4. Yeezus (2013)
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Producers: Ackeejuice Rockers, Arca, Daft Punk, Mike Dean, Gesaffelstein, The Heatmakerz, Hudson Mohawke, No I.D., Rick Rubin, RZA, Travis Scott, Symbolyc One, TNGHT, Kanye West, Young Chop
Features: Chief Keef, Justin Vernon, Kid Cudi, King L
Yeezus might not go down as Kanye West's most popular album—if anything, it seems explicitly designed to alienate all kinds of fans, some of whom have run this week to J. Cole's more traditional (read: inspired by The College Dropout) approach to hip-hop, or Mac Miller's streamlined product of the dorm room canon. Rap has changed a lot since Kanye first broke out of the gate as a solo artist nearly a decade ago; back then, no major hip-hop artist would make an album about the humble beginnings of a College Dropout, and make his struggle to break into the music industry the central drama of his album. Today, those everyman stories are commonplace, so of course Kanye's taking a different tack. Where he began his career desperate for approval, he's now seemingly looking to piss fans off. No one at his level of success would think of releasing a record as confrontational and divisive as Yeezus. These days, the rappers we celebrate are successful by consensus. Kanye breaks the mold of what rap today sounds like, intending to provoke rather than soothe. The album also shows just how much he's mastered the art of bridging—or in this case, aggravating—the underlying seams of conflict between his audiences.
As time unfolds, this record will be accepted as one of his best records; despite its flawed, grotesque structure, its abrasive, brusque mood, and its unrepentant anger, there is something substantial here. It is a wholly unique album that seems to take up physical space. It won't be what you spend your summer hearing at the club (although "Send It Up" has a shot) and it isn't—thankfully—the righteous political rage many expected on the release of "New Slaves." But his lyrics will sustain, even the corny ones. Sure to be a favorite of critics ("abrasive" is critical manna, word to Death Grips), in the real world, Yeezus will divide his audience. But everyone will remember it. —David Drake