There’s a moment on Kanye West’s “Yeezus” when it hits you that you need to give this stripped-down, aggressive piece of work a second chance. It could be when you catch the sample of “Strange Fruit” in “Blood on the Leaves” or even as early as “On Sight” where he says “Thank God almighty, free at last,” a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.
For West on “Yeezus,” free means cutting out the over-the-top hip-hop production that he helped popularize for his most minimalist work to date.
He’s a big picture guy, and here on “Yeezus” the scope of the project is executed with few ingredients. Sparse drum beats, glitching synthesizers, breathing and screams are machined together with the expert help of Daft Punk, Rick Rubin and Hudson Mohawke.
With this atmosphere, you get the unmistakable impression on “Yeezus” that he’s listening to other artists. Not bad for a guy defined by the love of his own voice. As on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” Kanye is following the trends and staying on top of them — experimental dance music, indie-folk, underground hip-hop and the neo R&B of Frank Ocean and the Weeknd. You can hear it all in between the space of “Yeezus.”
The problem, as it has always been for West, is he’s a better producer than he is writer and rapper. Between the references to MLK and consumerism and Billie Holiday are the many goofy filler lines about croissants, fur coats and backpacks. They’re laughable and on first listen — before hearing some of the intricacies of the production and a few of his smarter symbols — can be far too prominent. But when you hammer these two character traits together with an album of experimental, chaotic beats, you get something ridiculous and insightful, as only Kanye West can be.