Kanye West’s new album, Yeezus, is stark, abrasive and combative. It is not “minimalist,” even by Kanye standards; but after the grandiose orchestral production that was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the record feels less like entertainment and more like a confrontation. He borrowed producer Rick Rubin’s well-trained ear to strip away the fat from the record’s early sketches, laying bare the harsh staccato rhythms of Chicago drill music and modern trap that dominate the record’s sonic palette. He pairs tribal drums with industrial synths and acid house, incorporating disparate musical subcultures into a sound unlike anything currently on terrestrial radio.
At this point, his talent as a composer is almost universally accepted, if often begrudgingly. Because for every intricate drum pattern he programs into his MPC, there’s a contradiction he forces you to reconcile (or ignore). He gets us to consume his willful ignorance, unapologetic misogyny, and often blatant hypocrisy because we can’t deny that his compositions make us move, groove, and feel. On the Nina Simone-sampling “Blood on the Leaves,” he co-opts the powerful imagery of a lynching while he’s whining about alimony. He’s unafraid to tamper with Simone’s iconic voice, and once you hear him juxtapose the powerful lyrical imagery of “Strange Fruit” with the triumphant ignorance of the trap, a poignant picture of Chicago’s dystopian South Side begins to emerge. All this, on the same track in which he admonishes his “second-string b****es” for “tryin’a get a baby.” The track’s lyrics aren’t the album’s most offensively misogynistic—that honor would likely go to the chowder-headed “sweet and sour sauce” line from “I’m In It”—but they expose the striking dichotomy of his willful ignorance and artful craft.
But for much of Yeezus, Kanye is angry. Angry that the same retailers that chase poor black kids out of their stores are more than happy to help a rapper blow his advance on a chain. Angry that his pastry is taking too long to arrive from the kitchen in the “french-ass restaurant” he’s patronizing. Angry that he didn’t get enough help jump-starting his ready-to-wear line. Angry that he’s not universally recognized as a deity. For a new father with millions of fans and dollars, he sure has a lot of hate in his heart. But for the art’s sake, is that necessarily a bad thing? And where does it come from?