Cypher Avenue Rating: 4.5 of 5      

Say what you will about Kayne West, he’s undoubtedly one of the most influential artists in music right now. Whatever he does, people pay attention to it. Even the man accidentally walking into a sign goes viral as a news story. Kanye has gone from being a random beatmaker who was in a car accident to an artist who controls an entire summer. The summer of 2011 was his after he dropped “Watch the Throne.” The summer of 2012 was his with each weekly single release from “Cruel Summer.” This is a man who disrespects the Grammy Awards and Taylor Swift and as punishment is asked to come back the following year to perform. That’s Gangsta.

With the release of each album, Kanye monopolizes the music conversation. What’s his album artwork going to be? What will his sound be? Who will guest star on the album? Will he tour? And most importantly, how will his push the creative limits with his music videos. The audacious plan to premiere the video for New Slaves not on the internet but exclusively projected on buildings at simultaneous live events in dozens of cities…it worked brilliantly to build the buzz. That’s Gangsta. Who else besides Jay-Z could pull that off?

Full disclosure, I’m already a big fan of Kayne West’s music…It really hit me full-on around 2008. I realized that not only are we both exactly the same age, I also have careless moments of arrogance, sarcasm, delusions of grandeur and just being a plain asshole. That may be were the similarities end but I decided that was enough to feel a kinship with the artist. Given the critical nature of the business, these are prime ingredients for the longevity of any artist dealing with his own insecurities. So I was both surprised and not surprised to discover that Kanye had once again created something new that was heavily personal and unlike anything we’ve ever heard.
This past Tuesday marked the release of Kanye’s sixth album titled, Yeezus, a big departure from the lighthearted club anthems released last summer. It still features Kanye’s arrogance and detailed descriptions of a life of excess, however a new layer of introspection, dense subject matters and harder atypical musical sounds are thrown into the pot to make this the most original and innovation mainstream rap album of the year so far.

Kanye is proving to the world that he can’t be boxed in to any particular style or vision of an ideal rap artist. The album may not be full of predictable club bangers, but that’s precisely the very reason it’s fantastic…and may still end up delivering a few songs that get rotation in the clubs. There are literally no skippable tracks. Every song builds off of the last both sonically and lyrically. “Yeezus” aggressively flows from a track named “Black Skinhead” to another called “I Am A God” with controversial ease. They’re both in-your-face tracks packed with dense lyrics that not only make you think twice about the culture of celebrity, but also the psychology of the celebrity giving the damning message in the first place.

The next few tracks “New Slaves” featuring Frank Ocean, “Hold My Liquor” featuring Chief Keef and “Guilt Trip” featuring Kid Cudi show off Kanye’s brilliantly bold ability to use artists (who have solid solo careers of their own) merely as background props. Then there’s “Blood on the Leaves.” Whew. Lawd Jesus. How many mainstream artists can make a song about the disturbing rarely discussed reality of a man asking his side piece to have an abortion so he can continue focusing on his career and not have to confess his sins to his main chick all while the Nina Simone sample sings about lynchings in America…and still make that shit a banger? When the beat and blaring horns eventually drop, your face can’t help but to scrunch up in musical awe as you bob your head. Strange Fruit, Indeed.

The dark and abrasive album ends on a more optimistic note with the quasi-romantic “Bound 2” serving as his love letter to his wifey and new baby-mother Kim Kardashian. He slides comical lyrics like:

“she rock Forever 21 but just turn thir-tay”...

“One good girl is worth a thousand bitches”

”Ay, You remember where we first met?
Okay, I don’t remember where we first met…
But hey, admitting is the first step.
Ay-Ay, you know ain’t nobody perfect.”

Love it or not, this album is one that will linger for a long time to come. At the end of it all, Kanye West will continue to surprise audiences, set trends and show that the creative wasteland that is hip hop music can still be exposed to rays of sunshine.

– Nick D