Ok so now that the NBA playoffs is over I can resume my regular life. Fortunately for me this happens to coincide with Kanye dropping a new album (Yeezus), which means that at the very least fans of Hip Hop have something to talk about.
Much hay has been made about Kanye’s album, some people love it and others hate it. I’ve listened to it a few times and I’m on the fence about it. I don’t like it, but I don’t hate it either. If you’ve been paying attention to the lyrics on Kanye’s earlier releases he has trending in this direction ever since Heartbreaks and 808s. There has always been an underlying tone of nihilism in Kanye’s music since that album. I view this album as the culmination of all of Kanye’s frustrations with his life, his celebrity, his career, and his position in society.
I read that Kanye had a completed album and then went and consulted Rick Rubin on his album. This resulted in Kanye reformatting several songs on the album and releasing the product that everyone is listening to currently.
So let’s talk about Rick Rubin. First off Rick Rubin is widely considered as a musical visionary. He founded Def Jam records with Russell Simmons. He was responsible for the musical direction and production of early acts such as Beastie Boys. Basically, Russell Simmons was in charge of the business of Def Jam and Rubin was in charge of the musical product. Rubin eventually felt like the corporate powers that be were curtailing his music and artistic freedom and left Def Jam to start his own label called Def American where he specialized in a wide variety of music, with his artists making important contributions in Hip Hop, Rock, and Heavy Metal.
Rubin is important to this story because he specializes in a type of music which he refers to as “high brow, low brow” music. High brow, low brow music is basically music that has commentary on very serious social subjects, but couches it in a context that is decidedly low brow. For example, talking about sex using similes that conjure up images of the civil rights movement. Needless to say, I believe Yeezus is Kanye’s contribution to this particular type of music. Kanye has been experimenting with this his whole career, but on Yeezus he just decided to put all his chips in. The advantage of this type of music is that it is always extremely provocative. It always makes people say, “I can’t believe he would tie in the Civil Rights movement with sex like that.” Or some other similar comment. It also lends itself to people attempting to psycho analyze the provocateur. Art critics love this type of music. In fact, they believe creation of this type of shock is the purpose of all art. By this metric Kanye’s album is a wild success. So if you hate this album then this should help you understand why it is so critically acclaimed.
Personally, I call this music visionary nihilism. It is much ado about nothing. It is art for the sake of spectacle. I have taken to calling Yeezus the album that Quentin Tarantino would make if he could rap. Kanye is a high brow, low brow rapper and Tarantino is a high brow low brow filmmaker. Don’t’ be surprised if you hear clips from several of the songs on Yeezus as the part of the soundtrack for Tarantino’s next movie.
Musically I think every song on Yeezus has some good qualities that Kanye eventually, purposefully, and predictably destroys. In this way, I think Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF) album, and Yeezus are bookends. To me Yeezus is what happened when Kanye decided to completely trash the idea of making another album like MBDTF. The reason is that MBDTF is widely considered a classic and I’m speculating Kanye realized he couldn’t make another album as great as it, particularly if he was trying to recreate it. As a result, he simply ditched the idea and decided to make a provocative album that would at least have people talking for a while.
It is a testament to Kanye’s talent as a musician and entertainer that he has done exactly that.