Kanye West has always been a tightly wound bundle of contradictions.
He has long dismissed the importance of awards shows and then complained that he deserves more awards. He has fiercely defended his privacy and then forged a relationship with Kim Kardashian, perhaps the least private person in the world. They announced their baby's gender -- it's a girl! -- on Kardashian's reality show.
However, "Yeezus" (Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam), West's sixth album, may be his most contradictory move yet. Even its release is sending out mixed signals. It had been shrouded in mystery, with no lead single and no advances expected to be made available before it hits stores on Tuesday, but then it leaked on Friday afternoon, just in time for the mostly positive reviews to hit the Internet to drum up interest for it. "Yeezus" is now expected to sell more than half a million copies this week, giving it the second-largest sales week this year behind Justin Timberlake's comeback "The 20/20 Experience."
All of this would be incredibly maddening if "Yeezus" wasn't so incredibly good. From a production standpoint, it's on another level from the rest of today's hip-hop, weaving new wave and industrial dance samples into old-school R&B in a way that feels completely fresh.
The way "On Sight" sounds like the second coming of Nine Inch Nails, while he threatens about the arrival of "a monster," is thrilling in an anti-heroic way. "Black Skinhead" clatters like vintage Marilyn Manson, hyping more fear with lines like "I've been a menace for the longest, but I ain't finished, I'm devoted."
That would be more effective if applied toward educating fans, the way he does on "New Slaves." Instead, he gets bogged down in crude references to sex and unflattering portrayals of women.
On "Blood on the Leaves," West takes a sample of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" and combines it with a spare, electronic sound to create a gripping, haunting soundtrack. Of course, he doesn't use this civil rights anthem for something political, he uses it to complain about alimony payments and how they impact the purchases of Mercedes Benzes and more cocaine.
Yes, West isn't perfect and neither is "Yeezus," but, like him or not, he is fascinating and this is a major musical accomplishment. There's no contradicting that.
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The grade: A
Bottom line: Hard-hitting hip-hop rants that connect even when they contradict each other