Category Archives: Editorial

A Psychoanalytic Exploration Of Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’

Kanye West
Photo by Jesse Wiles

  Dr. Kanye West begins Yeezus with the deeply unsettling “On Sight,” a jumble of noises constituting what is the most chaotic and least melodic song on an album predicated on chaos. This opening song is comprised of aggressively minimalistic techno sounds with intermittent soul samples providing brief respites from the onslaught of noise, thus creating a platform for the cognitive dissonance that is a major theme throughout this album, an inherent contradiction resulting from the uncanny elements of Yeezus, where Kanye combines that which is familiar with that which is not, creating a uniquely repulsive, yet beautiful experience that simultaneously draws us in and pushes us away. This paper explores Yeezus from a psychoanalytical perspective utilizing the Freudian concepts of “narcissism” and the “uncanny.”

  Freud defines narcissism as, “the attitude of a person who treats his own body in the same way in which the body of a sexual object is ordinarily treated—who looks at it, that is to say, strokes it and fondles it till he obtains complete satisfaction through these activities.” Kanye West is, by popular consensus, the modern-day embodiment of narcissism. Nowhere has this been more evident than in Yeezus, where he makes such bold proclamations as, “I am a God,” in an identically-titled track. He consistently refers to himself in the album as a god and star, as well as a genius.

  Although it would be easy to jump on the bandwagon of condemning Dr. West for making such braggadocian statements, it is necessary to take into account that he is saying this as a black man in America, a rapper no less, whose genius is constantly being downplayed and whose accomplishments are frequently being negated for no other reason than his status as a black rapper in a white, racist and repressive society. The intense narcissism exhibited by the middle and upper-class Victorian women who were Freud’s patients is likely a result of the sexual repression imposed upon them, which forced them to concentrate their libido on themselves as a means to achieve both sexual gratification and validation of their self-identity. So too, Kanye is narcissistic as a response to the lack of validation and recognition he receives for his work in order to affirm his identity and self-worth in a culture that downplays his worth and refuses to acknowledge his genius.

Freud defines “the uncanny” as, “that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar.” He goes on to explain that “the uncanny,” while related to what is frightening, “to what arouses dread and horror,” is not identical with the active field of the frightening, but rather constitutes a subfield of that experience, namely, that in which, “the familiar can become uncanny and frightening.” Later in Freud’s essay he explains that such circumstances exist when this “something which is familiar and old established in the mind,” becomes alienated from it, “through the process of repression.”

A recurring motif in Yeezus is the use of uncanny primal, sub-human sounds, which are littered throughout. On “Black Skinhead,” an already very raw and emotional song, Kanye’s shrieks and hollers function as intermittent climaxes of emotion. These screams are familiar to the human unconscious as they are manifestations of primitively innate Id impulses. They are, however, unfamiliar on a conscious level, where we do not understand their primordial nature. The very controversial track, “I Am A God,” ends with an assortment of distorted screams by Dr. West, which once again feel almost human in a familiar way, yet distant and unfamiliar at the same time. Both songs employ these screams to create an intentionally uncanny sensation for the listener.

The use of unintelligible lyrics is prevalent throughout Yeezus in several different forms. Both “I Am A God” and “I’m In It” utilize Jamaican dancehall samples, which feature English that is nearly impossible to understand. Although the lyrics are recognizable as English, the content of the lyrics is not something that can easily be deciphered. Similarly, on “Blood On The Leaves” and “Guilt Trip” there are moments where the words are intentionally distorted beyond recognition. Our familiarity with the sound of words only adds to the strange feeling produced by not being able to understand them. The ending of “New Slaves” also uses this incoherent singing to create an uncanny feeling of familiarity intertwined with the unfamiliar in an intriguingly repelling way.

Throughout his article on “the uncanny,” Freud uses the German word unheimlich to denote this concept. In a key passage, Freud quotes a long extract from the German philosopher Schelling, who repeatedly uses the term unheimlich and concludes: “unheimlich is the name for everything that ought to have remained… secret and hidden but has come to light.” Freud then explains:

“What interests us most in this long extract is to find that among its different shades of meaning the word ‘heimlich’ exhibits one which is identical with its opposite, ‘unheimlich.’ What is heimlich thus comes to be unheimlich… Schelling says something which throws quite a new light on the concept of the unheimlich, for which we were certainly not prepared. According to him, everything is unheimlich that ought to have remained secret and hidden but has come to light.”

“Hold My Liquor” explores this dialectical conflict of being both concealed and visible, as Kanye West struggles between his attempt to hold everything in and his desire to let it all out. The liquor referenced in the song serves as a metaphor for his outspokenness and his attempted self-censorship. For most of the song, he maintains the concealed and visible aspects of himself hand-in-hand, both being a reality for him and neither negating the other. This examination of the contradictory nature of the uncanny ultimately ends in the breaking through of his outspokenness as he is no longer able to “hold his liquor,” making him totally transparent and vulnerable, a refutation of the uncanny.

