Just over 24 hours after Kanye West debuted a number of tracks from his highly anticipated ‘Yeezus’ album at the Governors Ball music festival, the superstar rapper/hip-hop artist unveiled the whole of the new record (due June 18) at a late night listening party in New York. Taking place in the loading dock of renowned photography studio Milk Studios, in the heart of Chelsea's meatpacking district, West introduced and played through ‘Yeezus’ in front of a crowd full of supermodels and celebrities including Jay-Z, Beyoncé. Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip.
While traditional listening parties give those in attendance the chance to sit and listen to a record with a press release and tracklisting to hand, this was – as should be expected from West – an event of magnanimous proportions. There was no press release. There was no tracklist. Rather, at just before 11pm new York time, a crowd of 200 or so people were treated to the 10-track album and a sequence of projections both inside the space and on the outside of the building opposite.
“If you want to sell more music,” he said in an introductory speech that was both humble and proud, “you have to make better music. We’ve been squashed by the concept by the concept of opportunity, because there’s over 1400 billionaires in the world and only seven black billionaires…I’m here as the son of a Black Panther and a son of the first black chair of the English department of Chicago State. I feel like I know who I am now.”
That fierce spirit is ferociously present in the songs of ‘Yeezus’ – it is, on the whole, a stark, dark, political album through which West tries to use his power and influence to make an impact on the world. “I feel as a 36 year-old I’ve got to the point where I can really influence culture,” he explained. “We’re doing 500 locations next weekend, and we’re taking the streets, but we’re opening it up right here on 14th Street.”
And so it began.
The album begins with ‘On Site’, its high-voltage sequence of insistent electronic bleeps and blips interspersed with samples of what sounds like slow-motion epic classic rock songs. Capricious and shapeshifting, it ends suddenly to be replaced by…
…the heavy drum rumble of ‘Black Skinhead’. If it sounds somewhat similar Marilyn Manson’s ‘Beautiful People’, that’s because it samples the God of Fuck's song. Interspersed with yelps and shouts, West raps in an increasingly frantic manner, building into a climax that the Prodigy would be proud of, before it’s…
…overtaken by the portentous beginnings of ‘I Am A God’. Don’t be mislead by the title – arrogant as it may sound, this is West coming to realise his place within the grand scheme of things. “I am a God,” he announces, “even though I am a man of God.” Syncopated beats, samples and primal screams loop in the background.
The tribal beats and charged lyrics of ‘New Slaves’ – “My mama was raised in an era when clean water was only served to the fairer skin” – ramps up the personal and the political, West beginning with a slow motion drawl that transforms into a pulsating series of heavy electronic beats and the immortal refrain “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”
Then comes ‘Hold My Liquor’. After the first playthrough of the record, West revealed that Daft Punk had contributed to more than one of the songs on ‘Yeezus’. While we know they co-wrote ‘Black Skinhead’, the start of this song – or is it the end of the last? – sounds as if it could be taken from the French robots’ 2001 album, ‘Discovery’. What’s really of interest, however, is that it features both Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Chief Keef. We didn’t see that one coming, and, to be honest, we’re still a little in shock when
…a HUGE bass drop begins the most overtly sexual song of the new album. There’s some line about “Asian pussy” and how Mr West didn’t necessarily need that, but just “sweet and sour sauce.” For what so far has been a very openly political collection of songs, it feels strangely out of place.
Especially because it segues straight into a much mellower moment – which may or may not be a song in its own right – featuring what once again sounds like the distinctive and beautiful vocals of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. They don’t last long, however, before…
…the sad and sumptuous vocals of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’. Flipped with TNGHT’s ‘Higher Ground’ it lasts for what seems a much longer time than any other song – thought that might be because, during the first playback, West restarted this song from the beginning.
Then there's a sense of euphoria as what sounds like early, pre-fame West in an existential and lovelorn crisis comes to the fore. “Please wait,” he pleads, “because I ain’t got the money right now.” It then turns into a song that seems to address abortion. A possible title could well be ‘Unholy Matrimony’, a phrase he repeats. It ends with an elated auto-tuned finish.
What sounds like an air raid siren starts the album’s final track with a blast of intensity, West proclaiming that “Yeezus just rose again.” And to give him credit, it totally sounds like it. An intense and euphoric crossover track to end an intense, genre-hopping album.
Finally, at the end of the second and final run through, the rapper revealed that, in addition to Vernon and Daft Punk, Mike Dean, Travis Scott and Hudson Mohawke had also worked on the album, and thanked them all. He also explained the title of the record he’d just played everybody. “Simply put,” he announced, “West was my slave name. ‘Yeezus’ is my god name.” Of course.