Separating an artist from his or her art is an age-old struggle. For this generation, Kanye West presents a Faustian dilemma. How can someone enjoy the music crafted by such an individual? From his baseball-park proposal to media feuds, West’s megalomania has long cast him as a caricature. He makes headlines even when he’s not trying, canceling dates on his current tour because stage gear was damaged in an automobile accident. (Why was the merch van—stocked with shirts bearing the Confederate flag—spared?)
But goddamn it if Yeezus isn’t one of 2013’s finest records, and a testament to West’s continued genius. The industrial-tinged arrangements are relentless and pounding. These aren’t his best verses, but his paranoia has reached thrillingly Orwellian heights. If “I Am a God” stirs controversy (the Almighty is credited on the song), the cut is followed by an equally eyebrow-raising proposition: “New Slaves.” Even as West gives the Hegelian master-slave dialectic a ribald poke—“I’d rather be a dick than a swallower”—he’s really taking shots at music execs. The schizophrenic switch at the end features Frank Ocean singing over a sample of Hungarian rock group Omega. It’s as astounding as West’s continued relevance.—Colin St. John.