Thoughts on hearing Kanye West's new album in New York

Ye shut down an NYC district for a ‘Yeezus’ listening party last night. So what was it like?

Last night New York City experienced what will more than likely be one of many strings of faint tropical storms to permeate the area. Torrential rains blinding pedestrians, coupled with teasing moments of clear skies only to endure more downpours; that was the forecast for the evening. It was perhaps the perfect night for Kanye West to host an impromptu listening session for his sixth solo album Yeezus. Like the weather last night in New York, the album is full of weird spurts of intensity, yet totally beautiful at a distance.

The moments leading up to the event were spent standing under a tented line at 10pm in New York City’s famed Milk Studios in the Meatpacking District. Everyone from the Hip-Hop literati to fashion heads waiting for go-sees stood in anticipation of an album that has had everyone buzzing since West’s series of building projections and one dynamic Saturday Night Live performance. In true Kanye fashion, the event was treated like an art installation. To the right, a giant open garage, holding guests with wall-to-wall open bars as models shook vodka drinks. To the left, a building overlooking NYC’s Highline delivering strange projections ranging from Kanye’s face to international symbols. At the center of the garage were large screens that showed multicolored distorted images and more random screen projections, similar to West’s stage set for 2008’s Glow In the Dark Tour.

By around 11pm, Kanye took to a mock stage to thank everyone for coming. A man of few words (for the first time in his life), he ushered in the album proudly. “This album is all about giving…no fucks at all,” Kanye explains. While no tracklist was given, there are several key points to take from the experience. Dazed has compiled ten. Here’s what to expect from Kanye’s Yeezus.

Yeezus is not an album. It’s an event
This went without saying once Kanye West projected his image on 66 buildings in ten major cities to announce the arrival of “New Slaves” last month. However, West told the crowd last night that he has upped that number to 500 more projections in the coming weeks. Whether West will be debuting the album in its entirety on these new screens is unknown. However, the volume of yesterday’s sonic installation could be heard within a five-block radius, so anyone in the vicinity had a taste of Yeezus Christ himself.

Kanye West doesn’t care about YouTube.
His reasoning for choosing these projection-screen guerilla tactics over traditional YouTube videos was comical. He simply didn’t want YouTube’s side bar recommending other artists to the viewer once his videos completed. It’s an all Ye all day experience around these parts. Bigger than that though, Kanye wants to change the approach to the music industry business model. “This is just the beginning of an entirely new mentality on how to make music directly for the people,” he says.

West is on the “no formula” formula
“I got a new strategy, it’s called no strategy. And I got a way to sell more music, it’s called make better music,” Kanye told the crowd. That non-formula is carefully woven into the project, as West throws caution to the wind in the name of art. While thunderous basslines infiltrate one track, gentle Auto-Tune flows through another. Then Reggae/Dub chimes in; only to be reminded of West’s rap beginnings. It’s a complex work that has every angle of Kanye West’s personality attached to it.

There are some traces of Kanye West’s older work
The most prominent is his 808s and Heartbreak era, as the Auto-Tune and dark rockiness are ever-present. There are also hints of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and an occasional nod to Watch the Throne. There are bouts of lyricism, but mainly this project is to be embraced as a whole outside of the sum of its parts. However, for those hoping for the College Dropout Kanye West: he is long gone. Sorry!

Kanye West has sold his Soul to New Wave.
“I figured out on this album that I’m actually New Wave,” West admits. “I’m not really Soul.” A revelation like that can be blinding, considering West’s early days were spent carrying a Louis Vuitton backpack and clad in a red Polo shirt. While having tinkered with his sound for close to a decade, he has landed upon his own melting pot of ‘80s-inspired industrial sounding Hip-Hop for Yeezus. His definition though is New Wave, so New Wave it is. This project could have been an idyllic moment for Kanye to introduce his shutter shades to the world. Perhaps he will attach a new accessory to the album’s launch.

Jay-Z really enjoys Yeezus.
Celebrity guests were scattered throughout the crowd last night, including Busta RhymesQ-Tip, Slaughterhouse’s Joell OrtizDJ Khaled, and a one or two supermodels. Behind the soundboard though, flanking Kanye West were Jay-Z and Beyoncé. Jay-Z clad in a khaki windbreaker with a hood (weather appropriate) and Bey in a cocked back fedora and shades (looking ‘80s New Wave ready) gyrated to every track on the album. Jay-Z however, was thoroughly into the project. He even requested that Kanye play one song over – a track possibly titled “Strange Fruit,” which leans on a sample of the Billie Holiday song of the same name. West takes it a step further though and reiterates No Limit’s C-Murder lyrics on the track, taking the tune to a whole other dimension. One that Jay-Z apparently loves. 

Kanye holds it down for Chicago up and comers
When Kanye West opted to remix Chief Keef’s breakout single “I Don’t Like” (much to the chagrin of producer Young Chop), Keef probably had no idea he’d be showing up on Yeezus. The Chicago street rapper makes a cameo, complete with what sounds like a vocodor-infused verse. He’s not the only Chi-town representative. Upcoming rapper King Louie shows up on the project as well. It’s a bold move for West – clearly one cameo was to make amends, but the other pleasantly raises eyebrows. As part of his not giving a fuck, he has clearly allowed himself to work some new talent from his own stomping grounds.

There are even more diverse features
First things first: Jay-Z is not on this album. Neither is Beyoncé, Rihanna, or anyone else that would be or could be expected to show up. And thankfully, Lord Disick is not on the album either. Who is on the ten-track offering? Daft Punk (evidenced by “Black Skinhead,” though West hinted they were part of more tracks), TNGHT’s Hudson Mohawke (who played new Kanye during a string of DJ sets at a few festivals), Kid Cudi (the omnipresent Kanye co-collaborator), and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. While Vernon was on West’s “Monster” off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he shows up with the aforementioned Chief Keef on “Can’t Handle My Liquor.”

The album is riddled with sacrilege
Approaching an album that’s titled “Yeezus,” it’s obvious there is barely a regard for organized religion. “West was my slave name,” Kanye says. “Yeezus is my god name.” As he titled a track “I Am a God” (he added the article “a” to the title to soften the offensive blow), he also came with some pupil-dilating lyrics including performing cunnilingus on a nun. A less disturbing line is “I just talked to Jesus, he said ‘whatup Yeezus.’” Still, religious zealots and evangelists will surely be bringing the noise after a taste of this album.

There is no mention of Kim Kardashian
While everyone was hoping for some ode to the thorough-bottomed Kardashian sister or a track about his unborn child in the same vein as Jay-Z’s “Glory,” there is none of that on Yeezus. It arguably has no place on the project anyway, considering its cerebral nature. There would simply be no time for romance. Kanye does have one key line: “One good girl is worth a thousand bitches,” so that has to stand for something right?

Kanye West’s Yeezus arrives June 18th on Island Def Jam.