I get it. We are a metal site. We love metal. We also love movies (especially comic book ones!) too. But, I’m not going to be naive enough to think that everything we like falls neatly in line with those categories. That’s why when I saw the American Psycho influenced promotional materials for Kanye West‘s new album Yeezus, my interest was peaked. As I’m sure a lot of you remember, American Psycho is one of my favourite films. I even wrote my very first Monolith article about the threesome scene, so the second I saw the video I knew I needed to write something about it for this week. However, once I listened to the album I knew I needed to discuss it too because I thought talking about one without the other was unfair to both West and our readers, as both are designed to go together. I also think it’s important to think about West and his relationship with Kim Kardashian as that is a constant thread throughout, negotiations between sexuality and work are everywhere.
If you’d like, give the album a listen first:
Kanye West’s sixth studio album, Yeezus, was released on June 18th to the usual fanfare that surrounds a new Kanye West record. That is, three years have passed since Kanye’s last solo effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and almost two since Watch the Throne, the album that brought West together with Jay Z to create one of the best collaborative creative pairings in recent history. The tone of Yeezus is beautifully angry and dark; West is at the top of his game, dabbling in experimental beats and minimalist techniques that confront the listener with the harsh realities of racism and race relations in America, issues of sex and sexuality, and the pains of being a son who has lost a dear mother.
None of this is all too surprising as West is said to have written and recorded the album during the early days of girlfriend Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy, a time that has been documented by Kardashian’s intensely personal reality show as being stressful, painful, and not as smooth as the couple would have originally liked as West was largely absent from Los Angeles during the pregnancy, instead recording Yeezus in Paris, leaving Kardashian alone at home dealing with masses of photographers, magazines, and her notoriously pushy manager/mom Kris Jenner.
West has always been honest in his rap about the complexities of modern race and racial politics (remember “Jesus Walk“?) and now the war has become personal for him as he just became a first time father this past Saturday to a baby whose racial identity has already been widely discussed (Kardashian is Armenian-American and West, African-American). In “Black Skinhead” we hear some of this racial tension: “They see a black man with a white woman/ At the top floor they gon’ come to kill King Kong,” but by the time we get to “I’m in It,” West is reminding us of why he cannot stay away from his girl (a feeling we all know well): “Your pussy’s too good, I need to crash,’Your titties, let ‘em out, free at last,/Thank God almighty, they free at last.” Words we might expect from the likes of Lil Wayne, but instead are given to us by West with trademark touch of darkness when one considers the context and sounds present within the record.
This darkness is interesting when we consider that West took to family to promote the album, using brother in law (Kourney Kardashian’s partner and baby daddy) Scott Disick to redo the famous “Raincoat Scene” from American Psycho, where Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman gives a sermon on the virtues of Huey Lewis and the News, this time replacing Huey Lewis with West and Bale with Disick. Disick, who has flourished in his Bateman-like persona and style in the Kardashian universe does a good job convincing us of the merit of West’s new album and why it is a departure from his more hip hop oriented earlier albums. The one thing I find interesting is why West would choose to remake the canonical scene for this particular album. Perhaps obviously to allude to its darkness and break from his earlier work. We also know that Brett Easton Ellis, who wrote the original novel, did indeed write the monologue for West/Disick, despite later going to his twitter to say that he was disappointed that he wrote more than what was used.
Ellis, the king of cynicism is perhaps the perfect promoter of the album and West is being radical and sprinting ahead of his peers, a move Ellis is used to himself. Both artists are militant in their refusal to placate a public looking simply for happy endings and I applaud them for that. But what does this sharp use of intertextuality tell us? Are we finally in a place where horror can become comedy? Or is this something more? The creator of Patrick Bateman is undoubtedly the best man to aid in the revealing of an album that forces us to question the very nature of sanity itself. West’s urgent lyrics, beats, and tracks full of screaming force us out of our comfort zones and into an alternate universe ruled by the darker modes of personality and talent. If Patrick Bateman is anything besides a fictional character, he is a reminder that behind us all, there are monsters lurking. A Nietzschean reference at its finest. Could West be showing us the abyss?
Minimalist cover art reflects the tone of the album
As per his recent work we know this is not just another rap album, but more a genre-bending exercise in creativity, personal demons, and the limits of language. The record is filled with moments that call us back to 80′s house and electronic music as well as 90′s industrial in the vein of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson. West is no longer making simply hip hop, he is setting the bar for the musical moment, challenging any contemporary artist to match his knowledge and finesse of words, genre, and storytelling. Upon first listening, the album seems like it might be not listenable, but with each subsequent play, each minimalist layer becomes more vital to the tracks at hand. Don’t judge this album with your first experience. There might not be a “Golddigger” type of catchy single, but the record is compulsively listenable and almost too short (just shy of 40 minutes).
West has gone from cranky college dropout to a justifiably angry man who has matured in a modern world that has been unfair, challenging, and multi layered, all tones reflected flawlessly in Yeezus. West will always have a Johnny Cash-esque darkness about him. Remember he is at the height of his personal and professional life. He has true love, a new baby daughter, and is making brilliant music, yet he is still skeptical of the game that he himself leads. West might still have the largest ego in the business, but now I think we are truly starting to see that he might be right about himself after all. I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.
Best Tracks: “Black Skinhead,” “I’m in It,” “On Sight”