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Yeezus is Kanye West's sixth studio album that was released on June 18, 2013 on Roc-A-Fella and Def Jam Recordings. Production for the album began in Paris at the "No Name Hotel", in which the album was produced in the living room of a loft space. West gathered various artists and close collaborators for work and production on the album, including Mike Dean and Daft Punk. The album also features guest appearances from Assassin and King L, as well as previous collaborators Justin Vernon, Frank Ocean, Chief Keef, Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson. West enlisted the help of producer Rick Rubin only 15 days before its due date to strip down the record's sound in favor of a more minimalist approach.
The album's sound is sonically different that West's previous efforts, combining such genres like Chicago drill, dancehall, acid house, and industrial music. West was inspired by minimalism from design, including architecture, and was particularly interested in the works of Le Corbusier, and visited The Louvre several times while in Paris. Like his previous efforts, West uses unconventional samples including, most notably, the vocal refrain from Nina Simone's cover of "Strange Fruit".
Promotion for the album was included worldwide video projections of the album's music and live television performances, and West opted to not release singles out of the album in the United States until July, with the song "Black Skinhead". The song would be followed by "Bound 2", which would be released as the album's second single the following month.
Yeezus received acclaim from music critics who praised the different sound of the album. However, there was divided opinions from fans emerging after the album had an internet leak four days before release. Yeezus debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 327,000 copies in its first week of release, but sales soon diminished. It topped the charts of 30 other countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia. After less than two months of release, the album was certified gold by the RIAA.
Along with his 2010 release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West collaborated with long time friend Jay-Z for Watch The Throne in 2011 and was apart of the compilation album of GOOD Music artist, Cruel Summer in 2012. Producer No ID announced that Kanye is working on a new album and will be released after Cruel Summer. West enlisted several collaborators, including Kid Cudi, Charlie Wilson, S1, The Heatmakerz, Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke, Skrillex, Young Chop, Chief Keef, Frank Ocean, Odd Future, Travis Scott, The-Dream, Cyhi the Prynce, Malik Yusef, King L, John Legend, James Blake, RZA, Mase and Pusha T for Yeezus.
West was influenced primarily by minimalist design and architecture during the production of Yeezus, and visited a furniture exhibit in the Louvre to study design. West worked closely with the architect Oana Stanescu, and took "field trips" to Le Corbusier homes. Fascinated by Stanescu's comments on the unusual and radical nature of Corbusier design choices, West applied the situation to his own life, feeling that "visionaries can be misunderstood by their unenlightened peers." West also met with architect Joseph Dirand and Begian interior designer Axel Vervoordt, and had "rare Le Corbusier lamps, Pierre Jeanneret chairs and obscure body-art journals from Switzerland" delivered to the loft. West also wanted a deep hometown influence on the album, and listened to 1980s house music most associated with his home city of Chicago for influence
Recording and productionEdit
West began recording for Yeezus in mid-2012 with collaborators including No ID and DJ Khaled. The first recording sessions began in January of 2013 in his own personal loft's living room at a Paris hotel, referred to in the album's credits as the "No Name Hotel". West kept compositions simple in order to hear the tracks more clearly; too much bass or complexity would simply overpower the room's poor acoustics. Neighbors complained over the beats emanating from the loft space, which sometimes lasted through the night and reportedly, him and his girlfriend Kim Kardashian had moved to the loft in order for West to begin work on the album.
The atmosphere in the studio was described by Evian Christ as "very focused," and West once again brought in several close collaborators. All involved were given a song to work on and return the next day to sit and critique, a process Anthony Kilhoffer compared to an art class. West set parameters regarding sound and style, insisting that there be no "bass wobbles" reminiscent of dubstep. The album's recording process was described as "very raw" by Thomas Bangalter of the French electronic duo Daft Punk, who produced four songs for the album, adding that West was "rapping – kind of screaming primally, actually."
