, and the fact that he was rapping. There was some singing, and there were some antics that have nothing to do with music because Kanye will Kanye – but again, the dude was rapping as if his life depended on it, as if he didn't have a deal, as if he was trying to rival "The College Dropout" – and we may never see that again.
One of Kanye West's most considerable talents, his best talent in my opinion, the one talent that he never gets credited for – drum roll, please – is his ability to recognize talent. Mr. West is a master at aligning himself with talent. Kanye created good music and released projects from artists such as 2 Chainz, Big Sean, and Pusha T. These rappers all had respect in their own right before Kanye. Still, his planning, production, and how he reintroduced them to the world catapulted these guys to unimaginable levels. Kanye also has early ties in fashion to Don C, creator of Just Don; Tremaine Emory, the founder of Denim Tears; Jerry Lorenzo of Fear of God, and the biggest of the crew, Off White creator, Nike collaborator, and Creative Director of Louis Vuitton, the late great Virgil Abloh. All of these men are at the top of the fashion industry, they literally run street wear and have done collaborations with everyone from Zegna to Dior to Adidas and countless other legacy brands.
It was Virgil who came up with the album artwork for "Yeezus." Virgil's design was a master class in minimalism, especially when considering the history of hip-hop. Rap artists proudly celebrated the tradition of going all out on those album covers – challenging designers to create elaborate, flashy images like the blinged-out Hot Boys covers, images of wealth and high-end art on Jay-Z album covers, and the playful, cartoonish images that eventually led to more graphic pictures that Kanye used himself. All of the art was always over the top. Virgil took it back to the essence of how we mass produce units and moved them in the streets, the beginning of the bootleg CD era. Convincing Kanye to release a blank CD in a clear case that appeared to be sealed with a piece of red tape: art. It said nothing but, at the same time, screamed.
This may be the first and last time Kanye realized you don't have to be loud to communicate your point. While the artwork was quiet, the rollout was everything but. On May 17, 2013, Kanye started promo by dropping his single "New Slaves" through video projections in 66 locations worldwide.
This is also the same year the viral meme was created, where Kanye screams, "You ain't got the answers, Sway!" to long-time MTV personality and host of "Sway in the Morning," Sway. While recording the show, Kanye became frustrated with his relationships with legacy brands like Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Keep in mind this is years before his friends mentioned earlier took over the industry. Kanye felt that those legacy brands' inability to directly connect with the culture and partner with someone like him was disrespectful. Sway felt that Kanye didn't need legacy brands; he, like many, believed that the rapper was already iconic and questioned him on his reasons for not being 100% independent. After all Kanye's Nike sneaker instantly sold out and was a pioneer in the birth of the sneaker resale market, and his APC collaboration did the same, selling an Egyptian cotton T-shirt for 100 bucks. Maybe Kanye wanted validation from those brands that he has spent hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of dollars on, or maybe their European affiliation made them appear more attractive, or maybe Kanye was having a bad morning. Either way, he exploded on Sway. (Years later, in 2022, Kanye recanted his statement from the classic interview and agreed that Sway indeed had the answers.)
Another forgotten promo tool Kanye used for the album was the Confederate flag. Was this the beginning of his MAGA love? He started wearing a flight jacket with a patch of the flag stitched onto the sleeve. People were pissed off, and rightfully so, as the Confederate flag has been nothing more than a poster for racism; Kanye took to 97.1 AMP radio and stated:
"You know the confederate flag represented slavery, in a way, that's my abstract take on what I know about it, right. So I wrote the song 'New Slaves.' So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It's my flag now. Now what are you going to do?"
The difference between Kanye West and other rappers, is that he always goes above and beyond to bring the tension to his name when releasing the project, which baffles many because the art is so strong. Strong enough to stand on its own without dog whistles or "look at me" interviews.
The Track List
- On Sight
- Black Skinhead
- I Am a God (Ft. God)
- New Slaves
- Hold My Liquor
- I'm In It
- Blood On the Leaves
- Guilt Trip
- Send It Up
- Bound 2
Other than "Bound 2" the album ventures away from a classic hip-hop sound. Kanye used experiential sounds and repetitive messaging to create a truly original effect. But still, Kanye was rapping. In my favorite track "Blood on the Leaves," Kanye hops on the Nina Simone samples and sings:
I don't give a damn if you used to talk to Jay-Z
He ain't with you, he with Beyoncé, you need to stop actin' lazy
She Instagram herself like #BadB***hAlert
He Instagram his watch like #MadRichAlert
He only wanna see that a** in reverse
Two-thousand-dollar bag with no cash in your purse
Now you sittin' courtside, wifey on the other side
Gotta keep 'em separated, I call that apartheid
Then she said she impregnated, that's the night your heart died
Then you gotta go and tell your girl and report that
Main reason cause your pastor said you can't abort that
Now your driver say that new Benz you can't afford that
All that cocaine on the table you can't snort that
That going to that owing money that the court got
All in on that alimony, uh, yeah-yeah, she got you homie
'Til death but do your part, unholy matrimony
In the most bizarre way possible, he goes from talking about superficial relationships to the Nina Simoe sample, her sweet voice singing about Black bodies hanging from trees in the South, hence the title "Strange Fruit" (her cover of Billie Holiday's original). Her homage to the lost people, which she celebrates with her beautiful voice, becomes identical to how Kanye uses this beautiful sound to sing about lost people who weren't hanging from trees but shackled to clout, debt and social media notoriety.
The track list was perfect, the sound was excellent, and the album perfectly matched society's mood at that particular time. The only sad part is that we didn't know that we would never see that Kanye again.