Tag Archives: ALbums

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

Earl Sweatshirt & Action Bronson- “Warlord Leather” (Produced By The Alchemist)

Earl-Sweatshirt-and-Action-Bronson-560x560New music from Action Bronson and Earl Sweatshirt gets released because of The Alchemist. “Warlord Leather” is dubbed as a bonus track for both of these artists albums. Streams for Mr. Wonderful and I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside are available right now. Stream “Warlord Leather” below.

Written by E.L.

Year in Review: Jesse’s Top 10 Projects of 2014

Graphic By Han Mahle
Graphic By Han Mahle

2014 was a wild year for hip-hop/ rap and we were here to document almost all of it. The following ten projects are my favorite of the year, in no particular order.


Ab-Soul, These Days…, TDE

ab-soul
Photo by Jesse Wiles

These Days… is Ab-Soul’s best project to date, slightly edging out his 2012 debut album, Control System. The album never really seemed to garner much attention outside of Ab’s fan base, and most blogs overlooked it on their top albums of the year list. However, it is deserving of much more praise. With jazz-influenced songs like “Kendrick Lamar’s Interlude” and bass-heavy, street bangers like “Nevermind That,” featuring Rick Ross, the album has something for everyone. From the impressive list of featured artists, to the slightly controversial album artwork, everything was well thought out and executed perfectly by TDE. Ab gave us exactly what he wanted, and it was beautiful.


Kevin AbstractMTV1987, N/A

kevin-abstract-billboard-650
Kevin Abstract took the internet by storm in 2014. Going from an artist who was well known in the smaller, underground blog community to being posted on Complex, Billboard and Pigeons and Planes regularly. Even more impressive than his rise to stardom was his debut project, MTV1987. The 12 track tape paints a vivid picture of what growing up and coming of age in an era dominated by social media is like. With only 3 features, MTV1987 gives new listeners an idea of how versatile Kevin is on the mic, being both a rapper and a singer. This is a project that will be relevant for years to come. The influence of MTV1987 can be seen everywhere, ranging from Twitter to Soundcloud. A new generation of young people armed with ideas and MacBooks are pushing the boundaries of contemporary art and music.


Theophilus London, Vibes, Warner Bros Records

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Vibes is, in Theophilus’ own words, a “real Palm Springs, smoke a joint, hit some mushrooms, go to Joshua Tree, bathe in some motherfuckin’ volcano water… shit like that.” He doesn’t lie, the album is, for lack of a better term, incredibly vibe-y. The whole thing is a hodge podge of different sounds, hitting different ranges of music, from vintage 80’s inspired disco and psychedelic pop, to contemporary hip-hop. This is largely in thanks to the flawless executive production of Kanye West. It’s not everyday that the presence of Kanye West isn’t overwhelming, but on Vibes, he takes a step back and allows London to shine. London’s camp took a huge L in first week sales, barely pushing 2,800 units. However, this isn’t something that’s going to take over the radio and mainstream music. Vibes is a work of art, wonderfully ambitious and experimental.


Mick Jenkins, The Water[s], N/A

Photo by Jesse Wiles
Photo by Jesse Wiles

Chicago was the hottest city of 2014 for hip hop, followed closely by Atlanta. Chief Keef, drill music, gun violence, GBE, Lucki Eck$, Chance, Alex Wiley… the list of prevalent artists and themes goes on and on. With all of that going on, and all of the artists trying to follow in the footsteps of musicians like Chief Keef and Chance the Rapper, it’s hard to differentiate real talent from those biting off of pre-established talent. Enter Mick Jenkins. I could say a lot about Mick: how socially conscious his raps are, or how progressive his sound is, but I’m not going to say anything about that. I’m going to say one thing. Take an hour out of your day and listen to The Water[s]. If you don’t want to take the time to listen to it all, at least listen to “Dehydration” and “Martyrs.” You can learn something from Mick, and not many rappers teach with their words anymore.


Mac Miller, Faces, Warner Bros Records

mac-miller-4Faces is the sound Mac Miller has been searching for for most of his career. He became successful with the frat-rap style that spread like wildfire through college campuses across the US and then ditched that, going after a different sound. However, there was still too much of a college influence on his music, and for a few years he had only mediocre releases (see Blue Slide Park and Best Day Ever). Then, Faces dropped, a tape that seemed, at first, to hold too many songs–24 in all–with no real theme or a unifying sound. And that’s exactly what Mac Miller is, an artist that you can’t label. He’s going to give you laid back songs about drugs, “Angel Dust,” and then 17 songs later he’ll randomly drop a banger with MMG’s Rick Ross, “Insomniak.” Faces is one of the few projects that dropped early on in 2014 and remained relevant after countless listens.


