From Shangri-la Studio here you can see the Pacific Ocean just over the fence lapping calmly at Zuma Beach. And this compound is just as Zen, with recording equipment set up in various locations, including an old bus and a spotless white house with all the mirrors removed.
But there is no rest at Shangri-la, at least for Kanye West. For several days in late May and early June, he and a rotating group of intimates, collaborators and hangers-on were holed up in service of finishing Yeezus (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), Mr. West’s sixth solo album, out Tuesday, and one that marks a turn away from his reliable maximalism to something more urgent and visceral.
The original studios were built under the supervision of Bob Dylan and the Band in the 1970s — some of The Last Waltz was filmed here — and the property was bought in 2011 by the producer Rick Rubin, the man whose brain Mr. West had come here to pick. Together, they sandpapered off the album’s rough edges, rerecording vocals and sometimes writing entire new verses. Even as the deadline loomed, Mr. West made room for an appearance at the baby shower for his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian, who’s expecting their first child. As the days passed, the songs noticeably morphed, becoming more skeletal and ferocious.
One afternoon, Mr. Rubin exited the studio and declared, to everyone and no one, “It’s un-bee-leave-able what’s happening in there.”
If by that he meant the paring-down to what Mr. West lightheartedly referred to as “aspiration minimalism,” then yes, it was somewhat unbelievable.
Mr. West has had the most sui generis hip-hop career of the last decade. No rapper has embodied hip-hop’s often contradictory impulses of narcissism and social good quite as he has, and no producer has celebrated the lush and the ornate quite as he has. He has spent most of his career in additive mode, figuring out how to make music that’s majestic and thought-provoking and grand-scaled. And he’s also widened the genre’s gates, whether for middle-class values or high-fashion and high-art dreams.
At the same time, he’s been a frequent lightning rod for controversy, a bombastic figure who can count rankling two presidents among his achievements, along with being a reliably dyspeptic presence at award shows (when he attends them).
But Mr. West is, above all, a technician, obsessed with sound, and the music of Yeezus — spare, direct and throbbing — is, effectively, a palate cleanser after years of overexertion, backing up lyrics that are among the most serrated and provocative of his career.
In a conversation that spanned several hours over three days, and is excerpted here, the Chicago-raised Mr. West, 36, was similarly forthright, both elliptical and lucid, even as long workdays led to evident fatigue. He compared the current moment — about to release “Yeezus,” and looking to make a bigger footprint in worlds outside of music — to life just before his debut album, The College Dropout, from 2004, another time when he was in untested waters. “I want to break the glass ceilings,” he said. “I’m frustrated.”