Posted by J. Block | Posted in Justin's Archive | Posted on 13-06-2013
Tags: kanye west, Yeezus
As a person who sees himself as someone synonymous with the idea of vanity, Kanye West isn’t the type to hold back. Whether it’s on albums, on national television with Mike Myers, at certain award shows, concerning his style, or with his love life, the grandiose and garish have been intrinsic functions of everything Ye. Which is why it’s surprising to read about how he considers himself a minimalist, and how his forthcoming album, Yeezus, is going to be reflective of that inward-looking view. Last month, he worked with Rick Rubin on stripping away certain elements of Yeezus—elements that in years past probably would’ve been celebrated as being uniquely Kanye (although it’s trivial to speculate on how many opera bridges and extra harmonies were done away with, as we’ll just never know).
Sure, his style is now full of muted tones and a nondescript color palette, but this is the guy who recently dressed like this and this, was responsible for this stage, and hired this many ballerinas for a short film and subsequent concerts. When has Kanye West ever been a minimalist? Is this evolution purely progressive, or is it simply a fresh coat of paint on past art, past emotions, and past swag?
In talking about his past, I’m of course referring to his 808s & Hearbreak era, a time which saw Kanye dress in simple grays and record the most honest and creative music of his career. While it’s not his most critically acclaimed album, 808s is certainly his most impactful. It’s his unaccredited creative magnum opus. It was an album born out of loss, heartache, and the kind of fucked up emotions you can’t understand unless you’ve actually been through them. But all of those emotions were originally rooted in love—a place where, not to sound cliché, the best art comes from (still cliché). The 808s era, with Kanye crafting brutality plain and equally tragic songs like “Say You Will,” “Amazing,” and “See You In My Nightmares,” was the beginning of Minimalist Ye. The songs were sparse, dark, and brilliant.
Shortly after 808s, Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift at the MTV VMAs, and in his words, put out his “backhanded apology” with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As he said in the New York Times interview, “I was like: ‘Let me show you guys what I can do, and please accept me back. You want to have me on your shelves.’” Given how his next two albums—Watch The Throne and Cruel Summer—turned out, it’s reasonable to view those two albums as an extension of what was done on Twisted Fantasy, sonically and idealistically. Across those three albums, Kanye begat luxury rap, and began to express his racial politicism in a post-race America more clearly. They weren’t however, his most honest pieces of work, because they were albums to mark his return to triumph and to celebrate those successes. They didn’t connect to something deeper, something more humanistic. Kanye even said about Twisted Fantasy: “That was the album where I gave people what they wanted.”
Given the impact of Yeezus cut “New Slaves,” it’s clear that those ideas are becoming intensified in Kanye’s mind, but they don’t escape the potential impact on Yeezus of Minimalist Ye. Kanye might want to be America’s Marcus Garvey in a black Balmain hoodie, but he’s going to do it through less production, more auto-tune, more Chicago influence (Chief Keef’s Chicago’s poster boy for gang and black-on-black violence through the Fox News lens, but also trap’s nihilistic punk prince, is a confirmed feature on Yeezus), and more raw emotion. Kanye’s in love again, and about to be a father for the first time. The same seed that sprouted 808s has been sewn again for Yeezus, but the fruits should be sweeter and more accessible this time. With that, Yeezus should be Kanye’s strongest work since pre-808s‘ Graduation.
Not only is he in the best artistic space of his career, but he’s currently going through the cleanest album roll-out since Watch The Throne. That album never leaked, and the only single we receieved that made the album before the release date was “Otis,” which is why Watch The Throne was my personal favorite out of the three albums he’s released since 808s. The rush of hearing an album’s worth of new Kanye West music with virgin ears can’t be matched by any other artist in hip-hop, with apologies to Drake and Kendrick Lamar. Given that much of Twisted Fantasy was released through a summer’s worth of G.O.O.D. Friday singles and half of Cruel Summer was released through official singles, we haven’t had many pure first-time listens of Kanye West albums the past few years.
Kanye won’t release a single for Yeezus, and if you’re like me, you’ve ignored all of the Vines and projections of “New Slaves.” Like Justin Timberlake did a few months back, Kanye’s gone from a cryptic tweet to an album in almost two months. There’s been no prolonged roll-out, no changing of release dates, and up until a few days ago, no information about the album itself. Twisted Fantasy‘s G.O.O.D. Fridays, Watch The Throne‘s out of control hype machine, and Cruel Summer‘s summer of singles were all tossed to the wayside for Yeezus‘s nothingness. Kanye The Minimalist went ahead with the no frills, no drama, Angie Martinez-less album release. Outside of his SNL performance of “Black Skinhead,” his Governor’s Ball set, a few random Hudson Mohawke leaks, and the aforementioned projections, we have no idea how Yeezus will sound. On that technicality alone, Yeezus should provide the best album experience since Graduation.
Let the resurrection of Minimalist Ye begin.