He debuted a few tracks at New York’s Governors Ball festival over the weekend, but last night (June 10th) witnessed the official playback of Kanye West’s sixth studio album, the modestly titled ‘Yeezus’.
Anticipating a small and closely monitored label-arranged listening session, there were some surprised-looking faces as Clash arrived at the end of a huge line outside the loading bay of the iconic Milk Studios.
“I thought this was supposed to be intimate?” we overhear someone say. While the line slowly extended to the end of the block, we were treated to some fairly spectacular psychedelic projections on the side of the High Line, the kind we have been seeing a lot of in the run up to this album’s release.
As soon as we’re ushered inside, a voice is heard over the speakers. No intro, no ceremony: just Kanye in the corner behind some decks, talking animatedly. First, about the state of the music industry; then, about how this new album is “new wave” and that he’s been listening to a lot of New Order.
That said, he also claims to have adopted no strategy with this album, talking a lot about his family, his upbringing, where he came from, and how proud he is of his roots: an undertone that can be heard throughout ‘Yeezus’.
He concludes by saying that the secret to selling more music was, simply, “to make better music”, before announcing “this record is all about giving… no f*cks at all”.
And then it’s time. The crowd, members of which had thrown themselves around the decks to take pictures of an unusually relaxed and smiling West in his element, quickly steps back as the speakers reach ear drum-shattering levels, and the floor-to-ceiling projections begin.
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There are voices of concern before the music starts: perhaps Kanye has become a little over experimental; perhaps ‘Yeezus’ would be an album that you wouldn’t quite understand on a first listen.
But that’s not the case. ‘Yeezus’ has the whole room dancing with big beats, dirty synths and trademark Yeezy bars. We’re treated to all 10 of its tracks, played in full twice with rare interruptions.
An exception to the rule is ‘Could've Been Somebody’, which receives a rewind first time through, reportedly requested by Jay-Z who stops by to show support. Before playing the album a second time, Kanye gets back on the mic to reveal some of the collaborators on the record: amongst them Daft Punk and Bon Iver, and one track features both Chief Keef and RZA.
Perhaps the volume that ‘Yeezus’ is played at is a contributing factor to such a first impression, but the album feels like a solid set of no-nonsense hard-hitters. ‘New Slaves’ and ‘Black Skinhead’ are present and correct, exemplifying how this artist manages to make his points while still recognising the value in an immediately accessible tune.
Despite the collaborations and guests, this album is unmistakably and unapologetically Kanye. Although there is a political message throughout, we hear it through big rhymes over ground-shaking bass. West is not the only one head-banging throughout most of the playback.
In the words of the man stood next to Clash in the queue: “Only Kanye could have a listening party like this.”
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Words: Georgie Okell
‘Yeezus’ is scheduled for release on June 18th. No pre-orders are available; head to Kanye West’s website for more information.
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