On Monday night, Kanye West unveiled Yeezus at a star-packed listening party held on the loading docks of New York’s Milk Studios. It was unconventional, to be sure, but that didn’t stop the likes of Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Timbaland and New York athletes like Tyson Chandler and Victor Cruz from showing up (it was definitely odd to see Hov standing in the same spot where, hours before, trash had been stacked) to witness West’s latest masterwork.
MTV News’ James Montgomery and Rob Markman were in attendance, and now that their eardrums have recovered (if Yeezus is anything, it’s loud), we asked them for their opinions on the record, breaking down the beats, the lyrics and offering up a final analysis. Consider this the opening lines in a conversation that’s sure to go all summer long. That’s how ambitious, over-the-top, and challenging this album really is.
Before Monday night, Yeezus, had only been projected onto buildings, blasted out of speakers on “Saturday Night Live” and boomed across the muddy expanses of Governors Ball — all of which were oddly appropriate, given the album’s massive electronic wallop, its seas of squelching synthesizers, stuttering drums and nightmarish vocal yowls. It was equally fitting that West chose the loading dock of NYC’s Milk Studios as the next venue for the album’s unveiling. After all, what better way to showcase the disorienting depths the album plumbs than a concrete-coated depot? To me, Yeezus recalls the pummeling rush of groups like Death Grips, all gut-hammering electronic low end, guttural yelps, machine-gun drums and stabbing synths. And reverb. Reverb for days, which is why the concrete played such a pivotal role. Acoustics be damned, this one was gonna rock.
Chances are, you’ve already heard what I’m talking about on songs like “Onsite,” “I Am A God” and “Black Skinhead,” but there’s also a still-unnamed track where West repeatedly shouts “I Need it” over blaring sirens and squashed-flat synthesizers, too. Even the album’s most Klassic Kanye track, “Strange Fruit,” coasts on a sample of the Billie Holiday song of the same name, but bludgeons the listener with ominous marching-band brass and a booming sample of C-Murder’s “Down For My N’s.” Easy listening, this album certainly isn’t. — James Montgomery
Yeezus isn’t all EDM-inspired now. Maybe more than anyone, Kanye knows that variety is the spice of life, so he also ventures into distinct dancehall riddims on a number of selections. It was fitting that during the loading-dock listening, Team Yeezy set up towering speakers in each of the corners, much like a spirited island soundclash. One unnamed track either features a Beenie Man sample or interpolation from his dancehall hit “Stop Live Inna DJ Past.” Another unnamed song blended Popcaan’s intro to Pusha T’s “Blocka” with some Houston-infused chopped and screw elements. You didn’t really think Kanye would stop with the Fuzzy Jones “Mercy” sample now did you? — Rob Markman
Kanye is nothing if not incredibly quotable, both on record and IRL, a fact he made abundantly clear during his near six-minute speech at Monday night’s listening, which included chestnuts like “I got an idea how to sell more music; it’s called ’make better music,’ ” and “This album is all about giving … no f—s at all.” But, if you’re looking for yearbook-worthy inscriptions on par with “Too many Urkels on your team/That’s why your wins low” or “I don’t believe in yesterday/And what’s a black Beatle anyway? A f—king roach?” on Yeezus, well, you might be disappointed. It was pretty tough to hear everything West was rapping, given the volume of the songs and the unforgiving acoustics of the space, but the majority of the lyrics we were able to comprehend seem like the same territory he explored on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, namely dark, drug-filled nights, the perils of wealth and the many, many people conspiring against him. He also seems to be railing against corporations and the commercialization of the genre, which also draw equal fire. As for specifics? Well, I love the barbs of “New Slaves” — even if that whole section about the Hamptons is a bit icky — and the boasts of “I Am A God” (“Hurry up with my damn massage!”). But to be honest, the sonic whomp of the album took center stage, so I’m going to leave the lyrical analysis to Master Markman. JM
While Yeezy’s production has evolved through the years, the center of his lyricism is built upon brash, unapologetic-yet-clever lines. On Yeezus the G.O.O.D. Music table setter still ventures to say what others would not — in the most entertaining way, of course. On “I Am a God,” he compares himself to Michael Jackson and on an unnamed, but standout track (trust me on this,) he channels comedian Martin Lawrence spitting: “Jerome’s in the house, watch ya mouth.”
Still, maybe his most Yeeziest of rhymes comes on “Onsite.” “How much do I not give a f—?/ Let me show you right now until you give it up,” he spits.RM
Look, anyone who tells you they can form a solid opinion of an album like Yeezus after listening to it once, at maximum volume, on a loading dock, while standing shoulder-to-waist with Tyson Chandler is a fool. It’s an ambitious, aggressive, angry effort — the kind that’s specifically challenging because it requires repeated listens. At the same time, it assaults the listener at every turn. Now I know why he says he’s not releasing any singles off it … there’s maybe one on the entire album. Does it lack the sonic scope that made My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy such a thrill? Yes, but you’d be hard pressed to find an artist of Kanye’s caliber with the guts to release an album like this. Plenty talk the talk, but only Yeezy walks the walk, and you’ve got to give him credit for that. I can’t wait to get this one on my headphones, dig in, and really hear what Kanye’s got to say. One thing’s for sure, Yeezus will polarize, and chances are, we’ll be debating its merits all summer long. JM
Without a doubt Yeezus is the greatest album I’ve ever heard in a loading dock with Jay-Z and Beyoncé in attendance. Credit Kanye with creating a unique, one-of-a-kind experience. I can’t wait until June 18. RM