Month’s of anticipation, multiple title changes, and a few fingers, Kanye West released his latest album.
Now, I want to review this focusing on the music, we’ll dip back into the other stuff, but if we’re gonna drag Kanye through the streets like he’s Cersei Lannister, with Taylor Swift being the Shame Sister, then let’s discuss the reason, The Life of Pablo.
Named for the apostle Paul (I know, right?), Kanye’s latest album (only currently available on Tidal) is tremendous. It is an album that, start to finish, is a stunning example of excellently executed beats, stunning composition, and lastly, lyrics that resonate in your head long after you’ve heard them. The album feels like an old school Kanye album, with only a dusting of modern Kanye influence.
The album starts with the emphatically angelic track, Ultralight Beam, that doesn’t set a tone for the album, but rather a standard that no song is to drop below, which, for the most part, they never do. Standout moments include Ultralight Beam, the incredibly self pointed FML, the haunting Freestyle 4, Low Lights, and Wolves, though I would have liked to have heard Sia on the final version. The other tracks all have their moments because that’s what they are.
The interesting thing about the album is that there’s no through line. Similar to how Gaga’s Born this Way was more of a collection of Gaga singles, The Life of Pablo album exists as a collection of self contained musical moments each with their own message and with each collaborator on the album, a chance for a new perspective on that message that is given the space to fully bloom outward. Is this an issue? I guess that comes down to personal perspective but it’s another form of reinvention for Kanye, which, for the most part, he succeeds at doing.
I would love to dedicate the rest of this toto breaking each song down but I feel a breakdown doesn’t do the tracks their justice, so I feel the best thing to do would be to give the album a listen. It deserves it’s time to shine, even if it’s artist won’t let the world give it that.
“I love Kanye”…is the 9th track on Kanye’s latest album. It just so happens to also be something I’ve been saying since 2005 when I first heard a life changing album called Late Registration. Since that time I have listened to Kanye West at least once a week, even if it’s just one song. I love that Kanye takes chances with his music, never relying on what he’s good at but always redefining what he’s good at and marking that achievement with an album.
The problem with the latest album, in this case, his abrasive public persona, has bled into the one place that even Kanye’s worst detractors could never touch him, his music.
Kanye has always been able to separate his personal outbursts and his music. As if he’s that little brother you wanna kill sometimes but then he gives you some new music and you remember why you love him. However, the most problematic part of Kanye, in recent years, is the cloud of Taylor Swift. A cloud that Kanye felt the need to fly through again, just cause he could. This feud seemingly ended last year at the VMAs when Taylor, in an extremely heartfelt speech, gave Kanye the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award, an MTV equivalent of the lifetime achievement award, it seemed the two finally laid down their swords, it was. This changed the second Kanye wrote, rapped, and recorded this dagger of a lyric for all to hear:
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/I made that bitch famous.”
Is it shocking a rapper made a derogatory comment about a female public figure? No, but it’s a rare instance at this high a profile, that one artist admitted to asking permission prior to. Kanye asked Taylor’s permission to use the line, which she, obviously, refused. By Kanye refusing to respect her wishes, this became the first time of Kanye let the media spotlight, he’s so used to trolling against, bring down an album. Taylor didn’t deserve that. Not after she put her pride aside to give Kanye an award. The other thing that makes it disrespectful is that KANYE IS MARRIED! It’s disrespectful to Kim for implying that Kanye, father of her two childre, MAY have sex with another woman that isn’t her (making it the second time on the album Kanye rags on Kim this album). I know many people don’t wanna care about Kim since she’s “Just a Kardashasian” but the same outrage courtesy paid to Taylor, should be granted to Kim. I’m not a major T.Swift fan, but I am glad she stood up for herself at the Grammy’s. Taylor didn’t deserve two unnecessary outbursts at her expense.
This spotlight and album crossover is impossible to ignore. Kanye allowed the controversy to define the album before the world got to hear it and it didn’t matter when they did. Since Kanye has barely spoken about the album, he’s ranted, asked for money, and told white publications they aren’t allowed to review “black music” despite the publications giving it glowing reviews, cause really, the album is fantastic.
Kanye isn’t just being Kanye as usual, there’s something more to it. His longtime collaborator, Rhymefest, has publically stated the actor needs mental help, and honestly, I’d believe it. A breakdown at this point is not shocking considering just how far Kanye gets away with something so much of the time. Kanye has pushed so many limits and there has been no consequences other than greater success. He knows what he’s saying is insane, that’s typically the point, but when he says it, it’s all our pop culture can focus on. It’s also always, typically, timed with an album, or tour, or something to remind the world he’s not just here, but he’s HERE. Like that little brother, we are annoyed, then reminded why we care.
Kanye always tries to challenge himself. As his public persona has bled into his music, his usual desire to one up himself in his music, has manifested itself into the brash pot stirring persona, and that’s why these, usually harmless moments, are at their worst now. A musician with an abrasive persona is nothing new and it never will be. Remember, Elvis was the devil and when John Lennon once said the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus,” he was labeled public enemy #1, as if he were the Kanye West of the day. Kanye once rapped, “I found bravery in my bravado.” He found the belief in himself to go out and just create. He rose above haters by believing in himself first, unfortunately he forgot what his bravado was best used for, the music. Now he seems to be more interested in declaring the innocence of a womanizing alleged rapist than focusing on the importance of collaborating with artists like Chance the Rapper and Sia.
Kanye needs to balance his scales again, he needs to find that center of himself. We’ve seen the great that can come when he’s there (*looks at My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy*). Kanye has evolved as both a person and an artist, though his ability to never properly mourn his mother stunted the growth of him as a person while the artist came through and became too much of a comfort blanket. I believe, though, he has the ability to get the best help, but you cannot help someone if he doesn’t want it. I hope, above all, that’s the mentality that changes.
One of Kanye’s best attributes his sense of self aware, it isn’t that he doesn’t think that he’s an asshole, he openly admits that. Nothing his haters can call him is new or something he isn’t aware of. I wonder if that new sense of self aware is still there when Kanye sings, “Your love is fading and I feel it.” It feels like another life in another world where Kanye was so beloved he could insult the president to a chorus of cheers. That Kanye is still in there. You can hear because the music hasn’t suffered, it’s as well made and done as it has ever been, but still the world loves a break down.
Nine years ago the world saw one of the most beloved pop stars had a break down in front of the lens of the world. She shaved her head, made outlandish comments, her long time fans, were the harshest critics. Now she’s one of the biggest acts in Vegas, retained her place in the Pop Culture kingdom, and her fans flocked back. Kanye hasn’t lost his throne yet, but his crown is off kilter. He needs fixing before the crown and title he worked so hard to achieve, is a relic of a cautionary tale, soundtracked by 7 and half albums of stellar music.