'Yeezus' Critiques: Are We Just Looking for Excuses To Pan Kanye?
Initial reviews of Kanye West's new album Yeezus were unanimously glowing. Pitchfork, Rolling Stone — all the big names in music heaped praise and, apparently, we all breathed a reluctant sigh. Now, everyone's music tastes vary, so Huffington Post's article on the weaknesses of "Yeezus" was to be expected, but it seems the issues cited have more to do with West hatred than the album itself. It's understandable — the man is more than a little bit insufferable. He's named his daughter North and put out a song called "I Am A God," and that's just in the last two weeks, but that is not to say he isn't an artist who deserves to be judged by his work instead of his person. Here's a rundown of the three biggest critiques fueling West backlash:
1) "The album doesn't treat women the best."
This is an entirely fair point — West's misogyny on Yeezus is at best distasteful and at worst intolerable. However, anyone who listens to rap is at least somewhat desensitized to the objectification of women, because it's all over the game.
Look, for example, at the lyrics to Tyga's "Rack City," one of the biggest hits of last year: "Too much rim make the ride too hard/Tell that bitch get out, walk the boulevard," is not exactly an endorsement of feminism. One could reference any number of Eminem songs — and then there's Robin Thicke's song "Blurred Lines," which has also caused controversy for it's rape-y vibe.
To point at West and call "misogyny" is kind of like calling one specific convict a criminal while standing in a prison. Seeing as this complaint could be made about a litany of current artists, we should either commit to damning it on every album, from every artist, or refrain from pointing fingers, because at the end of the day, we're supporting these people and their opinions by buying their music and attending their shows.
2) "It offers a very particular, personal view of racial politics."
Really? We're saying this about a guy who famously said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people"? No one should be shocked that the very same guy had a pretty unilateral view of race politics. If you're looking for a rapper who is going to come at aforementioned issues from both sides of the story, good luck. This isn't a court room, it's an album. It's art, which often comes complete with controversial opinions. And West has been touting lofty ideals and reverse racism since The College Dropout. Criticism of an album should be relating to the music, not to the man, and Kanye's preach-y vitriol is pretty much 'Ye being 'Ye.
3) "Kanye's narcissism runs unchecked."
Again, is this a surprise when the week before the album came out, West claimed he was the Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan of music? It's unclear why West's narcissism should play into the general opinion of Yeezus, since this is yet another characteristic that made the rapper a star. (It would be like critiquing a Britney Spears album for being Auto-Tuned.) He's famously arrogant, and you can love it or hate it, but it does appear from his interviews that his arrogance also translates into high expectations for himself, which is why he delivered so much quality in Yeezus. So, yes, I'd imagine his narcissism does run rather unchecked, and I'd guess that at times it extends beyond his actual accomplishments, but that's the nature of the beast.
Somewhere amidst the misogyny, the narcissism and the questionable racial comments is an album that has resonated with critics and fans alike for whatever reason. The HuffPo article admits that Yeezus is "sonically complex," and that West is "undeniably an important artist," but simultaneously damns him for not being miraculously changed on this album. Sorry HuffPo, but I just don't think that a politically correct West is ever going to be a reality, so we can either accept him, flawed and prejudiced, or shun him, in hopes of Kanye rising from the ashes like a socially appropriate phoenix.