“IT WAS VERY RAW: HE WAS RAPPING—KIND OF SCREAMING PRIMALLY, ACTUALLY.” (Rolling Stone)
“NEW SLAVES” PREMIERE
The beauty of “YEEZUS” is in its intricate yet simple guerrilla marketing—and the premiere of its first single was no different. Kanye controlled the conversation surrounding his single with a simple Tweet, debuting the song on his terms. With a two hour warning, Kanye tweeted a link to details of times and locations for projections of the “New Slaves” music video in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“KANYE'S A WORLD-FAMOUS STAR, BUT IT'S JUST LIKE WORKING ON MUSIC WITH FRIENDS: YOU'RE TRYING TO DO THE COOLEST SHIT. JUST BEING AROUND MOTHERFUCKERS WHO HAVE BEEN DOING THIS FOR A LONG TIME AND ARE GETTING BETTER—LIKE, THERE ACTUALLY AREN'T THAT MANY OF THEM IN THE WORLD. THERE'S NO PEDESTRIAN FUCKERY ON THIS ALBUM. PEOPLE ARE WORKING THEIR ASSES OFF TO MAKE THE BEST SHIT, AND KANYE'S LEADING THE PACK.” (Pitchfork)
houston, texas noise groups
“This album is moments that I haven’t done before, like just my voice and drums. What people call a rant—but put it next to just a drumbeat, and it cuts to the level of, like, Run-D.M.C. or KRS-One.”
(new york times)
Alejandro Jodorowsky—The Holy mountain
"'Yeezus' draws a straight line back to the industrial clang of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in the early ‘90s, or more recently, the agit-rap screeds of Death Grips. West also owes plenty to Saul Williams, who years ago was making saw-toothed political statements under the guise of hip-hop at its noisiest."
Greg Kot, 'BBC'
Thomas Bangalder (Daft Punk)
“WHEN I DID THE JOINT, WE WERE IN THE STUDIO—NO B.S., LIKE 20 HOURS STRONG, A DAY. WE WERE IN PARIS OR WHATEVER. I HAD WOKE UP, AND IT WAS JUST A FREESTYLE VERSE OFF THE TOP AND THAT TURNED OUT TO BE THE ONE HE WAS REALLY ROCKING WITH; JUST GENUINE BARS.” (MTV)
“'Yeezus' is the darkest, most extreme music Kanye has ever cooked up, an extravagantly abrasive album full of grinding electro, pummeling minimalist hip-hop, drone-y wooz and industrial gear-grind.”
Jon Dolan, 'Rolling Stone'
Le Corbusier lamp
Every song sampled on 'yeezus':
Holy Name of Mary Choral Family, “He’ll Give Us What We Really Need” ("On Sight")
Marilyn Manson, ” The Beautiful People” ("Black Skinhead")
Capleton, “Forward Inna Dem Clothes” ("I Am A God")
Omega, “Gyöngyhajú lány” ("New Slaves")
Rahul Dev Burman, Asha Bhosle, Manna Dey, “Are Zindagi Hai Khel” ("I Am A God")
Kenny Lattimore, “Lately” ("I’m In It")
Nina Simone , “Strange Fruit” ("Blood On The Leaves")
TNGHT, “R U Ready” ("Blood On The Leaves")
Snoop Dogg, “Down 4 My N’s” ("Blood On The Leaves")
Lords Of The Underground, “Chief Rocka” ("Guilt Trip")
Pusha T ft Popcann Travis Scott, “ Blocka” ("Guilt Trip")
Beenie Man, Memories ("Send It Up")
Wee, “Aeroplane (Reprise)” ("Bound 2")
Ponderosa Twins Plus One, “Bound” ("Bound 2")
Brenda Lee, “Sweet Nothin” ("Bound 2")
Landing in an ever evolving hip-hop scene that featured a number of new players itching for a shot at the top, Kanye West’s ’YEEZUS’ served as a reminder of the titular artist’s creative dominance—and acted as another tectonic shift to the culture. While younger artists like J.Cole and Mac Miller (and in a wider sense, Kendrick Lamar and Drake) hoped to own summer 2013 with their own albums, Kanye was busy preparing a sonically abrasive salvo of songs that combine electronic music, reggae, and hip- hop in a way that many never thought possible. He’d dabbled in the chaotic stylings of an album just a few years earlier on the critically acclaimed joint album With JAY-Z, ‘WATCH THE THRONE,' where the two experimented with EDM and other genres. This approach proved to be a success: 'WTT' won three Grammys and led them on the highest-grossing hip-hop tour at the time. Kanye doubled down on those influences with ‘YEEZUS,' and congealed them into something more daunting, risky, and ultimately, more memorable.
