Kanye West is not a regular person. According to his new record, “Yeezus,” he is “a god.” He is one of the best, most unpredictable rappers of today. And he’s rude (poor Taylor Swift). He’s curious but clueless, wearing a $400 Givenchy shirt to Occupy protests in New York. He hates the spotlight (“Maybe 90 percent of the time it looks like I’m not having a good time,” he recently told The New York Times). Yet he’s constantly trying explain himself. He’s got lots of conflicting Kanyes in there running the show.
His sixth solo full-length is unsettling — stripped-down, electro-fied and manic. It has many moments reminiscent of ’70s band Suicide — two guys (Alan Vega and Martin Rev), synth beats and shrieking from scary places inside — which took punk down a new (and enduring) path called darkwave. Kanye, meanwhile, recently called himself a “black New Wave artist.”
Kanye performed “New Slaves” and “Black Skinheads” on “Saturday Night Live” last month. In front of flashing images of NOT FOR SALE signs and leather Klan hats, he spit angry rhymes about cultural bargains, blackness and fame.
I came to hip-hop late, through mainstream acts, but I am a lifelong punk. That is a genre of howling out for survival. “Yeezus” is a man heaving something up, and it is punk as [expletive], as they say.