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The evolution of Yeezus

October 10th, 2013

In my experience, music is like politics; everybody’s got an opinion on it. In fact, the only exception I’ve ever encountered to this rule was a small nine-year-old boy. He insisted that he not only didn’t have a favorite type of music, but also didn’t listen to music at all. But I took his response with a grain of salt because, at nine years old, he didn’t even know he liked girls yet, much less who his favorite musical talents were.

Whether you listen to music casually or you live from song to song, waiting to get your next fix, it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s got their favorite sound, their favorite song. It’s that one melody that sucks you back into a great memory – or a terrible one. It inspires moods, actions, and can help people bond. Simply, music affects people, and that’s exactly why everyone has an opinion.

While I like to convince myself that I listen to “all types of music,” I realize that in saying so, I’m guilty of my biggest pet peeve. When I ask people what kind of music they listen to, it’s a euphemism for asking what their favorite type is. So, when people give the “all types of music” response, I cringe. Everyone has a favorite, no matter how quirky or strangely found. Just like a favorite smell or favorite food, you know what it is as soon as you encounter it. So when you hear it, you can hardly help but tap your foot or hum the melody of your favorite jam.

If I were unafraid of judgment, I would say that my favorite type of music is rap. From Grandmaster Flash to Vanilla Ice, I love it all (to varying degrees). I live for the releases of new albums from my favorite artists. And for anyone who follows rap music, you know it was a very good summer for the genre. Rap heavyweights like Jay-Z, Big Sean and J. Cole dropped some of their best music this summer. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. What to download first? Where could I even begin? And thus began the frantic downloads and subsequent drain from my iTunes account.

After two weeks of digesting new music on my binge, I found myself figuratively fat and happy. I had memorized all of the lyrics, the melodies and the track lists for each album. But as I began to rank my favorites in my mind, without fail, I came back to one album as my clear favorite: Kanye West’s “Yeezus.”

Now, regardless of what people might think about his continued clashes with paparazzi and his less-than-cheerful disposition, Kanye has taken us for one hell of a ride. On his roller coaster of a career, he’s become an award-winning producer and rapper. Kanye started with the classic hits like “Gold Digger,” progressed to the forward-thinking vibrations of “Stronger” and now, he’s given us “Yeezus.”

It’s filled with jarring sounds, sharp bends and roughly hewn templates for future artists. If his career has been a roller coaster, “Yeezus” represents the corkscrews and loop-de-loops that make some passengers ill. “Yeezus” gives almost all listeners a sense of sonic vertigo. The audience loses their bearings on conventional sound, groping for something in the album that sounds familiar. For the less adventurous listener, there’s no relief. From one track to the next, we’re simultaneously taken further down the rabbit hole and further from the “radio hits” to which we are so accustomed.

In an interview with BBC, Kanye described radio-play music as “very formulaic” and that new talents were “being controlled.” Kanye’s “Yeezus” breaks free of any radio expectations and sets its own rules. Melding influences from hip-hop, electro and ‘90s industrial resulted in a collage of different sounds, all of which are entirely inventive.

It’s not every day – or even every year – that an artist successfully breaks new ground within their genre. For each generation, there are a few musicians memorialized for rising above the humdrum musical talents of their time and breaking down stereotypes about sound. Kanye’s “Yeezus” accomplishes this for our generation. Providing both a template for future talents and a hot topic of debate for the foreseeable future, it’s safe to say that Yeezy taught us well.