Leading up to the album, Kanye found frustration in the fashion industry that he longed for success in. The alienation he’d felt from designers and the entire fashion world translated to a new passion on his verses, which seemed angrier and more potent than ever before (See: "Cold"). His mission statement became clear: Kanye wanted to upend the status quo and make the world hear his voice. ’YEEZUS’ is Kanye screaming into the abyss, and finding his resolution later. Amassing an army of collaborators to help carry out his vision, he finished the album in record time—some of his verses were mastered within hours of turning the album into def jam. The album mixes minimalist tones with a maximalist attitude; songs like “New Slaves” are scarce production-wise, until whipping into a visceral score of electronic chaos. The haste in which his lyrics were finished didn’t seem to make them any less potent; Kanye takes aim at the big businesses stifling his creativity, while adDressing racial inequality, and spitting some of the most hypersexualized bars, all at the same time. What we are left with is one of the most rebellious albums in Kanye West’s discography, and arguably one of his best.
BACK TO TOP
Words By Justin Davis
tour photos – kENNY SUN
"Everything on Yeezus manages to produce some form of stimulation. The balance between machine and human, between the persecuted and the powerful, between black and white. That analogy applies cleanly to the reaction the album got. You either like Yeezus or you don’t. It’s not halfway. Some called it an instant classic and some called it he point where they got off the Kanye West train for good.
Firmly in the former camp was the late Lou Reed—man who knew a thing or two about shifting boundaries of conventional coolness—who lionized the album in an article for The Guardian (Reed foresaw the whole 'Kanye is bipolar” thing.' by the way. A quote: 'West says 'I can hold my liquor' and then he says 'I can't hold my liquor.' This is classic —a classic manic-depressive, going back and forth. 'I'm great, I'm terrible, I'm great, I'm terrible.' That's all over this record.'" — Ernest Wilkins
“I WAS WORKING WITH KANYE WEST, HELPING HIM OUT, BRINGING HIM MUSIC FOR HIS ALBUM IN THE EARLY STAGES. I GOT A CHANCE TO BE IN THE STUDIO WITH HIM, I WAS HELPING A&R'ING CERTAIN THINGS AT ONE POINT. YOU KNOW, KANYE IS A SPECIAL, CREATIVE, GREAT FRIEND OF MINE." (MTV)
Label: Def Jam Recordings
Producers: Kanye West, Che Pope, Eric Danchick,
Noah Goldstein, No ID, Mike Dean
Hot 100 Peak: 12
about the album
The creation of ‘YEEZUS’ is just as legendary as its roll out. With a conception that spanned the globe and featured well over a dozen collaborators, Kanye spared no expense in making the album the best it could be. While couped up in Shangri-La Studios in Malibu and the No-Name Hotel in Paris, he created the rebellious, decidedly non-mainstream, template that the album would be based on.
With no radio play and no “NBA Campaigns” (Like Kanye bragged about the 2013 Governor’s Ball Festival), ‘YEEZUS’ was something people heard for the first time when it dropped, even some of its collaborators. However, the album leaked in its entirety a full four days before its official release. Its explosive songs, and even more controversial sound, found an audience quickly, galvanizing long time fans, and bewildering others. Regardless, ‘YEEZUS’ went on to land at No.1 on the Billboard 200 with 328,800 first week copies sold, proving that the leak and lack of radio play didn’t hinder the album's success.
YEEZUS – FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY
“THE WAY HE ASKED US TO PRODUCE MUSIC FOR HIM WAS JUST THE BEST WAY—BECAUSE WE WERE LIKE, 'WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO?’ AND HE WAS LIKE, 'JUST DO WHAT YOU WANT!' SO FOR US IT WAS JUST EASY, IN A WAY. I WAS REALLY IMPRESSED BY THE WAY HE WORKS WITH HIS TEAM. IT'S REALLY DIFFERENT THAN THE WAY I WORK IN ELECTRONIC MUSIC BECAUSE, WHEN I GO TO THE STUDIO, IT'S A SOLITARY THING. WHEN YOU GO TO THE STUDIO WITH KANYE, THERE ARE A LOT OF PEOPLE WITH HIM. EVERYBODY SHARES IDEAS, SO IT'S REALLY DIFFERENT.” (The Music)
“I’m a longtime defender of West’s 'arrogance,' which he’s justified many times over. And musically this is my kind of record, welding abrasive rock sonics to head-on hip-hop as audaciously as Public Enemy 25 years ago. But I say it’s too ugly. The sonics signify right down to the hards who cameo alongside Frank Ocean and Justin Vernon. But the arrogance repels.”