Riff Raff, Neon Icon, Mad Decent

Photo by Jesse Wiles
Photo by Jesse Wiles

Look past the white man with cornrows, NEFF sunglasses, vintage windbreakers, and the absurd Versace references and realize that Riff Raff had one of the best albums of 2014. Maybe it’s because of how relaxed this album is; it’s not someone flexing guns and talking street violence, but more a change of pace. The album is full of a range of music, featuring comical songs, 80’s disco reminiscent of the soundtrack for the 2011 movie Drive, rock and roll, and actual rap songs. Riff Raff takes the script, rips it up, flushes it down the toilet, and then rewrites it entirely. You probably hate Neon Icon, but that’s okay, stop being so serious.


J.Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, Columbia/ Roc Nation

J. Cole photograph by Aaron SternIn a bold move, J. Cole and Roc Nation released one of the best albums of the year without dropping any singles, only alerting the public a few weeks before the release date and having no featured artists. 2014 Forest Hills Drive is Friday Night Lights J. Cole. This is what we’ve been missing from music, and Cole specifically. “You can listen to Born Sinner. You can listen to Sideline Story and hear it, coming out. I wasn’t liking it— I wasn’t happy,” Cole said in an interview with NPR on December 12. Since “letting go” of the things that were holding him back, he’s been able to reconnect with and recreate music that he’s happy with. He holds nothing back on 2014 Forest Hills Drive, being brutally honest on songs like “Wet Dreamz.” He also talks about his quest for material items and wealth on “Tale of 2 Citiez.” You can’t help but be happy for J. Cole with this release–quality hip-hop from a quality human being.


Travi$ Scott, Days Before Rodeo, EPIC/ Grand Hustle/ GOOD Music

travi-scott-uptown-upper-echelon-billboard-in-studio-performance-0If you’re looking for lyricism and content that’s on par with other albums on this list, you won’t find it here. With features from the hottest artists at the moment such as Migos, Young Thug, and Rich Homie Quan, Days Before Rodeo perfectly embodies the current state of hip-hop and rap. Somehow, the tracks maintain street credibility while also being mainstream enough to appeal to a wide audience. Full of overly simplistic lyrics like, “Call her ticket, cause I really want to meet her (meter),” Travi$ does the most with, well, not a whole not. Expert production and a wide array of different sounds on each track make this the best project of the year.


Childish Gambino, Because The Internet, Island/ Glassnote

Childish-Gambino

There’s not one bad song on Because The Internet. Childish Gambino has done nothing but release quality music since his mixtape days. However, with every release, he gains a new set of critics. He said it best on the song “Be Alone,” off of his first EP, tastefully named EP, “Hard for a Pitchfork, soft for a Roc-a-Fella.” What he’s saying with that line is that his raps are too raw and real for blogs like Pitchfork too handle, but too soft and not street-worthy enough for big record labels like Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Fella Records. It’s incredibly unfair that Childish Gambino is still viewed with that lens, as he’s one of, if not the most, talented artists out right now. The only other comparable artist is Drake, who seems to get praise from nearly everyone, all the time. Gambino continues to push the envelope, experimenting with different beats, themes and deliveries, while artists like Drake stay in their comfort zones, dropping albums awfully similar to their last release.


Curtis Williams, Danco James, Two-9

curtis-williams-450x300Curtis Williams and Two-9 records are going to blow up in 2015. Thanks, in part, to the fact that Atlanta is playing host to one of the biggest hip-hop movements at the moment and, because they have put together one of the more promising, young collectives in hip-hop. Danco James is one of those tapes that people are going to look back at in a few years and ask themselves, “how did I miss that?” With a smooth, stoner vibe to the project, Curtis comes correct with all 15 tracks. Only straying from the laid back mood on a few uptempo songs like “Box Logos & Box Chevy’s,” “Bong Interlude,” and “Drugs.” Look for Curtis and Two-9 to make big moves in 2015.


Written by Jesse Wiles