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Leor Galil: So it's been a few days since Yeezus leaked—what did you think of it during your first listen?
Miles Raymer: Initially I was all shock and awe. There's nothing that sounds even sort of like it in hip-hop, or in pop music in general, right now. It felt like I was somehow hearing a record from five years into the future.
LG: Same here—I was pretty floored when I first heard it. The intro to "On Sight" still throws me off and I've listened to it more than half a dozen times at this point. How have your opinions developed beyond that initial reaction throughout the weekend?
MR: Yeah, at this point I'm not even sure how many times I've listened through it, but it's definitely a bunch. I think it takes a few spins to be able to listen past all of its noise and aggression to hear how deeply emotional the record is. Obviously there's a lot of anger and outrage throughout it, but there are also these really heartbreakingly gorgeous unguarded moments. I spent a long train ride yesterday with "Hold My Liquor" on repeat and I had a couple of moments during Keef's second chorus where the epic Daft Punk guitar solo comes in where I just about lost it.
LG: "Hold My Liquor" is one of my favorites—according to my iTunes I've played it the most, but that also doesn't count the number of times I've hijacked friends' computers to play it off YouTube during the weekend. That and "Blood on the Leaves" continue to play in my head even when I (try to) listen to anything else—to me they really exemplify Kanye's desire to make an "antipop" album and highlight the strongest parts of the album. They're equal parts angry and mournful, and even though the lyrics come across as particularly scatterbrained Ye delivers them in a way that's really mesmerizing and blends well with each track. A lot of the early reactions to/reviews of Yeezus tend to discuss his lyrics and music separately, but it's hard to not talk about the symbiotic relationship between Kanye's words and music, especially on those two tracks.
MR: I think there's definitely something very raw and off the cuff about his lyrics on this record in particular. Rick Rubin mentioned something about how Kanye wrote the lyrics to a handful of songs in the span of just a couple of hours, and I think it shows, not in a bad way but more of a "first thought, best thought" way that feels so immediate. "Blood on the Leaves" was the track that stunned me the most on the first listen. The sample of Nina Simone's "Strange Fruit" was audacious but I think it's super effective. I've seen some critics complain about repurposing one of the most important pieces of art about America's history of violence towards black people for a song about a man who can't manage to juggle a girlfriend and a mistress, but I think it works in its own way. To me it reinforces a theme that underlies the entire album, which is that black men in America—even highly successful black men like Kanye West—live in an environment that bears the influence of historical institutionalized racism in a way that most white people aren't willing to acknowledge. Even when he's complaining about his (possibly fictionalized) romantic life there's still the specter of racism hanging out in the corner.
LG: Exactly—there's something about Yeezus that sounds both familiar and alien. What I love about "Blood on the Leaves" is that Kanye sounds like someone lost in his own world, like he's someone who can't possibly feel comfortable at home despite (or at times because of) how well he's done for himself—there's always something making it difficult to feel at home. Even though he doesn't bluntly address racism like he does on "New Slaves" or "Black Skinhead," "Blood on the Leaves" creates this environment of someone who doesn't feel comfortable even surrounded by comfort. The way the "Strange Fruit" sample is matched with the beat from C-Murder's "Down for My Niggas" sounds so unusual and overpowering. When the drums kick in it sounds like RP Boo's flip of the horn sample from "Simon Says" on "11-47-99"; it's unstable, overpowering, and slightly out of sync, even if it's a little easier on the ears than Boo's footwork track.
MR: Number four on my list of things that I love about "Blood on the Leaves" is that it has people talking about C-Murder again.
LG: When was the last time you heard anyone talk about C-Murder?
MR: Sometime in the late 90s, probably.
LG: Kanye really does have the power to take artists who have a small audience or haven't been "relevant" in some time and make them ubiquitous—which backs up his statement from that New York Times interview that he's the nucleus of culture. That said, Kanye brought in a relatively small number of collaborators for Yeezus (at least, in comparison to his last album). Who do you think will benefit the most from being on Yeezus?
MR: Louie for sure. Being the only guest rapper on Yeezus who gets an entire verse is a massive look. And his performance is so subtle and nonchalant that he comes off like a bigger star than he is. And considering that barely anyone buying Yeezus knows who he is, that's probably going to give him a huge boost.
LG: I'm hoping it'll provide whatever push is necessary in getting his major label debut out there. "Send It Up" is a monster track, and probably the one track with the most potential to get club play.
MR: I agree. So what are the odds that by the end of the year there's going to be a lot more rap music that sounds like industrial music getting played in clubs?
LG: It's pretty high, but I'm not sure who besides Kanye would pull it off in a way that it'd have club appeal. Maybe if Nacho Picasso, Key Nyata, or someone else in that part of Seattle's scene tries it it'll work. I'll be interested to see if anyone in Chicago is able to pull off bringing industrial elements into their sound.
MR: I'm definitely looking forward to hearing people try.
LG: What else do you hope people will be inspired to try after listening to Yeezus?
MR: If more artists aim for noisy, angry minimalism hip-hop might finally have its own equivalent to punk, which I can only see being a good thing.
LG: Seriously—I'd love for more rappers to try the kind of screaming and yelling that Kanye does on this album. Plenty of singers have made screaming sound beautiful, but Kanye makes it sound really raw and challenging. An old classmate recently talked about how he didn't like Kanye's SNL performance because he was yelling, and my response was something like "exactly!" When he talked about recording in a flat in Paris in that New York Times interview it reminded me of how people describe Burzum's recording style—as raw, ragged, fierce, and angry as possible.
MR: Kanye West: the black power Burzum.