Kanye West‘s Yeezus and Justin Timberlake‘s The 20/20 Experience were two of the most hyped-up releases in recent memory. Unlike the equally hyped Random Access Memories from Daft Punk, these projects came from two acts who shaped pop music in the aughts in real time. Sonically, the albums are complete opposites. Thematically, they’re diametrically opposed: when Kanye said he “ain’t fuckin’ with that ‘Suit & Tie,’” he didn’t just mean the song, he meant the entire worldview it represented. In fact, they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum in just about every way possible (one was years in the making, the other was thrown together in a hectic flurry of creativity; one was heavily promoted, the other had no singles and no artwork; etc.).
But! Yeezus and 20/20 actually have a host of commonalities and parallels — beginning with the fact that neither album really fit with what people were expecting to hear from the two stars. Below, we have 12 other similarities between the two albums, illustrating how they sort of underwent an analogous evolution, using similar conceptions and goals to land on different, but related, material. Or, you could just imagine them as bizarro twins, if that’s easier.
1. Both albums directly confront the EDM-ification of pop.
Kanye decided to beat electro at its own game: he stripped away the tropes (like bass drops) and amplified everything. The synths are super-twitchy, the clubby sirens portend doom, the empty spaces swallow up the listener, all for a visceral, enveloping experience that sounds nothing like dubstep. Timberlake, on the other hand, chose to separate himself from the elecbro movement by ignoring it altogether and staying above the fray. He decided to mine immaculate soul sounds, and when he did resort to synthetic sonics, he relied on intricately layered arrangements rather than bombastic “moments.”
2. Both albums were made while the artist was in love.
Timberlake’s “I’m ready” announcement came shortly after his marriage to Jessica Biel. The subsequent album sounds the way a wedding album feels: joyous, timeless and, ultimately, heavily orchestrated and contained. Yeezus, of course, was created when West found himself in love with Kim Kardashian, and on the verge of having his first child with her. But instead of a billowy love letter, the resultant album feels like the last thrashes of a wild man who’s obsessed with work, before he moves on to focus on family life.
3. A veteran producer provided invaluable contributions to each album.
From what Rick Rubin and West have said in interviews, Yeezus was an absolute mess before Rubin was added on as co-executive producer, a role that found him whittling the album down to a cohesive blast. As for 20/20, it’s no surprise that the only tracks without production from Timbaland are the two bonus tracks. His fingerprints show up on every song — from the bhangra-style chanting on “Don’t Hold The Wall” to the jittery “Tunnel Vision.” Few producers can make such a huge album sound so crisp and economical.
4. Both albums succeed despite plenty of clunky lyrics.
The music is so good on both LPs that you’re willing to forgive or overlook any face-palm moments. For instance, Justin’s got the “Suit & Tie” dud, “So thick, now I know why they call it a fatty.” Not to mention the entirety of “Spaceship Coupe.” Kanye, for his part, has the closing stretch on “I’m In It”: “I’m a rap-lic priest / Getting head by the nuns…They be balling in the D-League / I be speaking Swaghili.” Not to mention the sweet-and-sour sauce line.
5. Both feature female orgasm noises and screwed down voices.
“Suit & Tie” has the trappy vocals, “Spaceship Coupe” has the woman cooing in ecstasy in the background. Kanye’s “I’m In It” has over-the-top examples of both.
7. Both end on an outlier.
Yeezus closes with “Bound 2,” an overt throwback to Yeezy’s old self, as if to prove he can still do the chipmunk-soul thing in his sleep. 20/20, interestingly, ends on “Blue Ocean Floor,” a hazy whisper that seems to have JT proving he can do the murky R&B thing just as well as the rest of the pack. Because, remember, he helped usher in that sound with “My Love.”
8. Both are (maybe) the first half of a sequel.
We already know 20/20 is the first of two Timberlake albums this year. As for Yeezus, Rick Rubin hinted that there’s a whole batch of other songs from the album sessions that could see the light of day at a later date.
9. The keystone tracks on both LPs are heavily indebted to someone else’s music.
JT’s lead single “Suit & Tie” borrows heavily from Sly, Slick and Wicked‘s “Sho’ Nuff.” Meanwhile, “Blood On The Leaves” is built on TNGHT‘s enormous “R U Ready” beat. For both songs, the artist took someone else’s arrangements and molded and warped them to encapsulate the overall vision of his own respective album.
10. Both flaunt unpredictable mid-song transitions on nearly every track.
These projects wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without their structural risks. By my count, Ye throws curveballs with the “New Slaves” outro, the Charlie Wilson hook on “Bound 2,” the “I Am A God” shrieks, “I’m In It”‘s moombahton hollering…OK I lost count. Then you have the sequenced bursts on “Suit & Tie,” the “Mirrors” and “Wall” codas, the bookends to “Strawberry Bubblegum,” etc. The expertly crafted rhythmic and melodic jump cuts make for unpredictable listens in an era where it’s harder to catch listeners off guard.
11. Neither can be fully appreciated if you listen to them through laptop speakers.
20/20 was made to make your speakers sound like expensive pieces of hi-fi engineering, and Yeezus aims to make your speakers strain and split. But both are best enjoyed at a high volume, and if you’re listening on some brittle computer speakers or your phone’s speaker function, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
12. Both albums debuted at No. 1.
Timberlake’s comeback album opened with 968,000 sales — the best debut of 2013. West tallied 327,000, good enough for the top spot during his debut week, and the third overall ranking of the year, behind Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.
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