Dr. West attempts to relate to his listeners throughout the album, but to no avail. His uncanny attempts to be relatable actually make him even more “un-relatable” and inaccessable to his fans. He opens a window into his life for his fans to look into, yet it ultimately distances them from him, despite his best efforts to establish a connection.

The ending of “Black Skinhead” involves Kanye uttering “God!” in disgust, over-and-over again, as a way of expressing his dejection with the racist, capitalist society in which he lives, a sentiment which most of his fans share and which should have brought him closer to them, but instead it shows just how out of touch he is, as he can never relate to the oppressed individual’s disillusionment in the system due to the fact that he is a part of the system, having succeeded and thrived in it.

In “I Am A God,” he rebels against the world, essentially writing it as a big “fuck you” to everyone and everything. This is also a sentiment echoed by many people today, yet the way he actually rebels through talking about his tremendous capitalist success is once again unrelatable and even alienating to almost everyone.

“Fuck your Hampton house/I fucked your Hampton spouse” is the beginning to what may be the most quoted snippet from Yeezus. This excerpt from “New Slaves,” rather than being a critique of capitalism and the fact that some people are tremendously wealthy and others tremendously poor for no good reason, is actually Kanye’s way of demanding assimilation with “old money.” What he does not understand is that if it were a legitimate attack against “old money,” the attitude would be shared by others, but because it was only an attack against “old money’s” refusal to include him in its circle, it only comes between him and his listeners.

In “Blood On The Leaves,” Kanye West raps about his relationships and rich debauchery over a sample of Nina Simone’s rendition of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit,” a song depicting the lynching of a black man, in an effort to draw a parallel between the two experiences. Simone’s singing is something very real to which many people can relate. Kanye tries to create something equally real, but his tale of popping “Molly,” snorting cocaine, paying alimony, and keeping his “sidechick” away from his “wifey” is not relatable to all.

A significant theme in Yeezus is Dr. West’s uncanny critique of American bourgeois society. He criticizes capitalism, but does so from the perspective of a successful capitalist with no interest in eradicating it, which, by nature, makes it uncanny, as he provides a familiar opinion with an unfamiliar twist which makes it rather unnerving. “New Slaves” is a pseudo-revolutionary anthem, with the “new slaves” referring to black people who have fallen victim to consumerism. He is, however, one of the foremost proponents of consumerism, successful in thanks to it. He has no interest in radically transforming society so as to eliminate consumerism, because that doesn’t match his individual capitalist interests, which makes his anti-consumer message eerily uncanny. In “Black Skinhead” as well, he is criticizing a system which he is a part of and is trying to climb up in. His anti-establishment lyrics are uncanny specifically due to the fact that he is still part of the establishment, no matter how excluded he is for being a black rapper.

Kanye West’s Yeezus perfectly embodies several key theories of psychoanalysis, both intentionally and unintentionally. Kanye opens himself up, revealing the extent of his manic narcissism, a necessary response to his constantly being undermined by society for being an African-American rapper. He includes intentionally uncanny elements all around, designed to create an uncomfortable feeling within the listener. Yeezus’s uncanniness actually extends beyond the intentional, as it also shows just how out of touch with reality he is every time he attempts to prove how in touch he is.

Written by Victor Grossman-Perez

Kanye West continuing to mix “The Life Of Pablo” is a significant step for all artists, producers and engineers

3056803-poster-p-1-the-life-of-the-life-of-pablo.jpgTired of hearing about Kanye? Well as a music producer myself, I’m not. Yes I’m a fan and yes I might be one of those kids who will sit there and try to defend Kanye to anyone who completely bashes him but so what? From a musical standpoint, what he is doing with his latest album The Life Of Pablo and “Wolves” especially, is amazing.

Yesterday, Kanye updated one of the most talked about songs, before it’s release, on Tidal. He changed quite a bit actually. The original “final mix” consisted of a song structure that went from; Kanye’s auto-tune intro/chorus,  first and only long verse, vocal interlude that slides into Frank Ocean’s outro. Ye dropped both Vic Mensa and Sia’s part from the live performances they did late last year. That is a significant amount of heard content that Kanye excluded.

Kanye West, Vic Mensa & Sia live performing “Wolves”

As an aspiring music producer and audio engineer, the fact that Kanye and only Kanye is in complete control of the final product that is being streamed on Tidal, is so amazing creatively but also a big deal for the music industry and other artists. Yes, Kanye works with a lot of people to put out this final project in the studio, but just the fact that he has the final say on how something sounds and how it is being broadcasted sonically is a huge step forward for any artist. This is something that music hubs like soundcloud and audiomack have been offering for year. But Kanye, a major label artist, is doing this through Tidal, one of three major market streaming services beside Apple Music and Spotify.

