Poetry is something like prose accelerated. Poetry takes words and transmutes them into alphabetic bombs of effect and meaning. That great philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, wasn’t really a philosopher; he was a poet who took seriously this poetry as hyper-language idea. Nietzsche writes, “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a whole book.” And states further in his autobiography: “Before me one did not know what can be done with the German language – what can be done with language as such.”
That’s what poets do: They compress everything into a few killer lines, and that’s what Kanye West’s new album, Yeezus, does too. Here are just a few of those lyrics (with my annotations).
1. ON HEARTBREAK
Can you think of a more pithy explanation of what happens when people fall out of love?
2. ON RACE RELATIONS
The oppression of African Americans has been channeled into Kanye, that is, Yeezus, the God of the 2010s, and Kanye is so powerful that even seemingly racist people are awed by his supernatural abilities. Further, as implied by the songs’ title “Black Skinhead” and other references in the rap, Kanye is more Malcolm X than Martin Luther King and he’s a vengeful God:
3. ON HOW TO LIVE LIFE RIGHT
There is only way to live life right and that’s on high alert. Always take it too far. Push it to the extreme or die trying.
4. ON HETERONORMATIVE RELATIONSHIPS
The Corrections, I couldn’t read that book if my life depended on it. It might be a “good” novel or it might be a “bad” novel, but something has happened to my imagination, which can no longer yield to the earnest embrace of novelistic form. I need something more pithy, more oral and real than letters on a page where the source material is the imagination of some old man sitting alone on a computer. I need Kanye screaming. I need Kanye just telling me how it is and how it isn’t, and that’s what Kanye does in this line. Want to understand the life of the heteronormative male? He wants his bitch to let him have other bitches. When this does not happen, life becomes depressing. And it’s worth noting, Kanye’s bitch does not allow him to have another bitch in the song this lyric is pulled from, and from other songs by Kanye dealing with threesomes. Guess Kanye is Kim’s bitch, maybe. JK.
5. ON DOMINATION
Basically it means: suck it.
6. ON INEQUALITY
In Kanye’s world, there is the 99.9% and the 0.1%. Kanye is the 99.9%. Everyone else is the 0.1% and he dosen’t give a shit about you.
7. ON LINGUISTICS
Grammar is one of the most conservative forces in the world. Scientists have long known that variations of English used in “lower class urban areas” is a completely logical grammar – it’s just different than the one being taught in schools. Kanye encompasses all of that research in one line, really just one Portmanteau – “Swaghili.” Screw so-called regular English, Kanye’s tongue is the tongue of real power and swag and it’s origin is Kenya and Tanzania.
8. ON THE EXISTENTIAL INADEQUACIES OF MODERN CAPITALISM
Kanye, like Kierkegaard, has realized the limits of the material and aesthetic dimensions of reality. There’s more to life.
9. WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK
Remember when Steve Jobs told off some Gawker writer off by stating: “What have you done that’s so great? Do you create anything, or just criticize others work and belittle their motivations?” This is Kanye’s way of saying that to everyone. It’s particularly poetic because he doesn’t even have to use language to explain it. You just know what – “let me show you right now” – means when Kanye is rapping it.