What We Learned About Yeezus From Kanye West’s Listening Party

June 11, 2013

Last night in the street-level loading dock for New York's Milk Studios, Kanye West presided over an "instantaneously" put-together listening of his upcoming album, Yeezus, just seven days ahead of its June 18th release. Here's what we learned about the project, which Kanye and a bunch of other producers worked on "really collectively, collaboratively":

Yeezus is "for the people"

Echoing his speech at Governor's Ball, Kanye said the album was made for listeners and not for radio. "This is just the beginning of an entirely new mentality of how to make music. The record's for the people… It's about delivering some shit for y'all to go to work to, ride to, listen to when y'all working out. Whatever y'all doing, to provide a soundtrack for this shit. We're gonna keep doing this shit over and over, making shit for my core, my cut.

Yeezus is Kanye West's "god name"

"Simply put, West was my slave name and Yeezus is my god name," he said.

Arca, Daft Punk, Mike Dean, Travis Scott and Hudson Mohawke worked on Yeezus

And probably some other producers that Kanye "forgot," too. Awesomely, his announcement of Arca, who we profiled last year, drew the biggest applause from the New York crowd. The album also samples TNGHT's "Higher Ground" and Young Chop's production for Pusha-T, "Blocka."

Kanye's minimalism is inspired by Rick Rubin, the album's "executive producer"

West explained:
Last but not least that came and helped bring this whole shit together, that executive produced the album with me and the family, is Rick Rubin. Coming in and like finishing up the whole shit for us. Which is legendary because everything we did on this project, everything I did, like when we released [Pusha-T's] "Numbers on the Board,” from the video, to the no artwork, to the style of the song and everything, I was like, What would Rick Rubin do? What was his Def Jam shit that they would be doing? Because I remember Rick even saying, he said, "When we did Def Jam we really wasn’t feeling like we was in competition with nobody body because our shit was so direct." Where we at right now? We in the middle of the city right now, open to the muthafuckin streets and nobody is shuttin down shit while we making real music. It was good for me to go to the god Rick Rubin and play him my shit, ask him questions and allow him to take this project to an entirely new level. He made a lot of great decisions at the end.

There are a bunch of collaborators, but not many guest rappers

Chief Keef and Justin Vernon sing on "Hold My Liquor." Another Chicago rapper, King Louie, appears on a song West called "Send It Up." Charlie Wilson, who, like Vernon, appeared on My Dark Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, sings on the album's final track, which is probably called "Bound." Frank Ocean sings an outro that follows "New Slaves." The album's eighth, as-yet-untitled track features chopped-up Popcaan vocals, lifted from Pusha-T's "Blocka." That track also features a singer that may be Kid Cudi.

There are only seven black billionaires in the world

Or so West claimed during his intro speech. "We've been squashed by the concept of opportunity," he said.

Jay-Z's favorite Yeezus track samples Billie Holliday

Standing at West's side, Jay-Z asked for a track that sampled Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" (it may be called "Could've Been Somebody") to be wound black and played again. A multi-part epic and crowd favorite, the song also features lyrics borrowed from C-Murder's 2000 single, "Down 4 My Niggaz."

Kanye doesn't love YouTube

The decision to not release a lead single for the album, West said, was motivated by YouTube, which prompts users to watch other videos at the end of a video or audio stream. "I don't wanna be in the context," he said. He said that asking people to listen to other music after listening to his was like Louis Vuitton selling another brand's cheap goods in one of their boutiques.

It's not really a rap album

Before lamenting that he didn't listen to Joy Division growing up, West said, "I'm really new wave. I'm not really soul." Billboard's Reggie Ugwu wrote:

But it's not exactly punk either, despite what many are saying

West's intro speech highlighted his connections to black "pioneers" of the last generation, but Kanye spent the more time talking about his rollout strategy and the Yeezy sneakers he designs. Talking about how he's learned to make a "better sneaker" than Lanvin's for just $300, he didn't sound so much anti-establishment as he did a guy from a start up, bragging about smartly "disrupting" an industry. Smart ideas and business strategies don't necessarily challenge the status quo, though—consider these words from the New York Times' Evgeny Morozov's recent essay on Silicon Valley innovators: "Revolutionary in theory, they are often reactionary in practice."

"Awesome" did not make the album

The synthetic ballad presumably written for Kim Kardashian which Kanye played at this year's Met Gala is not on Yeezus.

Yeezus is not a love letter for Kim Kardashian

She asked me what I want on my wish list/ Do you ever ask your bitch for other bitches, he raps on the album's gorgeous last song, which samples the Ponderosa Twins Plus One's 1971 song "Bound." It's a bit like the album's "Family Business."

Chief Keef and Justin Vernon's song barely made the cut

West said last night that he'd originally included nine tracks on the album. But his friends and collaborators liked "Hold My Liquor," a song which features both Justin Vernon and Chief Keef, so it became a late tenth addition. "Liquor" is placed at the album's middle, after "New Slaves" and before a dark sex song which samples Shabba Ranks.

Kanye loves Yeezus

As many in last night's crowd noted on Twitter, Kanye's energy was high through the event. Eventually, after an hour of grinning and dancing, he hopped on the mic to rap for a thinning crowd.

What We Learned About Yeezus From Kanye West’s Listening Party