Even with all the shit Kanye does, even though he’s an arrogant asshole, I’ve still always been a fan. Since day one with The College Dropout he’s produced some of the greatest hip-hop albums of the 2000s. Continuously, he reinvents himself as a musician, and besides 808s & Heartbreaks, it’s been gold every single time.
His first three albums, The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation, revitalized the whole scene of hip-hop; especially in a time when the genre was quickly turning into a lackluster, billboard-driven form of music. A few years following that, Kanye made arguably the best album of my generation in My Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was a huge moment for both hip-hop and Kanye West. It was, what I think, the catalyst to what Kanye West has turned into; a self-proclaimed demi-god known as Yeezus. No longer was he spitting verses about growing up in Chicago, sharing his story on striving for the good life, but instead rapping about his spot on the hip-hop throne, as if the crown was hanging off the side of his head like Biggie.
Everything since then is history. Taylor Swift, the Kardashian’s and the daily shit he says and does for the past few years, has just been the rise (or fall, depending on who you ask) of Mr. Kanye West.
The Life of Pablo
Now, on his 8th full-length release, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo (TLOP), formerly known as So Help me God or SWISH or Waves, is an album which I believe is exactly on point to where he is both musically and culturally. Full of ego, high moments and low moments, it just feels like a natural progression to Kanye’s one-of-a-kind artistic and cultural journey.
Tracks like Ultralight Beam, Wolves, FML and the first half of 30 hours, blew me away, yet at the same time, when I listen to Feedback, Fade and the second half of 30 hours, that high comes crashing down and the thoughts of “seriously, Kanye?!” start rolling in. Then, dragging you back in, the production behind a lot of these tracks are so on point; some of the best and standout work I’ve heard as of recent. However, to contrast this again, Kanye throws out verses that are completely ridiculous. Though, there are some tracks that do have some great lyrics, and some tracks that have some questionably sloppy moments in production.
See this internal debate? Yeah, that’s my experience with TLOP, and probably the experience for most Kanye West listeners.
Yet, after giving the album a few full-listens, and letting the experiences from both the highs and lows sink in, I realized that there was something uniquely different about this collection of tracks. It was a turbulent collection, all over the map and without a true execution in direct message or cohesive unity. Yet, still, it all somehow made sense.
It’s almost as if the news and media around Kanye West was the prequel to TLOP. Knowing Kanye, understanding what he does, who he thinks he his, who he wants to be and who we as an audience view him as, all help to make sense of this album. It’s an album right on the intersection of pop culture, tabloid news and artistic expression. It feels like an attempt from Kanye West, which I believe worked, to make a hybrid album between both the great music Kanye can create and the insanity around his character and fame.
Alongside everything else Kanye does, TLOP probably leaves a lot of people questioning whether he’s a genius, washed-up or neither. I’ve grown to believe that this is his goal as an artist–the embodiment of what it means to be ‘polarizing’, someone that no one can figure out, yet nonetheless, has a huge impact on culture and society.
Is this Kanye’s best work? No. Yet, it shows that he still has the ability to create top-of-the-line, innovative hip-hop. The only thing that gets in his way, or in this case, diverts attention and artistic purpose, is his blaring personality and unique cultural presence in all of the white noise outside of music, which pops its head all throughout TLOP.