Kanye West hit Saturday Night Live last night (May 18) with the force of a bomb, performing two songs from his forthcoming album Yeezus with the sort of aplomb and production value that the show hasn’t felt since … well, probably the last time West visited. This is the same man who debuted “New Slaves” by projecting his own rapping face on 66 buildings around the world Friday evening, so it’s not that we’re surprised, but still … Yeezus, that was good.
Above you’ll find “Black Skinhead,” an SNL premiere that handily documents Ye’s dynamic transition from rap champ to rock star. Host Ben Affleck introduces the song with an almost comical level of deference and weight, but then those dogs start barking, the intense and the — ahem — Death-ly noise Grips us, and the beat transitions into a massive stadium thump that brings to mind Marilyn Manson’s “Beautiful People.” If it’s an intentional nod, it’s a good one. Manson took the rah-rah sound of Monday Night Football and turned it into an implement of terror. West similarly invades the familiar and distorts it in his own image. He screams about “living in the moment” and confesses, “I’m doing 400 / I’m out of control.” Like, duh.
And below we witness “New Slaves” in all its glory. Hudson Mohawke’s touch is very evident on the minimal work, which also owes a lot to the über-aggressive noise-rap of a certain group from Sacramento we’ve already ahem’d. Deep distorted bass swells reign alongside rich synth tones while West lays out the stuff of a dozen essays on the contemporary intersections of race, politics, consumerism, and economics. Instead of swearing, he growls through the banned-from-TV words while staring dead-eyed at the camera. Who’s that singing toward the end? Frank Ocean’s mother eluded to it being her ORANGE-channeling son on Twitter: “What’d you think about the new Kanye video? Recognize voice at the end?…”
In both clips the camera work is dramatic and crisp. The visuals are beautiful and on point. The band thrashes, and Yeezy owns his soap box like Gil Scott Heron reading Malcolm X. Awesome and terrifying.