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, “Yeezus” is on another level from the rest of 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,” which he debuted on “Saturday Night Live,” clatters like Marilyn Manson, as he hypes up more fear with lines like “I’ve been a menace for the longest, but I ain’t finished, I’m devoted.”
Such fear would be more effective if he applied it toward educating his fans, the way he does in “New Slaves” before he goes for some anti-Hamptons crudeness. Instead, he more often goes for what he knows, with so many songs getting bogged down in West’s 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 the spare, electronic sound of his “808s and Heartbreak” album to create a gripping, haunting soundtrack. Of course, this being Kanye West, he doesn’t use this anthem of the civil rights movement for something political or as a form of protest — he has other songs for that — he uses it to complain about alimony payments and how they impact the purchases of Mercedes Benzes and more cocaine.
Let’s face it. West isn’t perfect and neither is “Yeezus,” especially when you start poring over the lyrics. Nevertheless, he is fascinating and “Yeezus” is an amazing musical accomplishment. There’s no contradicting that.
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CATCH ‘YEEZUS’: As he did for “Black Skinhead” and “New Slaves,” West is planning viewing parties around the world tonight for other “Yeezus” songs. The full list is on his website, but there are several in the area, including:
LONG ISLAND: 9:30 p.m., 125 Tuckahoe Lane, Southampton; 11:30 p.m., East Hampton Middle School, East Hampton; 12:30 a.m., Montauk Train Station, Montauk
BROOKLYN: 9:30 p.m., 210 Prospect Ave.; 10:30 p.m., 154 Montague St.; 12:30 a.m., 224 Bedford Ave.; 1:30 a.m., 61 Wythe Ave.
MANHATTAN: 9:30 p.m., Prada building, 609 W. 51st St.; 10:30 p.m., corner of Lafayette and Howard streets; 11:30 p.m., corner of 14th St. and 10th Ave.; 1:30 a.m. Louis Vuitton building, 24 W. 20th St.