In 2013, Kanye West unleashed his 7th studio album onto the world. With a name as controversial as his own, Yeezus became a well-known experimental-Hip-Hop album in popular culture and went on to become what many regard as Kanye’s worst album. Polarizing for sure, the work was not an easily-digestible listen, even with the brief 40-minute runtime. Kanye himself said this was all purposely done as a way to evoke emotion in listeners—unsettling emotions.
Kanye explained in an infamous interview with Zane Lowe that he originally thought to start of the tracklist with the more subdued and somber “Blood on the Leaves,” but as the album’s direction grew more rebellious, more aggressive, he decided to punch listeners in the face with the grotesque and distorted sounds of “On sight”. This track would set the tone for what would be Kanye’s most bombastic, loud, and irritated record yet.
Although receiving critical acclaim, many fans and non-fans alike were torn on the under-promoted album, citing its many issues in their widespread complaints. In sum, many argue that the lyrics, production, and songwriting overall were not up to snuff, especially considering this was being released after his last solo album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album many regard as the greatest Hip-Hop album of the decade.
Yeezus was born out of frustration for the different creative and entertainment industries that Kanye was involved in; the album for Kanye, served as a rebellious outcry, in its sound, content, and promotion (or lack thereof). He projected videos of himself rapping the track “New Slaves” upon monuments all across the world, never released a single, and did not approach radio with anything from the album.
Yeezus, down to the cover art, attempted to make a statement to the world: Kanye was doing away with the old and was the visionary meant to usher in the new. He wanted to prove this to fashion brands and designers alike and went to great extremes discussing these topics in later issues (many of which have received immense backlash).
With all of this, albeit a polarizing and perplexing record, to say the least, Yeezus was meant to create a shockwave in the industry—it was meant to get a reaction out of everyone he possibly could. In a way, Kanye succeeded, later receiving his greatest fashion deal ever with Adidas, and influencing tons of other artists with his sound. Packing such a large statement in such a tiny package, Yeezus was Kanye’s most concise effort, something he would prove to care less about in the future with the release of his next solo album, The Life of Pablo.
Pablo, to many, is regarded as Kanye’s comeback record, as many people believed he had fallen off with the release of Yeezus. Much greater in length, the record featured tons of tracks with throwback sounds and references to his infancy as a solo act in music as well as newer, trendier sounds. Kanye traded in the experimentation of Yeezus for a more appealing, welcoming sound on Pablo. While many enjoyed the project, as it seemingly tried desperately to offer something for everyone, the album had its own issues—I’d argue, more than Yeezus, in fact.
To start, the album was largely directionless, meaning that at least there was a greater statement to be made with the release of Yeezus. Pablo, seemingly, had no grand message—and, if it did, it was certainly buried underneath the plethora of unnecessary tracks. The lyrics on Pablo are just as bad if not worse than those on the previous record, substituting lines about croissants for ones like the now infamous first few bars on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Highlights.” The album was an incoherent mess from start to finish, a record that seemed just as confused as to where it wanted to go as Kanye himself did at the time of its release. During the release of Yeezus, Kanye struck the music industry with great ambition and a passionate message. During Pablo, Kanye sounded as though he was sort of done with music altogether, as if he could not be bothered to shed much feeling into many of the empty-sounding tracks.
To Keep it Blunt…
Yeezus is NOT Kanye’s worst album. Instead, I’d argue, The Life of Pablo is. Although it sounds as though I am being harsh in my description of the record, it must be understood that I am a huge fan of Kanye and even his worst is better to me than most artists’ best. In fact, Pablo was one of my favorite albums of 2016, and I still listen to a couple of tracks from it today.
However, when I look back on Kanye’s career, Yeezus will always stand out to me as something special, despite its plenty of flaws which I do acknowledge. “I Am a God” and “Black Skinhead” are two monstrously epic cuts I believe, however, I think any artist could have done a better job on the instrumentals, as Kanye’s lyrics reduce the powerful effect of both of the tracks. That’s just one of my main criticisms of the album, and, although I have tons more, this article is about how it should not be considered his worst.
Pablo only becomes his worst record if I so choose to pick a ‘worst record’, as I would usually not normally do so. All of his albums serve a purpose in his diverse discography, and I wouldn’t omit any album from it in particular. Instead, the purpose here is to explain why Yeezus, in comparison with another record like Pablo should not be considered his worst effort, as both happen to suffer from many of the same issues, and in many ways, the latter happens to suffer from more.
It’s easy to write-off Yeezus as a mess of odd, digital, minimalistic beats paired with watered-down subject matter and bland lyricism, but at the end of the day, It’s technical issues does not prevent it from evoking feeling or emotion in listeners. In it, I can feel the raw aggression of a frustrated Kanye, crying out to the world that he is fed up with his own position in the industry. As long as I receive powerful emotion from a record, its flaws simply become things to be noted, and not aspects strong enough to deter me from listening.