Robert Christgau, 'B&N'
Producers: Kanye West, Ben Brofman, Travis Scott, Mike Dean,
Noah Goldstein, Che Pope, Sham Joseph
Hot 100 Peak: 56
INSPIRATION BEHIND THE ALBUM
original concept art for album cover
The song was as visceral as its video, with only Kanye’s face visible as he rapped "New Slaves" Shot entirely in black and white. he appeared as an omnipresent God to his awaiting fans, exemplifying the force of nature that became 'YEEZUS.' At the time, this event could only be captured through cell phone footage, which in 2013 was a precursor to the organic, pedestrian-ran media that we follow today. 'YEEZUS' broke new ground for truly organic viral marketing in hip-hop culture.
“THREE DAYS BEFORE KANYE HAD TO TURN THE RECORD IN HE TELLS US, ‘I’M GOING TO MILAN TONIGHT.’ THERE ARE PROBABLY FIVE SONGS THAT STILL NEED VOCALS AT THIS POINT. TWO STILL NEED WORDS! SO HE SAYS, ‘I HAVE TO GO TO THIS BABY SHOWER BEFORE I GO TO MILAN. I’LL BE BACK AT 4 P.M., AND FROM 4 TO 6 I’LL DO THE VOCALS. THEN I HAVE TO GO.’ I SAY, ‘OK,’ THINKING IT’S NOT OK, AND HE SAYS, ‘DON’T WORRY. I’LL SCORE 40 POINTS FOR YOU IN THE FOURTH QUARTER.” AGAIN IT JUST SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE, BUT THAT’S BASICALLY WHAT HE DID.” (daily beast)
"'Yeezus' charges out of the gate, sometimes switching sounds and textures without bothering to maintain tempo, then jerking back into position and rattling forward. There’s very little fat. 'Yeezus' is a fiercely edited, assaultive, and noisy work, concerned less with grandeur than with intensity. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the charts.”
Sasha Frere-Jones, 'The New Yorker'
chicago house music
“It works because it’s beautiful — you either like it or you don’t — there’s no reason why it’s beautiful. I don’t know any musician who sits down and thinks about this. He feels it, and either it moves you too, or it doesn’t, and that’s that. You can analyze it all you want.”
Lou Reed, 'TALKHOUSE'
After rumors swirled for months after the release of 'yeezus,' Kanye finally announced Tour With opening acts Kendrick Lamar and Pusha-T in tow. Kanye’s first solo tour in over five years was as much of a spectacle as the album it was promoting. and it spurred an equally amount of controversy.
With designs from longtime collaborator Vanessa Beecroft, Es Devlin, and John McGuire, the YEEZUS Tour set was based on Kanye’s own visions of the end of the world. THe performance was split into five acts—Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching, and Finding—and featured striking biblical imagery, druids, and trippy light displays.
the show walked a fine line between his past hits and the chaos that formed within him on ‘YEEZUS.’ A few shows were maligned due to production issues; in one instance, En route to a Vancouver show, a 60-ft circular LED screen was damanged beyond repir, causing Kanye and his production team to postpone three dates. The technical difficulties didn't slow down the tour's success; it had the highest grossing second leg of a tour in 2013.
Shangri-La Studios—Malibu, CA
NO NAME HOTEL—Paris
STUDIOS DE LA SEINE—PARIS
GERMANO STUDIOs—New york city
Other hip-hop albums + mixtapes released in 2013:
Major Hot 100 Songs of the Year:
Bruno Mars, “Locked Out Of Heaven”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Thrift Shop”
Baauer, “Harlem Shake”
Bruno Mars, “When I Was Your Man”
P!nk, “Just Give Me A Reason”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Can’t Hold Us”
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell, “Blurred Lines”
Katy Perry, “Roar”
Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”
Eminem feat. Rihanna, “The Monster”
notable Hip-Hop Albums Released that year:
A$AP Rocky, ‘Long. Live. ASAP.’