West made several last-minute alterations to Yeezus, enlisting Rick Rubin as an executive producer for additional recording mere days before its release; changes included re-recording whole songs and rewriting entire verses. For several days in late May and early June 2013, West and a "rotating group of intimates, collaborators and hangers-on" holed up at Rubin's Shangri-La Studio in Malibu in service of completing the record. Rubin thought it impossible to meet the deadline and all involved ended up working long hours with no days off in order to complete the record. The rough cut played Rubin, originally with 16 tracks, ran nearly three and a half hours long. West's orders to Rubin were to take the music in a "stripped-down minimal direction", often removing elements already recorded. Rubin gave as example "Bound", which was "a more middle of the road R&B song, done in an adult contemporary style" before Kanye decided to replace the musical backing with a minimalistic sample, "a single note baseline in the hook which we processed to have a punk edge in the Suicide tradition." Two days before the album had to be delivered to the label, West wrote and sung lyrics to two songs while also recording the vocals to three others in just two hours.
Music and StyleEdit
The music of the album has been described by Charles Aaron of Spin as "a hip hop album, not a rap album", because of how its sounds and subject matter are assembled together, and although listeners can hear "'punk' or 'post-punk' or 'industrial'" throughout, "hip-hop has always been about noise and dissonance and dance music as agitation". Slant Magazine's Ted Scheinman wrote that, with the album, West reconceives the "notion of what kind of music (or noise) can underpin hip-hop." According to music critic Greg Kot, Yeezus is a "hostile, abrasive and intentionally off-putting" album that combines "the worlds of" 1980s Chicago acid-house and 2013 Chicago drill music, 1990s industrial music, and the "avant-rap" of Saul Williams, Death Grips and Odd Future. The record "most closely resembles" 1990s industrial rock, during which the genre had a significant pop culture impact, with artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and Marilyn Manson gaining success. The industrial scene created a "vast global underground community," and Esquire notes that one of its epicenters was in Chicago, where West was raised.
Yeezus is primarily electronic in nature, and boasts distorted drum machines and "synthesizers that sound like they're malfunctioning, low-resolution samplers that add a pixelated digital aura to the most analog sounds." To this end, the album incorporates glitches reminiscent of CD skips or corrupted MP3's, and Auto-Tuned vocals are modulated to a point in which they are difficult to decipher. Esquire cites "On Sight" as an early example of the album's connection to electronic music, citing its "droning synthesizer tone," which is "modulated until the signal starts throwing off harshly treble-heavy spikes and begins to clip, as if it were overloading a digital audio processor."
Yeezus continues West's practice of eclectic samples: he employs an obscure Hindi sample on "I Am a God", and a sample of 1970s Hungarian rock group Omega on "New Slaves". "On Sight" interpolates a melody from "Sermon (He'll Give Us What We Really Need)" by the Holy Name of Mary Choral Family, although the track originally sampled an old vocal track from the original recording. As late as a week prior to release, lawyers were forced to track down the choir director and members of the choir on the South Side of Chicago in order to get clearance for such a sample. Def Jam executives were significantly worried enough the deal would not be in place in time for the record's deadline, and producers re-recorded the vocals with a new choir as the sample could not be cleared in enough time.
On May 1, 2013, West used the social networking site Twitter to post a single message reading "June Eighteen," leading several media outlets to speculate that the post referred to the release date of West's upcoming album. On May 17, he began promotion of the album by unveiling the previously unreleased song "New Slaves" through video projections in 66 assorted locations. The following day, West appeared on the American late-night live television sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live and performed the songs "New Slaves" and "Black Skinhead."
On September 6, 2013, Kanye West announced The Yeezus Tour, a North American tour to take place between October 19 through December 7, 2013. The tour was marketed as his "first solo tour in 5 years", and featured Kendrick Lamar, Pusha T, A Tribe Called Quest and Travis Scott as a supporting acts. On October 30, 2013 while on the road to Vancouver, a truck carrying custom-made video screens and equipment for the show was involved in a car accident, the crash damaged the equipment beyond repair. The tour resumed on November 16, 2013, at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The missed Chicago and Detroit shows were rescheduled however, the rest of the missed dates were cancelled, Def Jam cited routing logistics as the reason.
