The first review I ever did on this site was Kanye’s Graduation way back in 2007, which at this point in time seems like a life time ago. I gave that album 4 out 5, because while it did have great production, I felt that Kanye could come “lyrically harder”. The thing is overtime that album grew on me as well as a lot of people and in my books (and many others) is a classic 5 star album (Let’s just keep that in mind for later). Since then, we saw Kanye go into his emo phase with 808’s & Heartbreak, his “comeback album” My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy, his collab album with big brother Watch The Throne and his label’s compilation album Cruel Summer.
I’m sure you already know the back story here, so I won’t rehash it. I also wont go into Kanye’s history because if you don’t already know that you shouldn’t even be reading this. I’m also sure you’re aware of the the polarizing reviews this album has received, mainly most people that say they loved it and a few people saying they hated it. You can probably guess where I fall, but let’s get into the breakdown to find out why.
Best Songs: On Site, Black Skinhead, I Am A God, New Slaves, Hold My Liquor, I’m In It, Bound 2
1. On Site
I thought I had got a bad bootlegg when I first heard this because the synths sounded so distorted, my ears were trying to adjust to what the hell I was hearing. I could tell Kanye’s vocals were mixed fine, but what was going on with the beat? And than it hit me, Kanye not only wants to completely play with our ears and that means even playing with how the songs are mixed. What a bold way to start an album. Also the way this album is mixed and recorded is leaps beyond any album, don’t believe me, just play this and then play any other rap album.
Best line: He’ll give us what we need, it may not be what we want. *Plays during sample*
2. Black Skinhead
Everyone is saying this sounds like Death Grips or industrial music and it may have elements of that but to me this sounds like it’s in the same vein as Power except with a drum pattern you can do a little 2 step to and a 808 trap influenced breakdown. This would be a song to see perform, especially when Kanye starts repeatedly yelling “God” which is both thrilling and hilarious at the same time.
Best line: They say a black men with white women at the top floor they gonna come to kill king kong.
3. I Am A God
You really don’t get more daring then naming your song “I Am A God” even though it is clearly influenced by Lil B’s whole “based god” Jesus trolling. The thing is Kanye took it to a mainstream level and you know how mainstream fans usually have a pickle up their ass anytime you speak on religion or god. All that matters is this song good? Yes. The rapping on here is very reminiscent of Graduation while the production is something in hip hop no one has ever done. It’s more in line with the beats producers like Diplo and Bauer make where their are tons of switch ups.
Best line: I am a god.
4. New Slaves ft. Frank Ocean
This just might be the rap album with the least amount of snares because so far we’ve heard none and with this Daft Punk produced track the anti-snare production continues. The thing is this melody is so hard and infectious we don’t need anything else, just Kanye brilliantly telling us that we’re the new slaves and why. This is probably the lyrical highlight of the album and while some critics wish he made more songs in this vein, it’s really hard to duplicate this. Oh and Frank Ocean really isn’t on the track aside from a few coos at the very end.
Best line: You see there’s leaders and there’s followers but I’d rather be the dick than the shallower. [sidebar: I would love to see Kim Kardashian’s face during this line]
5. Hold My Liquor ft. Justin Vernon and Chief Keef
Who the hell would put Chief Keef on their 6th highly anticipated album? Secondly, who would put Chief Keef on a song with dude from Bon Iver? This is another song where the raps sound like their from Graduation and the beat sounds like its from 808s, it’s just executed more skillfully.
Best line: Then your aunty came over, skinny bitch with no shoulders.
6. I’m In It ft. Justin Vernon
This is one of those tracks if you’re not used to the trap-edm-a-d-d sound you’ll be confused as to what’s going on. You really have to have ADD to get this sound and luckily for me I do. The funny thing about this song is Kanye says he’s about to start a new movement led by the drums, but this is the first song with actual drums, you know a kick and a snare, I think he was being sarcastic though -which is something Kanye is a master at.
Best line: Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign.
7. Blood On The Leaves
Every critic brings up the Nina Simone sample, but since most of us never heard that song, what I do want to bring up (and that they fail to mention) is the Murder C interpolation of Down For My N’s: While I do wonder what the song would sound like without the Murder C sample, likely more somber, it would also take away from the bluntness of contrasting a song about lynching with a song about being down for one’s niggas. Oh did I mention this song is about trying molly with a girl who happens to be a stage 5 gold digger?
8. Guilt Trip ft. Kid Cudi
This starts of like a song from 808’s which kind of made me cringe for a second but then morphs into something from Graduation and then MBDTF which turned my cringe into a smile especially when Kid Cudi’s crooning at the end sounds so heartfelt it is hard not to sing along thinking about a few of my past loves.
Best line: If you love me so much then why’d you let me go.
9. Send It Up
Who the hell would put King Louie on their album? A guy who really wants to put on for their city. Because there’s no way I would put King Louie on my album if I was in Kanye’s position and I don’t care if he’s from my city. I also probably wouldn’t put a classic Beanie Man sample on my album either, but that’s really the magic of Kanye and something he’s been doing from his first album The College Dropout -mixing two things that aren’t supposed to be together and as he’s gotten more skilled he’s been mixing three, four, five, six things that are not supposed to go together. I would really like to see how this song would work in the club, because it sounds nothing like what you’ll hear during any hip hop set.
10. Bound 2
This is my favorite song and I really hope Kanye forgets his anti-radio marketing scheme for a moment and pushes this to radio because this sounds nothing like anything on radio and when the chorus kicks in, oh sweet good lord. You’ll also notice Kanye is pretty much just rapping over the sample without any added drums or anything else, which was a decision by Rick Rubin, who helped executive produce the album three weeks before it was handed in. Also for you new jacks that Jerome line is a reference to the show Martin.
Best line: Have you ever asked your bitch for more bitches?.
It’s pretty apparent to me that Kanye read Steve Jobs’ biography because aside from saying he’s the next Steve Jobs he also adopted his idea of minimalism and simplification. He also adopted Leonardo da Vinci quote, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, which was probably a big turning point in Kanye’s life as his previous songs contained their fair share of instrumentation and over-production. Here he pairs down to only the elements that are needed to make his point. Heck the running time is a lean 40 minutes. In the time I’ve had this album, 4 days, I’ve listened to the album over 30 times. I’m a huge Kanye fan and I doubt I could listen to MBDTF 30 times straight as it is has much more fat, albeit good fat.
Earlier I talked about how I gave Graduation a 4/5 because I thought the lyrics could have hit harder, and then overtime realized that the lyrics were more than enough. I noticed many critics saying he should have come with better lyrics but the thing with Kanye is his production and concepts are so good that his lyrics take time to fully appreciate. This isn’t an album you can hear once and make up your mind about it. You have to sit with this album for months, maybe even years. This isn’t an album for a person that listens to one type of genre, and really none of Kanye’s albums are. Kanye’s albums have always pushed hip hop into a new direction, spawning new styles, new trends and new rappers (See: Drake, Macklemore, J. Cole, and Travis Scott just to name a few).
I was afraid with a cheesy album title like Yeezus, Kanye was going down the 50 Cent route ala Curtis and just giving up on the music. But the album title is more about maintaining minimalism and keeping the focus on Kanye. The day we’ll know Kanye is giving up on music is the day he releases an album that sounds like The College Dropout, because then we’ll know he’s fresh out of ideas. And besides if you want to hear The College Dropout, you can hear J.Cole’s new album which is pretty much a direct descendant of that body of work. Shots!