The fall of 1973 found on the doorsteps of the jazz industry an album much different than anything they’d heard before. Herbie Hancock’s iconic album, Head Hunters was like nothing before it, it was what people describe as groundbreaking, trailblazing, a radical shift from the norm and a bold attempt to go where no other jazz musician had gone before. If told to never go there, Herbie decided that the world of jazz was not flat, it was round. Herbie decided that the opposite of acceptance was not rejection, but opportunity.
I liken Kanye West’s latest album, Yeezus to Head Hunters cautiously but intentionally. With this album Kanye has the opportunity to boldly go where no one has ever gone in hip hop before. Head Hunters, an album that sought to stir jazz, funk, and soul into one pot and serve, Yeezus does the same with rap, acid, techno, drum and bass. If successful, the product of Kanye’s effort will cement him in greatness, it will take his imprint from one of the best to one of the most influential.
A man of Kanye’s intellectuality is well aware of what is at stake.
Head Hunters, released in October of 1973 was thought that in a few years much like everything else Herbie had done in recent releases would be back on the shelf and overlooked. That’s not what happened. Jazz enthusiasts either loved or they hated the album, but at the time, it became one of the greatest selling jazz albums of all-time. There was nothing traditional about Head Hunters — there is nothing traditional about Yeezus. It was as though Herbie was painting an abstract portrait of jazz in the future, and Kanye seeks to the do the same with hip hop with Yeezus.
In an industry like hip hop, everyone is trying to stand out by fitting in; Kanye chooses to impress us by his uncanny ability to stand out by voluntarily refusing to stand in. Traditional hip hop fans or people who miss the old days of hip hop are not going to like Yeezus. They’re much better served getting their fix from someone else because there’s simply nothing traditional about this album. If you want something that resembles the methodical transition from rhyme and verse into a lyrical format recited over instrumental beats, you won’t find it here.
And that’s perfectly fine, both sides are more than welcome to engage in what they see fit.
The album may be different than traditional hip hop but nothing has changed about the Kanye West we’ve known for the last ten years. He still impresses us with a collection of lyrics and concepts that don’t revolve around [selling] drugs, guns and violence. He continues to be a pioneer for fashion forward artists in an industry obsessed with maintaining the monotony of the neighborhoods from which you originate. Conceptually, the album is a reflection of where Kanye has been going for years. Most traditional hip hop albums are best served with a single common theme threading throughout, Kanye has expanded our minds to hear theatrical performances in musical selections and spoken word. Never disappointing and always expected Kanye has long left the MPC2000 era of hip hop where producers sat in studios, exchanged sound effects and percussion rhythms over a melody. Kanye’s ascension to broaden our view of what hip hop and music should be is unmatched, he brings not only the best producers in the US together, but the best composers of the world.
The artistic fortitude of his lyrics is stronger now than they’ve ever been. They continue to move you between connection and curiosity by disgusting you, scaring you, relating to you and speaking to you.
Remember how we felt when we first heard, Addiction,
I see the emotion in your eyes, that you, try not to show / We get the closest when you high, or you drunk, or you blow / So I pour the potion, so we could both get high, as we could go / Then I’ll get the lotion, and do something to me, when your thighs is exposed.” Troubled inside because we somehow related.
Another iteration in Blame Game,
On a bathroom wall I wrote / “I’d rather argue with you than to be with someone else” (else, else, else) / I took a piss and dismiss it like fuck it and I went and found somebody else / Fuck arguing or harvesting the feelings, I’d rather be by my fucking self / Till about 2am and I call back and I hang up and start to blame myself / Somebody help.
That leaves us with my favorite track on the album, Hold My Liquor,
Five years we been over, ask me why I came over / One more hit and I can own ya, one more fuck and I can own ya / One cold night in October, pussy had me floating / Feel like Deepak Chopra, pussy had me dead / Might call 2Pac over, Yeezy’s all on your sofa, these the red Octobers / Still ain’t learn me no manners, you love me when I ain’t sober.
It’s still there, it’s still all there. That’s the important takeaway, while nothing about this album resembles traditional hip hop, it is still traditional Kanye West. He challenges us musically, lyrically, conceptually and artistically in a way that’s only best described as disgustingly awesome.
I could break down each track, line by line to show the intricate delicacy he’s placed on each track on the album, but that wouldn’t be as useful as the conversation at the higher level about what the album represents. Regardless of how we feel about the album today, we know that change is inevitable. You may not play it a lot now nor in five years. What you should take away from this album is that in ten years’ time you’ll look at the current state of hip hop and realize that you have hip hop’s version of Head Hunters moonlighting as a coaster on your coffee table.
Top Ten Bars from Yeezus (outside the others already quoted):
Real n-gga back in the house again / Black Timbs all on your couch again / Black dick all in your spouse again / And I know she like chocolate men / She got more n-ggas off than Cochran, huh?!? (On Sight)
I keep it 300, like the Romans / 300 bitches, where’s the Trojans? / Baby we livin’ in the moment / I’ve been a menace for the longest / But I ain’t finished, I’m devoted (Black Skinheads)
Soon as they like you make ’em unlike you / Cause kissing people ass is so unlike you / The only rapper compared to Michael (I Am A God)
You see it’s broke n-gga racism / That’s that “Don’t touch anything in the store” / And there’s rich n-gga racism / That’s that “Come here, please buy more” (New Slaves)
You see there’s leaders and there’s followers / But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower. (New Slaves)
Tell your boss you need an extra hour off / Get you super wet after we turn the shower off (I’m In It)
She Instagram herself like “Bad bitch alert” / He Instagram his watch like “Mad rich alert” (Blood On The Leaves)
She say “Can you get my friends in the club?” / I say “Can you get my Benz in the club?” / If not, treat your friends like my Benz / Park they ass outside ’til the evening end (Send It Up)
Hey, you remember where we first met? / Okay, I don’t remember where we first met / But hey, admitting is the first step / And hey, you know ain’t nobody perfect (Bound 2)
One good girl is worth a thousand bitches. (Bound 2)
My Kanye moment of the post, I’m supposed to ask questions, so here goes: How did you feel about Yeezus? Do you think it should be classified in the same breath with other hip hop albums that were released this year? What are your criticisms or applauds for the album? I’m interested to see what you guys think and feel. I also implore you to listen again… and again until this album reveals itself to you as the best of the year.