By Sean Lynch
When Kanye West delivered Yeezus back in June, he captivated the attention of the culture. Now with 2013 drawing to an end, West’s sixth-studio album is capturing end-of-the-year honors -- one right after another. This week alone Spin dubbed it the top album of 2013, as did StereoGum. But it was Rolling Stone naming it the #2 album on their 50 Best Albums of the Year list and Complex naming “New Slaves” the top song of 2013, that gained the most chatter. We asked a few respected industry minds, for their thoughts and opinions on these placements, and whether or not they felt it was justified.
“I think picking Yeezus at #2 was the "safe" Hip-Hop album choice. You might get some push back from Kanye West detractors, his fans will applaud, but in the end it's not a provocative pick,” explains Deputy Editor Alvin Blanco of HipHopWired. “It's telling that the next rap album on Rolling Stone's list is Drake's Nothing Was The Same at #14 followed by Danny Brown's Old at #17. It also goes to show that Yeezy's top tier talent is still his music, not his fashion ambitions,” says Blanco.
XXL News Editor, Eric Diep applauds both placements for Ye’. “Yeezus topping both [Rolling Stone] and Complex's lists is valid because 'Ye needed to break those glass ceilings and he triumphantly did so here. There's no questioning Yeezus' impact, and how it pushed the boundaries of hip-hop.”
On the other hand Kazeem Famuyide, Digital Content Editor of TheStashed.com disagrees with Rolling Stone’s placement of Yeezus on their list. “I believe Yeezus being named the #2 album of the year is a little head scratching,” explains Famuyide. While he acknowledges the attention the project received, “It sure did make a lot of noise and spark a lot of conversation and it was definitely the most-talked about album of the year, but at the end of the day, the music's got to sound good. For all Ye's awesome experimentation on the album, an album with only a little bit over half of the songs with replay value can't be placed that high on my list.”
Famuyide added that the live element helped deliver a better understanding of New Slaves. “When "New Slaves" first dropped, I went to go see its premiere at Columbus Circle. As soon as it was over I said, "What the f--- is this?" and didn't really make an effort to hear it again…that's until I heard it live. In a year with songs like "Blurred Lines," "Hold On We're Going Home," "Get Lucky," "Power Trip," and countless others it's weird that "New Slaves" tops that list, but seeing it performed live is enough to convince anyone. It truly is an experience, so while I don't wholeheartedly agree, I see where they were coming from and I'm not mad at it.”
Editorial Director and founder of STARK/TheStarkLife.com, Amy Andrieux, applauds West’s efforts with the album. “While I don't respect reviews as much as I once did because so much is taken out of context (sometimes by writer and sometimes by reader) as the artist is trying to deliver and shape their "art" simultaneously, I do support these two reviews by Rolling Stone and Complex.” Andrieux further explains, “Why they choose to rank Yeezus and its single "New Slaves" so high is another question, but why I think Kanye deserves the honor? He's one of the few artists left who will say what's on his mind even if it's brutally honest, emotionally jarring, naive, or out of the box. And he did that on the album and the single... It made a world of sense to me and I respect him creatively for them.”
Dharmic X a freelancer for Complex (who helped to compile their Best Songs of 2013 list) appreciated Yeezus topping any list but with some hesitation. "Yeezus is a polarizing album. Nothing else in Hip-Hop that came out this year sounds anything like it. As a result, it's understandable for those who appreciated the vision and inventiveness to rank the album high among the best albums of the year,” explained Dharmic. “For me personally, Yeezus has its strong moments. "Blood On The Leaves" conjures powerful emotions in ways that only Kanye knows how to bring out, and is one of my favorite songs of the year.
Songs like "New Slaves" and "Black Skinhead" also hit the mark, bringing out Kanye's ability to speak out despite being tabloid fodder. But there also missteps on the album ("I Am God") that are too jarring to ignore, and at certain points, the lyrics are lazy and sloppy. Will Yeezus change the sound of hip-hop the way 808s & Heartbreaks did? It's premature to say, but there's no denying that it was an experimental effort from a man who knows how to be formulaically perfect. And for some, the imperfections make this album worth relishing."