For “Wolves 2.0,” Ye adds some more drum layers, adds Vic Mensa and Sia’s part, changes a ton of vocal effects and adds some ad libs on his ending sequence. What else is crazy is that he pushed Frank Ocean’s little vocal ditty to it’s own song. This is so much music to re-engineer, mix, master, edit and manipulate three weeks after the official release.

What this means for artists, producers and engineers is this, why settle for something that you already released to the public if you still believe you could do better. A lot of people that I have worked in music with before have all expressed how musicianship is full of constant changes. Hell, this is half the reason I can’t hardly finish a song because I’m never satisfied with final mixes and song structures. I always want more and more change. If you ever have preformed live in any matter, you’ll know that no performance is the same. You are constantly adjusting almost every small detail in your sound. That is why they say music is a gift that keeps on giving.

By Kanye West continuing to change a major label release such as The Life Of Pablo, it is helping pushing the boundaries of contemporary artistry and musicianship and challenges the idea that the music that he is making is in his complete control and not in the hands of these major labels. Artists, producers and engineers keeping making music, keep updating it and never be satisfied. Because that next edit or change you want to make to a mix could be what ends up getting noticed. Who really knows?

“Wolves” is one hell of a song though no matter how many times Kanye changes it. I hope he continues to mix and changes his stuff. Who really knows what could come next??

Written by Erik Lindberg

Performances of New Music Live Is Saving Hip-Hop

022515-music-kanye-west-brit-awards.jpgWith all the hype that surrounds new releases and internet drops of new music, it seems like a lot of it gets lost in the crowd. How did it feel to see Kanye perform “All Day” for the very first time at The BRIT Music Awards? It was absolutely amazing. No one had heard the final version of the song except for a handful of people. Yes, people had an idea that there was a song Ye’ had been working on called “All Day” and their had been some rough leaks, but no one expected him to perform the song live before it’s CD quality release. Pharrell and Snoop Dogg had done it a a Grammy pre-party as well with “Peaches N’ Cream”. And look at all the hype that song had with just a 15 second clip from the crowd. I get even more excited when I hear stuff for the first time live. It means the artist is so confident in his work to premiere it to a live audience, with no such feedback before. Drake did the same thing a few years ago during the MTV Video Music awards with “Hold On, We’re Going Home”. That was an awesome moment as well. With all the leaks and anticipation with these releases, this is the way to go for every hip-hop artist coming up. So much of the music is getting better and better, so why not build up the hype by performing your work live? Kanye was so successful during his performance and release of “All Day” and “Wolves” that they became the official music videos for the songs. I can’t imagine I’m the only one  who gets little kid excited to hear new music for the first time live. It builds hype and anticipation for not just the song to be released on the internet, but the artists’ whole projects. If artists follow these trends, it will save not just hip-hop, but the music industry as a whole.

Written by E.L.

Beats Music Is The Best Streaming Service Out There

o-BEATS-MUSICI get it. The recent news from Apple that they will be pre-loading the Beats Music streaming app on every iPhone did not make a lot of people happy. It is probably a move to try and bump up the amount of subscribers to compete with the giant that Spotify is. However, let me explain why Beats Music is a better streaming service than either of the two aforementioned, and why this move is actually better for you.

First off, I’m not a paid spokesman for Apple, and in no way am I trying to promote this service. I am here to explain the incredibly pleasant experience I’ve had thus far with Beats Music on my iPhone.

Apple made the 3.2 billion dollar purchase of Beats earlier this year to try and reach out to a younger audience, utilizing their headphones and streaming service. At first, I was skeptical and I wasn’t sure what was to become of both the headphones and streaming service. I liked the idea of their headphones; it gave many more music listeners a better quality listening experience (especially with their studio or pro lines of gear). But many audiophiles put down the headphones for being a bit unbalanced and bass heavy. But as a hip-hop head, that is exactly what I want. These headphones were not made for use in a studio–they were made for you to sit back, relax and enjoy the music. So, in my mind, Apple made an incredible move to put this company underneath their umbrella. Now, onto the music service.

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At the moment, Beats Music is available to download by all on the app store, or through whatever web browser you use. You get a free two week trial from the get-go, and you can start personalizing the listening experience however you want.

You start off by adding different artists and genres that interest your ear, and from there, Beats curates an insane amount of playlists based on those preferences just for you. I was so impressed by the shear amount of music that Beats Music was able to compile together for me so quickly, and it was almost scary how precisely it interpreted my taste in music. It was almost like Beats Music knew exactly what I already had on my iPod and expanded on it. It is something that all streaming services pride themselves  in doing, but Beats just does it BETTER.