Def Jam confirmed in late June 2013 that "Black Skinhead" would be serviced to American radio as the album's first single on July 2, 2013 and that a music video for the track was being produced.
In August 2013, it was revealed that "Bound 2" would be released as the second single from Yeezus. Bound 2" features vocals from American soul singer Charlie Wilson and incorporates numerous samples into its production, including prominent elements of the song "Bound" (1971) by soul group Ponderosa Twins Plus One.
In November 2013, producer Hudson Mohawke revealed that "Blood on the Leaves" would serve as the album's third single. West subsequently made the announcement in an interview on New York's 92.3 NOW.
Upon release, Yeezus received critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from critics, the album received an average score of 85, which indicates "universal acclaim", based on 45 reviews. Jim Farber of the New York Daily News, in an early review of the leaked edition of Yeezus, called the record "a chutzpah classic," elaborating that "the entire disc rethinks industrial rock of the early '90s for both a new era and genre." Steve Jones of USA Today called the album "immediately stunning [...] he created a polarizing, multi-layered body of work that probably will be debated all summer." Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone called Yeezus a "brilliant, obsessive-compulsive career auto-correct," comparing it to similarly abrasive records: "Every mad genius has to make a record like this at least once in his career – at its nastiest, his makes Kid A or In Utero or Trans all look like Bruno Mars." Pitchfork Media writer Ryan Dombal viewed it a "razor-sharpened take" on West's fourth album, 808s & Heartbreak, concluding that "Cohesion and bold intent are at a premium on Yeezus, perhaps more than any other Kanye album. Each fluorescent strike of noise, incongruous tempo flip, and warped vocal is bolted into its right place across the album's fast 40 minutes."
The Guardian's Alexis Petridis was positive in his assessment of the record: "Noisy, gripping, maddening, potent [...] Yeezus is the sound of a man just doing his job properly." Chicago Tribune writer Greg Kot wrote that "West sounds more complicated than ever, an artist willing to throw himself off the ledge not just to get a reaction, but to open up a conversation about, well, just about everything that matters to him." Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times called Yeezus West's "most musically adventurous album [...] It’s also West’s most narcissistic, defiant, abrasive and unforgiving." Jon Pareles of The New York Times commented on the album's mix of genres: "Deploying anything from a Hungarian progressive-rock band to the rasp of dancehall, the album is one long, efficient, inventive kick in the head." Ray Rahman of Entertainment Weekly considered the record a plunge "directly into the darker crevices of his psyche," commending the "dense breathless sound sets the tone for an album that reaches far outside of traditional sample-based hip-hop." Evan Rytlewski, writer for The A.V. Club, wrote that "Even by the standards of an artist who reinvents himself with each release, it’s a drastic departure," calling it West's "loudest and most impulsive album."
Musician Lou Reed reviewed the album shortly before his death, describing it as "majestic and inspiring [...] no one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet."
The public and fans were divided in there reaction to Yeezus. Yeezus was noted as one of the most anticipated releases of 2013 by major publications, but the lack of a major radio single was regarded as a risky move. Regardless, radio stations have still played tracks from Yeezus on air, despite it being a departure from the normal playlists found on hip-hop stations. "When I listen to radio, that ain't where I wanna be no more," stated West at his headlining June 9, 2013 Governor's Ball performance, where he unveiled several tracks from the record for the first time. Rolling Stone summarized the audience's response: "Half the crowd cheered, half almost audibly rolled their eyes."
Yeezus leaked four days prior to release. The New York Times wrote that the leak "stirred up a Twitter frenzy" and received widespread media coverage. The Washington Post commented on the significance of the leak: "Kanye West’s new album didn’t leak online over the weekend. It gushed out into the pop ecosystem like a million barrels of renegade crude — ominous, mesmerizing and of great consequence." Critics were very kind to Yeezus regarding critical reviews, but others viewed the release as "musical and commercial suicide," and "fans live-blogged their own befuddlement on Twitter and Facebook." The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones suggests that Yeezus may be preferred over any of West's previous works in coming decades by a new generation due to the "lean vibrancy" of the album. "One of the most fascinating aspects of Yeezus' arrival is the discursive crisis it's caused, produced by a fast-react culture colliding with a work of art so confounding," wrote The Atlantic columnist Jack Hamilton. West was criticised by the UK and US Parkinson's Disease Associations for controversial lyrics in lead-song "On Sight".