Lil Wayne, ‘I Am Not a Human Being II’
Tyler, the Creator, ‘Wolf’
Tyga, ‘Hotel California’
Kid Cudi, ‘Indicud’
Snoop Lion, ‘Reincarnated’
French Montana, ‘Excuse My French’
J. Cole, ‘Born Sinner’
Mac Miller, ‘Watching Movies With The Sound Off’
Wale, ‘The Gifted’
JAY-Z, ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’
Rich Gang, ‘Rich Gang’
A$AP Ferg, ‘Trap Lord’
Earl Sweatshirt, ‘Doris’
Big Sean, ‘Hall of Fame’
2 Chainz, ‘B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time’
Drake, ‘Nothing Was The Same’
Pusha T, ‘My Name Is My Name’
DJ Khaled, ‘Suffering From Success’
Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP 2’
Release Date: June 18, 2013
“IN JANUARY, THEY TOLD US, ‘KANYE’S IN THE STUDIO ON SUNDAY, IT’D BE GOOD IF WE COULD HAVE SOME STUFF TO PLAY HIM.’ THAT WAS ON THE FRIDAY BEFORE, SO I HAD TWO DAYS TO MAKE SOME TRACKS THAT WERE SPECIFICALLY TAILORED TO KANYE WEST. I DON’T THINK I WENT TO BED THAT NIGHT. I JUST MADE TRACK AFTER TRACK AFTER TRACK—NINE ALTOGETHER—AND SENT THEM OVER. A COUPLE OF DAYS LATER, THEY WERE LIKE, ‘THIS IS GREAT, WE’VE STARTED WORKING ON ONE.’ THAT TRACK EVENTUALLY BECAME ‘I'M IN IT.’” (Pitchfork)
What Artists Have Said About Working On It
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE DEBUT
Kanye West returned to 'Saturday Night Live' in 2013 to debut his vision for ‘YEEZUS’ in the flesh. Clad in all black, Kanye was flanked by a live band and an animated backdrop of price tags, 'not for sale' signs, raging feral dogs, and racial imagery. on 'snl,' he debuted “Black Skinhead,” a rebellious anthem that encapsulated the off-kilter and unpredictable nature of the album. The general reception of his performance only created a more fanatical anticipation for ‘YEEZUS.' while fans were interested in the new sound, media outlets like 'variety,' for instance, took the performance to be much more of a “political” statement from Kanye. Regardless of its message, the performance was seen by millions and gave viewers a more in-depth preview into the themes of ‘YEEZUS.’
Producers: Kanye West, Daft Punk, Gesafflelstein, Brodinski, Mike Dean, Lupe Fiasco, No ID, Jack Donoghue, Noah Goldstein
Hot 100 Peak: 69
The YEEZUS album rollout didn’t just upend the status quo of the music scene; it also brought back the importance of merchandising. Designed by a braintrust of designers from Kanye’s own DONDA collective, YEEZUS merch was a huge hit. Combining the fantastical elements of the album with a southern gothic feel, the pieces from the tour became so sought after that the line even found a home in Pac Sun. With skulls, roses, and grim reapers emblazoned on the tees and hoodies—YEEZUS merch became counter-culture to the streetwear brands that had been muscling the market at the time. However, there was some controversy with the line. Kanye’s use of the Confederate Flag has been put into question, and one of the designers told Complex that they used it to “take back” the bad stigma that had symbolized it. It is yet another example of the subversion of controversial tropes that Kanye had set out to display on this album, and it spoke loud and clear within the merchandise.
Kanye West is no stranger to accolades, but with ‘YEEZUS’ he saw an unprecedented amount of critical success. it was one of the most acclaimed projects of the year and appeared on a total of 61 year-end lists on most major music media sites. 'yeezus' was ranked the no. 1 album of the year on 18 of said lists. most reviewers praised the album for deconstructing Kanye’s tried and true formula, and giving Kanye a new leash on life, musically. The album also gave Kanye two more grammy nominations to add to his belt—one for Best Rap Album and the other, Best Rap Song for “New Slaves”.
Read more of wilkins' essay on 'yeezus' on 'urban legends' now.
2018. URBAN LEGENDS / UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP
“I WENT TO PARIS SUPER EARLY. AT ONE POINT IT WAS JUST ME, KANYE, AND NOAH [IN THE STUDIO], AND THAT'S WHEN HE FIRST INTRODUCED ME TO SOME OF THE [SONG] IDEAS. I WAS JUST AROUND HIM A LOT, ESPECIALLY FOR THIS ALBUM, CURATING SONICS. IT'S LIKE CRAZY MEMORIES.” (MTV)