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Kanye West Unveils ‘Yeezus’ At NYC Album Event

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Kanye West at Governors Ball 2013. (Maria Ives for Radio.com)

Kanye West at Governors Ball 2013. (Maria Ives for Radio.com)

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In advance of his album’s June 18 release date, Kanye West held an event at Milk Studios in New York City on Monday (June 10) night to play his album Yeezus. At one point, he went on to explain the title: “West was my slave name, Yeezus is my god name.” That sets the tone of the event.

West himself was on hand to introduce the album to assorted press, music industry heavyweights and fashionistas on the invite list. The half indoor, open-air venue was put together at the last minute and seemed designed to allow those passing by the Meatpacking District location an opportunity to hear and see the presentation without ever stepping foot inside the studio.

West’s introduction of the album was not a tirade, but rather, the same sort of manifesto that customarily accompanies the presentation of most of his art. He started out addressing the anti-marketing stance he’s taking with Yeezus, oddly singling out YouTube for associating other “recommended” artists next to his work that Ye would prefer not to be associated with — while carefully (and notedly) not naming any names.

“I got this new strategy. It’s called no strategy. And I got this idea about how to sell more music. It’s called make better music,” West said, generating cheers from the crowd. He continued on, saying he felt “squashed by the concept of opportunity” and blaming the numerous marketing opportunities and the sales they promised to lead to for his distraction as an artist.

Related: Kanye West Debuts ‘Yeezus’ Tracks, Rails Against Radio At NYC’s Governors Ball

As Ye pointed out, there are only seven black billionaires out of the 1,426 on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest. West seems to think, somewhat confusingly, that all this worry about getting money is stifling his creativity, which is stopping him from getting more money.

So with Yeezus he’s stepping out of the game and attempting to invent his own game. With this one, West seems determined to fight his battles on many fronts but may have only succeeded in creating the Occupy Movement of albums. It is anti-marketing, anti-racism, anti-materialism, anti-corporation and anti-being part of the norm. As West said when introducing it, “This album is all about giving” — he paused for effect — “no f**** at all.” But the problem with being anti-everything as a concept is that it becomes hard to discern what the pro-message is and what change he hopes to affect.

West also said this album represents two years of him “fighting as a creative individual.” The first half of the album is certainly the sound of a tortured man. Kanye referenced his evolution, saying he didn’t know what new wave was and that he hadn’t heard Joy Division before 808s And Heartbreaks — which is clearly the cousin Marilyn to Yeezus’ Lily Munster.

No tracklist was handed out so the details on song titles and guest appearances remain fuzzy — even at a press event, West is dedicated to his anti-marketing marketing campaign. After the first playback, West did say that the album’s 10th and final track was added back on at the last minute because “we really like that joint.” He also let it slip that the track, called “Can’t Hold My Liquor,” featured Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Chief Keef. West also confirmed that Chicago rapper King Louie appeared on a different track, while it sounds it that Kid Cudi appears on another. The “legendary” Rick Rubin executive-produced the album (“What Would Rick Rubin Do?” was apparently a mantra for Ye throughout the process), while Daft Punk worked on “three or four songs.”

The album was presented with a barrage of images and sounds, similar to those he used at Governors Ball the previous night. West replicated the idea behind his on-going projection series, held in various cities around the globe to debut “New Slaves,” while music played from four speakers in each corner of the room, which were all stacked with three sub-woofers on top to accentuate the lower frequency sounds that are especially prevalent on the first half of the album. The songs that kick the album off, including “New Slaves,” are reminiscent of Ministry and the gritty, dark ’80s industrial sound to the point of actually devolving into chaotic noise at one point that had the crowd covering their ears in protest.

The second half of the album was musically much lighter, verging on dance floor hits but only in the most retro, ’80s house music influenced sense of the term. They’re danceable, which was not necessarily the case for the first half of the album. One track near the end actually samples “Strange Fruit,” putting the haunting chorus through so much vocal distortion that it’s hard to source it back and say if it’s a sample of Billie Holiday’s famous version of the song or an original concoction. The latter half of the album was presented in conjunction with a series of military airplane images in heat sensitive vision. It’s hard to say if this is meant to be a metaphor for the freedom of flying, a piece of commentary on drones and the detachment they symbolize in society as a whole or if they’re meant to literally convey the bombs West is hoping to drop with his latest album (a final piece of imagery showed bombs literally falling out of a plane and then switched to a map of them hitting their target and annihilating the landscape).

The anti-marketing idea that seems to be driving the creative behind Yeezus is an interesting idea based in the ethos of punk rock, but it seemingly becomes problematic for West to preach anti-materialism when he’s been associated to his own fashion line, a sneaker line with Nike and a has a Kardashian as his paramour. West addressed it, saying his Air Yeezy Nike line was not meant to be like Jessica Simpson or Lindsay Lohan’s delves into the fashion world. Rather, he wanted to incorporate high fashion elements into sneakers. And just as quickly as he made sense, the argument devolved into a ramble from West on how aging changes your perspective and a long list of thank-yous. West started to say a last thanks and stopped himself, saying, “Oh man, I started to thank Jesus. I’m really f***ed up.”

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