Review: New Kanye album samples 1939 song about lynching



This CD cover image released by Def Jam Recordings shows “Yeezus,” the latest release by Kanye West. (AP Photo/Def Jam Recordings)


Last week Kanye West released his latest album “Yeezus” to overwhelmingly positive reviews. The trim, 10 song album packs a lot into 40 minutes with the help of electronic music duo Daft Punk and Justin Vernon from indie folk band Bon Iver.

With songs like “New Slaves” and lyrics like “they see a Black man with a White woman/And at the top floor they gon’ come to kill King Kong,” this is one of West’s more socially conscious albums. It also touches on issues within the Black community including unbridled Black consumerism.

“I think it’s more blatantly socially conscious, but overall Kanye has always been one of the pop artists who’s music has always been socially conscious or has at least had those undertones. Its just more direct with this album,” said Brian Tolbert, owner-operator of Frequently Fly Clothing, and founder and co-owner of Jenesis Magazine, an urban lifestyle magazine.

West’s lyrics are juxtaposed with industrial grind and the artist’s own screams sounding like the cries of a wounded animal. However, despite the album’s erratic and seemingly schizophrenic sound, West received praise from music critics for his masterful ability to bend samples to his will.

Among the numerous samples on the album is “Strange Fruit” a song about Jim Crow era lynching by Billie Holliday. The sample, used on West’s auto-tune heavy “Blood on the Leaves,” is performed by Nina Simone whose haunting melody creates a pall over West’s lyrics.

While the song’s inclusion could be deemed appropriate in light of the more socially conscious nature of West’s seventh album, the song’s lyrics center around failed relationships and alimony payments, topics that don’t immediately jive with Holliday’s somber tome.

“Well obviously the Billie Holiday song (Strange Fruit) is such an iconic song, however I don’t think most of those in our generation or younger are aware of the historical significance of the song,” Tolbert said. “I love ‘Blood on the Leaves,’ but I completely separate the song from ‘Strange Fruit’ in terms of relating the two other than the fact that he sampled the song. I don’t see much of a correlation between the two outside of that. I could be wrong though since I’m still digesting the album.”

There’s certainly a lot to digest in West’s latest endeavor and it appears the public agrees. “Yeezus” is projected to sell up to 380,000 copies in its first week.


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