Kanye West is messed up. It’s one thing to celebrate self-serving, dehumanizing, misogynistic abuse of others if you are a true nihilist. If there is no God and no meaning to life, then why not do whatever you want? West is something different. This spiritual and cultural hypocrite has a long history of insisting that he is a man of God, a fan of Jesus and a good person. The problem is that his lyrics paint an entirely different, morally chilling picture.
If I were to walk up to a stranger on the street and say some of the things Kanye growls out on his new release, Yeezus, there is a decent chance I could be prosecuted for verbal assault. This isn’t your typical F-bomb dropping bravado. Kanye carefully and meticulously crafts intricate lyrics whose level of precision would make an aerospace engineer jealous. The graphic detail is breathtaking. One listen and it’s clear exactly who Kanye thinks he is (a god) and what that entitles him to do (anything he wants) to whomever he wants (your wife.) This is not the street language of an inner-city youth railing against injustice. It is not even the simplistic gangster-machismo that has become so common in modern hip hop. No, this is something much darker than that, and West is remarkably good at it. If you think it’s all a joke you’re fooling yourself.
Throughout the 10 tracks of Yeezus we’re given a good sense of the Kanye West worldview:
- West is, in fact, both “a god” a “man of God” and not far below the “most high” Jesus.
- Jesus loves West and all of his ways, and if you disagree you are a racist.
- There is no spiritual, religious or cultural symbol that is too big or meaningful to be re-appropriated as a logo for West.
- West hates people from the Hamptons.
There is a very simple, Viking-like morality in Kanye’s world. If you win, you have the right to rape and pillage. The fact that he has sold millions of records and is fabulously wealthy means that God must be on his side. Ironically it’s the same hubristic lie that has emboldened twisted (and tragically successful) people to victimize others and aggrandize themselves since the dawn of time. The level of spiritual blindness, willful rebellion and arrogance West peddles is unique, though. Not just anyone can spew this level of pseudo-spiritual trash and convince millions that it’s caviar.
Musically, Yeezus takes hip-hop to new places, which many critics have praised. He gets credit for incorporating electronic dance music elements in ways that few mainstream rap artists have. Throughout these tracks, West offers the best alternative/techno/rap money can buy; Yeezus is innovative, creative and technically excellent. To accept it on that level, however, would be like buying a creatively executed painting of a pile of steaming excrement, a gorgeously designed propaganda poster in favor of human trafficking or a beautifully shot snuff film.
There is no doubt about it: Yeezus is the most important, fascinating and influential album of the year so far. But maybe not for the reasons some folks think. Throngs of critics will revel in its nihilistic and anachronistic glory. It may be the most obvious and carefully crafted monument to the dangers of theological and sociological post-modernism we have seen on the pop charts yet. Here’s hoping that this masterwork has a chilling and corrective effect, but I doubt we will be so fortunate. If you’ve ever wondered how far a man can go in the sating of his own desires look no further. That he name-checks Jesus only makes this artistically impressive work that much more demonic. Marilyn Manson and Slayer have nothing on West.