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On top of that, they have another type of playlist curator called “The Sentence”. This allows the listener to put in 4 words, mad-libs style, to cater to specific listening wants and needs in that moment. It asks where you are, what you are doing, who you are with and what genre you want to listen to. I’ve fooled around with “The Sentence” quite a bit recently with my road trip to New York, and I COULD NOT BELIEVE how well this works. Regardless of my mood, whom I was with, or where I was, it made playlists just how I would want to hear them. I hardly ever skipped a song because of how accurate it was to what my listening habits are, and it rarely repeated itself. This feature is truly impressive to someone like me, who listens to music constantly throughout the day. It allows me to to think about making a playlist for a certain situation, with certain people, or whatever the case may be. It feels incredibly interactive and personal, almost to the point that it is aware of exactly who each individual listener is.

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As the music industry continues to move to these streaming services, Beats Music has made the best impression on me in just a short two week period. I’ve used Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, and even iTunes Radio. None of them work as well or as accurate as Beats Music. My two week trial period is over, but I will absolutely pay the 10 bucks a month to have this service. My only complaint is that there is yet to be a desktop client that runs the application. You can, however, access it through a web browser. This can be slightly inconvenient, but that is my only gripe. Apple made an extremely wise decision in purchasing this company and I will continue to support whatever comes next from these two music technology juggernauts. For anyone who loves music as much as I do, then Beats Music is for you. Don’t hesitate to at least try this service for the two week trial period. You will not be disappointed, I promise.

Editorial written by E.L.

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Editorial: I’m so sick and tired of hearing about Jaden and Willow Smith

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Let’s be brutally honest here, the only reason that Jaden and Willow Smith are famous is because of their parents. They don’t bring anything new or refreshing to music, or art as a whole. The best thing that Willow has done is make “Whip My Hair,” the video is kind of cool and it was a cute, viral song, before it made me want to rip my ears off.

And Jaden? The coolest, most interesting thing he’s done is tweet the most mind-numbingly stupid things you will ever read. Seriously, his Twitter feed is the most absurd thing I’ve ever read through. More absurd than the comments on World Star.

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The attention he’s been getting recently for his “music” has been really frustrating. He’s gotten a co-sign from Childish Gambino and his EP’s /singles have received a post on every major blog in not only hip hop, but music in general. He’s become a sort of icon in pop culture, for seemingly no reason aside from his dad and dumb tweets.

I’ll admit, I didn’t hate his Prakruti EP. It consisted of three songs and the production was nice. However, he’s on par with thousands of other artists that are working 100 times harder and deserve those posts and co-signs so much more than Jaden. His dad is Will Smith, giving him all of the resources that he could ever want at his disposal. Producers, recording equipment, studios, other celebrities, connections to major names in music, etc. If I had those resources I’d probably be trying to make a mixtape as well, because why not. At the very least I’d get a few hundred thousand plays. He’s got nothing to lose in going out on a  limb with all of his nonsensical thoughts and mediocre music.

The final straw for me was reading an interview that Willow and Jaden did with the New York Times. It legitimately made me sick to my stomach reading it over. Below are some of the quotes I’ve pulled from the interview. I’ve also provided the full link if you want to read everything in context (New York Times Interview).

Here’s what Willow had to say about the concept of time: “I mean, time for me, I can make it go slow or fast, however I please, and that’s how I know it doesn’t exist.” Apparently one of the perks of being extremely wealthy is that you can make time move slow or fast. 

Jaden followed Willow’s statement with: “It’s proven that how time moves for you depends on where you are in the universe. It’s relative to beings and other places. But on the level of being here on earth, if you are aware in a moment, one second can last a year. And if you are unaware, your whole childhood, your whole life can pass by in six seconds. But it’s also such a thing that you can get lost in.” Because, you know, a lot of the time you might not even be on earth, you could be out somewhere else in the universe. Brilliant insight on ‘time’ there from young Jaden.

The rest of that stream of thought went like this between the Smith siblings:
WILLOW: “Because living.”
JADEN: “Right, because you have to live. There’s a theoretical physicist inside all of our minds, and you can talk and talk, but it’s living.”
WILLOW: “It’s the action of it.”

Jaden provided more profound insight on the topic of driving: “You never learn anything in school. Think about how many car accidents happen every day. Driver’s ed? What’s up? I still haven’t been to driver’s ed because if everybody I know has been in an accident, I can’t see how driver’s ed is really helping them out.” Give this kid his license, he doesn’t need drivers ed; he doesn’t need to learn about things because accidents happen anyways.

Perhaps the most ridiculous point made in the entire interview came from Jaden on his thoughts about Prana energy and newborn babies: “When babies are born, their soft spots bump: It has, like, a heartbeat in it. That’s because energy is coming through their body, up and down.” No Words.

I don’t need to say more about the interview. The New York Times basically gave Jaden Smith an even bigger platform to tweet on, thanks. Also, Willow, please don’t follow in your brother’s footsteps.

Written by Jesse Wiles

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