“You have distracted me from my creative process.”
It has become increasingly difficult to consume anything that Kanye West creates without taking into context who he happens to be at that moment in time. Twelve years after his debut album, The College Dropout, we’ve had to come to terms with the evolution (or devolution to some) of Kanye West as a rapper, a musician and an artist. We didn’t have to do that with his first three albums; as critically acclaimed as they were, I saw them as more comedic than something that needed to be taken so seriously. His boisterous lines were humorous and memorable but they didn’t carry the baggage that would come to follow with his subsequent albums.
Once 808s and Heartbreaks dropped in 2008, it was clear that we were in uncharted waters and Kanye was our fateful captain taking us on whatever journey his emotions had planned for us. He became more vocal with each passing day and the things he said made me wonder why he was still my favorite rapper. It had become so hard to dissociate my feelings about him personally from how I felt about his music. So it was easy for me to give Yeezus one listen and banish it to the depths of my recycle bin because I couldn’t reconcile myself with the fact that this fool was out here saying “I am a God” and people were eating it up. It made the album sound like nails on a chalkboard. I couldn’t do it, and I was so turned off by that album that I haven’t felt the same about Kanye Kardashian West since 2013.
In that same breath, it was hard to ignore the amount of people who thought Yeezus was high quality music. So maybe I was the one that didn’t get it. At the end of the day, I had to realize again that music is subjective. Just cause I didn’t like it didn’t mean that I couldn’t appreciate Kanye’s drive to keep pushing the envelope and his dogged determination that the world view him as an artist. It shows in his confidence and the way he talks about his music and his fashion. He truly believes that he’s a genius and he’s determined to show us that he is.
Where he falters is that he wants us to worship at the altar of Kanye and to admire his work with the reverence that he believes it deserves. Which led to the procession of “Twitter Finger” moments we have had over the last few months from him declaring Swish or Waves or whatever album name it had at the time “the album of life!” We were given a first-row seat into Kanye’s creative process and what a process it was. Whether you enjoyed it or not, you can’t say that it wasn’t entertaining, however, with all the hype that had built up over it in the last two months, it was safe to question if his new album, The Life of Pablo (yes, this is the final name) would be worth the hype.
Considering the rants that came before the album’s release, I know it was hard for me to listen to it with an open mind without being clouded by Kanye’s antics. But hateration be damned, Kanye West has got himself a banger. I can’t remember the last album I had on repeat this shamelessly. Sonically, it sounds amazing, as Mr. West shows us that he’s still a mastermind when it comes to sampling. His ability to take beats from obscure tracks and give them new purpose and life is damn near unrivaled. We’ve seen this before with tracks like “Through The Fire” or “Stronger” and he gives it to us again on this album with tracks like “Real Friends,” “Famous” and my personal favorite “30 Hours. The sound on this album is simply stellar and evokes emotion whether you want it to or not.
Going through the album from start to finish, I wondered what Kanye West wanted us to glean from this listening experience. How many opening tracks do you know that come harder than “Ultralight Beams”? ‘Cause I don’t know many. This song alone shows Kanye’s mastery of his creative world and sets the tone for the rest of the album and it rides off that wave until it hits 9th track “Freestyle 4”.
“Waves” takes you into the next stage of the album which all comes to an end with “30 Hours” for me. “No More Parties in LA” and “Facts” were the singles that came out before the album’s release and it’s hard for me to see where they fit exactly in tone with the rest of the album. However, “Facts” sounds so much better in the context of the album as opposed to just hearing it as a random single that dropped on New Year’s Eve 2016. Typically, rappers’albums don’t sound as solid when they are chock-full of feature acts. Just ask Jayceon. But Kanye showed on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and now The Life of Pablo that his world is his world. He just invites people over in the middle of the night on a Sunday to come play their part. And these features come together perfectly from Kirk Franklin and Mary J. Blidge on the first track, to Rihanna sounding immortal on “Famous.” Kanye made me realize I didn’t know how much I missed Swizz Beats ad-libs. Everyone felt like they belonged on this album; even Young Thug whose music I detest.
Thematically, I’m not quite there yet but what I can say, for me, is that this is the realest Kanye that I feel we’ve gotten since 808s. Something about this record feels so genuine, even though he clearly tries to hide his insecurities behind the braggadocio and misogyny. I mean (as dope as that line was), dude did you really have to call Taylor a bitch? Grow up. And that truly might be something that he’s trying to do on this album as he opens himself up on tracks like “Real Friends,” “Father Stretch My Hands,” “Wolves” and “Pt. 2”.
If I didn’t know any better, it wouldn’t be too much of a shock if Kanye came out and said this was his last album. This one had something that was fair the other albums in his discography don’t have, which is elements of all his previous works. You can hear everything from College Dropout to Yeezus on it whether through his style of rap on the track or the samples he layered the track with. It feels like 808s on “FML” and like “MBDTF” on “Highlights” and “Ultralight Beams”. It’s all over the place but it still comes together as one because at the end of the day, the denominator for this equation is still Kanye West.
- The best verse on the album belongs to Chance The Rapper on “Ultralight Beams.”
- Followed by Kendrick Lamar on “No More Parties in L.A.” I mean Kanye had great verses but he really got washed on his album by those two features.
- Kanye really is able to bring out the best of his guest artists. Even 3-Stacks repeating his one line on “30 Hours” comes off as so ethereal and you can tell the track wouldn’t be the same without it.
- When are we going to have a discussion about Kanye West and the way he talks about women on his track. Cause I mean. Just cause you’re a rapper doesn’t mean you have to insert “bitch” into everything.