It’s only been a few days but after listening to Yeezus many times over, I don’t think I can sign off on it as a “good” album without serious reservations. Surprisingly, I don’t especially mind the hellish atmosphere or the spaced-out industrial grind that permeates the album. I don’t mind the fact that the album lacks the radio-ready singles that have been found on even the least accessible Kanye West albums up to this point. I don’t even mind that Kanye has almost entirely abandoned the warm soul-sampling sound that made me fall in love with his beats over a decade ago. My biggest problem with Yeezus has to do with the sexism and misogyny throughout its 40-minute runtime that has now been amped up to previously unseen (for Kanye) levels.
The overriding issue with Yeezus is that after a career spent deftly blending sharp social commentary with self-deprecating humor and fun, Kanye West now wants to be taken seriously. In the past, Kanye’s albums were smartly subversive. He would reference civil rights leaders in the same breath he talked about his super-expensive pants (one of my favorite Kanye lines from 2007’s Graduation was “I’m the fly Malcom X / buy any jeans necessary”). This juxtaposition always worked — Kanye was fun but he was also smart. I’m aware no one would consider West a crusader for women’s rights in the past, but it never seemed like he flat-out hated women either. If he disrespected a woman, he would often disrespect himself at the same time. For example, on 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye toasts to “the douchebags, assholes, scumbags, and jerkoffs (who never take work off)” before imploring the woman he loves to run away from him as fast as she can. Here Kanye was admitting he was a shitty man who didn’t deserve the love of a good woman. Sure, he might have treated women poorly, but he never truly condoned his own actions.
Fast forward to 2013, the summer of Yeezus. Kanye is now proclaiming his status as a deity and getting real dark with his dissection of American culture. Even “Bound 2,” the most warm and loving (and coincidentally best) song on the album, has lines like “She asked me what I asked for on the wish list / have you ever asked your bitch for more bitches?” This illustrates the central problem with Yeezus: Kanye no longer has his party-starting demeanor to point at whenever he reverts to cliched sexism and misogyny. His socially conscious rhymes about racial equality and civil rights on Yeezus are seriously undermined when he calls women bitches and constantly degrades them in the process. If we agree to take Kanye West seriously on “New Slaves,” a searing indictment of racism (and one of the strongest tracks on Yeezus), then we must also take the rest of his words seriously. In the past Kanye may not have been respectful to women, but there was always the underlying sense that deep down he admired them. No such admiration for women is found on Yeezus.
Back in 2005, you may remember a song where Kanye called a woman a “gold digger.” That may have been an insult, but the song was lighthearted enough to make it clear he was still the fool who stupidly let her walk all over him. On Yeezus, women are treated like trash while Kanye, no longer willing to play the fool he played in 2005, repeatedly affirms his position as some kind of deity. Ultimately I hope that Yeezus is nothing more than a muddled misfire of tone and message, but if this is how Kanye really feels about women then I hope his newborn daughter opens his eyes before he goes back in the studio to record a follow-up.