Within one day of availability on the iTunes Store, Yeezus topped sales in the UK, Canada, Australia and Germany, while remaining at number two in the United States behind J Cole's Born Sinner. Yeezus debuted at number one in 31 countries, while also landing top five spots in 20 more charts. It would eventually have chart-topping performances in the United Kingdom, where Yeezus debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart on downloads alone, making the album West's first number one on that chart since Graduation in 2007, and Australia, where it became West's first album to top the ARIA Charts.
Yeezus debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 327,000 copies in the United States in its first week. The numbers marked West's lowest solo opening week sales in the US. Despite initially being projected to sell 500,000 copies in its first week, the album's leak led to diminished sales figures. However, it still had the third-best first week sales of 2013 at the time of its release and the best first week sales by a hip hop album since Drake's 2011 album Take Care. The album's second-week sales saw the album fall dramatically: although it still ended at number three on the chart, sales dropped 80% to 65,000 units, making Yeezus the largest second-week percentage drop for a number one-debuting album in 2012–2013 and the fourth-largest for a number one-bowing album in the SoundScan era.
- 1. On Sight
- 2. Black Skinhead
- 3. I Am a God
- 4. New Slaves
- 5. Hold My Liquor
- 6. I'm In It
- 7. Blood On The Leaves
- 8. Guilt Trip
- 9. Send It Up
- 10. Bound 2
- "I Am a God" features vocals by Justin Vernon.
- "New Slaves" features vocals by Frank Ocean.
- "Hold My Liquor" features vocals by Chief Keef and Justin Vernon.
- "I'm In It" features vocals by Justin Vernon and Assassin.
- "Guilt Trip" features vocals by Kid Cudi.
- "Send It Up" features vocals by King L.
- "Bound 2" features vocals by Charlie Wilson.
- Sample credits
- "On Sight" contains interpolations of "Sermon (He'll Give Us What We Really Need)", written by Keith Carter, Sr., and performed by Holy Name of Mary Choral Family, re-sung by a different choir.
- "I Am a God" contains samples of "Forward Inna Dem Clothes", written by Clifton Bailey III and H. Hart, and performed by Capleton; and samples of "Are Zindagi Hai Khel", written by Anand Bakshi and Rahul Burman, and performed by Burman, Manna Dey, and Asha Bhosle.
- "New Slaves" contains samples of "Gyöngyhajú lány", written by Gábor Presser and Anna Adamis, and performed by Omega.
- "I'm in It" contains samples of "Lately", written by Vidal Davis, Carvin Haggins, * Andre Harris, Kenny Lattimore, and Jill Scott, and performed by Lattimore.
- "Blood on the Leaves" contains samples of "Strange Fruit", written by Lewis Allan, and performed by Nina Simone; and samples of "R U Ready", written by Ross Birchard and Lunice Pierre, and performed by TNGHT.
- "Guilt Trip" contains interpolations of "Chief Rocka", written by Keith Elam, Kevin Hansford, Dupre Kelly, Christopher Martin, Alterick Wardrick and Marlon Williams, and performed by Lords of the Underground; and samples of "Blocka", written by Terrence Thornton and Tyree Pittman, and performed by Pusha T featuring Travis Scott and Popcaan.
- "Send It Up" contains samples of "Memories", written by Anthony Moses Davis, Collin York and Lowell Dunbar, and performed by Beenie Man.
- "Bound 2" contains samples of "Aeroplane (Reprise)", written by Norman Whiteside, and performed by Wee; samples of "Bound", written by Bobby Massey and Robert Dukes, and performed by Ponderosa Twins Plus One; and samples of "Sweet Nothin's", written by Ronnie Self, and performed by Brenda Lee.