Kanye West’s Yeezus isn’t just any old album, so Patrick Gaughan gives it something more than just any old review.
In the Japanese video game Katamari Damacy, The King of All Cosmos goes on a bender that annihilates the constellations, the moon, the stars.
To right his father’s binge, a young prince must rebuild the beauty of the sky. Since stars are made of the stuff of earth, the prince must roll a magically sticky ball called a katamari around the world, accumulating objects “ranging from thumbtacks to people to mountains,” until each ball is big as a star and the King can place it back in the sky.
On Yeezus, Kanye is simultaneously the debauched king and the prince rolling through the landscape collecting the necessary pieces to save humanity.
From what? From a starless universe.
Listening to Yeezus, I could be falling down or up a ladder, clambering inside the storm cloud of Kanye’s id, a blissed-out 4am fever dream darkening the tantrum and the raunchy declamations of the boy who has everything.
Walt Whitman says, “Copulation is no more rank to me than death is.”
When his frustration peaks, Kanye compares himself to the mild-mannered-turned-explosive characters of the films Falling Down and The Waterboy: “Time to take it too far now / Michael Douglas out the car now” and “I’m going Bobby Boucher,” as if the only correlatives to his levels of anger are fictional.
In “On Sight,” Kanye breaks the acid house synth with a tune lifted from The Holy Name of Mary Choral Family, a children’s choir in Chicago. They sing, “He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.”
Kanye is on a mission to tell us something. I don’t know what it is.
In the manifesto for his clothing company DONDA, Kanye writes, “I sit everyday and ask myself what can I do to make a difference.”
Aspects of Yeezus I can’t condone: It is naively and often grotesquely sexist, and Kanye commandeers phrases from Martin Luther King Jr. and the famous protest song “Strange Fruit” and twists them into sexual metaphor.
Nina Simone sings “black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze” as Kanye sings about a former lover who revealed their secret affair and “lied to the lawyers,” as he broods and backpedals through a maze of distorted brass. He compares keeping a lover away from a “wifey” court-side at a basketball game to Apartheid.
At the midpoint of “Niggas in Paris” from Watch the Throne, Kanye samples Will Ferrell’s character in the 2007 film Blades of Glory: “Who cares what it means? It’s provocative. Gets the people going.”
Art critic Dave Hickey says, “If one artist likes another artist, it’s never quite the work, it’s the quality of the ambition they respect.”
Kanye lets his “mind move like a Tron bike,” baring raw insecurities and contradictory impulses to the point of risking farce. This refreshing level of disclosure, on Yeezus and in his recent NY Times interview, reminds me of Bret Easton Ellis’s essay on Charlie Sheen, this notion of Empire vs Post-Empire and the search for transparent celebrity.
The New Yorker’s Sasha-Frere Jones says, “In an age when public-relations firms are trying to annex journalism as yet another branding tool, it’s a form of rebellion to give one weird interview after another, failing once again to project the proper bland professionalism”: a necessary form of rebellion, as if one’s talent is negated if one is not courteous and self-deprecating.
While watching music videos, I see a Bud Light Platinum ad featuring Justin Timberlake twirling along to the single from his latest album. Kanye’s album does not have a single.
John Lennon says, “We’re more popular than Jesus.”
Kanye West says, “I am the nucleus.”
The Mirrored Room, an exhibit by Lucas Samaras, debuted in Buffalo in 1966. Samaras created a box of self-portraiture, mirrors on all sides, in all directions—infinite selves. I see a version of myself in every artwork I see. Whatever the artist’s intention, it’s filtered through my perceptions and predilections. Is that narcissism or subjectivity?
George Oppen says, “There are things / We live among ‘and to see them / Is to know ourselves.’”
When I look at art, do I see the talent and handiwork of the collective human machine as well as thousands of versions of myself?
An album in which Kanye casts himself as a god ends with Kanye casting himself as Jerome, the satiric ladies’ man persona from Martin Lawrence’s 90s television show.
Kanye drives a mirrored Bentley down a mirrored Champs Elysees.