Yeezus: Good, Not Great, and Quite Misogynist
The two punk-channeling songs he premiered on last month's SNL performance -- "Black Skinhead" and "New Slaves" -- are the album's most pointed numbers; they're also the kind of songs crafted to be played very loudly in order to make white people incredibly uncomfortable.
On the surface that's all bravo because, you know, fuck your post-racism fallacy. But with Kanye, his rants -- about celebrity, about art, about race and class -- are always about personal injustices done to him masquerading as some sort of quest for social reform. He begins "New Slaves" making allusions to picking cotton and Jim Crow, and if you imagine listening to "New Slaves" outside of the context of contemporary Kanye-ism, it sounds like the Last Poets. And the release of the video -- not through traditional outlets but projected onto buildings in places like the University of Tucson, Philadelphia's Franklin Institute, and the heart of Fifth Avenue -- was incredibly revolutionary. But it was also visual screed against consumerism by the guy who produces fetish item sneakers and has worshipped at the storefront of more obscure high-end brands than any rapper ever.
So of course his finger-pointing at the prison industrial complex and racist attitudes is marred by Kanyecentrism: his response to such harsh realities is to use his resources to move his family to foreign lands (because he's fucking rich and fuck the rest of us) and, more tellingly, to cuckold a powerbroker by taking his wife and ejaculating "on her Hampton blouse and in her Hampton mouth," because, for Kanye women are objects and the best way to retaliate against his oppressor is to violate said oppressor's most prized object. On the one hand, his move is all about powerlessness exerting power in the face of power; on the other it's all about his personal sense of satisfaction. Power to the people? Not so much.
In his attempts to be politically astute, Kanye West falls woefully short, but music and culture would probably be worse off without him. The same night that he premiered "New Slaves," Birdman and Rick Ross dropped a song named "Pop That Pussy" while Plies released a ditty called "Fucking or What" -- both being the type of lowbrow, ignorant music that makes you ashamed to say you like rap in mixed company. When compared to regressive bullshit like that, Yeezus is truly impressive.