Written by @wriceisnice
Let me start off by answering your first question.
Yes, I enjoyed Kanye West’s latest album, The Life of Pablo (TLOP). If that is all you came here for, I suggest you stop reading right now because I am about to really sink my teeth into this one. I have always been a fan of Kanye’s music, despite his antics and the criticism by my peers. All last summer I debated writing him a letter asking him to take me on as an apprentice (still doesn’t seem like a bad idea).
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, this review is going to be lengthy. I could, like other reviewers compare TLOP to Kanye’s previous work and then state the obvious. Lyrically, musically, stylistically and the delivery of TLOP is far removed from his first album The College Dropout. That’s a simple and easy review. I could poke fun at what he has presented to the world, making snide remarks about it, laughing at his twitter rants, but I’m not going to do that.
When you put an artist’s early work against their latest work and try to compare the two, you are doing a disservice to that person. People grow and evolve, the world around them does the same. The ideas of 90’s set up the stage for the emerging trends of the past 15 years. You cannot give a fair comparison because things we use now did not exist back then. Art reflects the changing of these ideas over time. This brings me to my Review (if you want to call it that). Instead of saying, “What happened to the ‘All Falls Down’ and Diamonds from Sierra Leone’ Kanye,” I’d rather travel back in time and observe Kanye’s creative evolution.
The College Dropout (2004)
On October 23, 2002 Kanye crashed his BMW near the W Hotel in West Hollywood. Before the crash he was one of the hottest producers out having blessed the world with beats for Beanie Sigel’s ‘The Truth’ and Jay-Z’s ‘Izzo (H.O.V.A)’. The crash caused Kanye’s mouth to be wired shut for six weeks. We don’t need to speculate about what Kanye might have been thinking after waking up from this accident because we can just listen to his first single ‘Through the Wire’.
I was a freshman in college when The College Dropout was released. You could hear the ambition and determination in his delivery, rapping the whole song with his mouth wired shut. I can’t speak for other people when it comes to their first impression of Kanye, but for me, Kanye was the type of artist I had been waiting for. When I heard ‘Jesus Walks’ I couldn’t help but be fascinated. The album catapulted him into the limelight. The thing about him was, he was different but at the same time, he found a way to fit in. In an MTV interview circa 2002 Kanye says:
“I expanded the music I was doing. I was doing very creative stuff, but then I’d be giving Hov and Bleek and Beanie all these gutta beats that people really liked, so it’s like, why not just rap over the beats that people like? You know what I’m saying, and still say what I’m talking about.”
The album had beats inspired by old soul records, he had catchy hooks and samples that got stuck in your head and what set him apart was his vulnerability packaged cleverly inside his lyrics. “We all self-conscious/I’m just the first to admit it.” In that same interview, he talks about the content of his music:
“People feel like if you an artist, um, you can only rap about this one subject, you have to stand for this specifically. I’m a stand for everything I’ve seen in my life, and I’m a try to express that to y’all the best I can.”
From this interview leading up to The College Dropout and from the album itself we have learned a few things about a young Kanye West. He was always confident and had a depth of knowledge far beyond what you are formally taught in our schools. Since the age of about 14, he knew that he’d be one of the hottest artists to ever grace this planet. We also learned that he has always been a little eccentric with his music style, at one point in the interview he admits that people kept telling him he was trying to be “too different”. Eventually, he toned down his eccentricity to be able to present the world with music they like while still getting his message across.
“What if somebody from the Chi that was ill got a deal on the hottest rap label around
But he wasn’t talking bout coke and birds it was more like spoken word
Except he’s really putting it down
And he explained the story about how blacks came from glory
And what we need to do in the game
Good dude, bad night, right place, wrong time
In the blink of an eye his whole life changed”
-Through The Wire
Late Registration (2005)
10 Grammy nominations later, we are listening to Kanye and waiting for his next song/album to drop. Diamond’s from Sierra Leone hits the eardrums and you immediately think, this man is on fire. There was nothing intrinsically different between Late Registration and The College Dropout other than the year they were released but Kanye built on what he was already doing. To the public eye, this is stuff we have never heard before. Kanye, in an interview with Sway, admits that the first verse for “Gold Digger” was written right after his accident. While the majority of his first album was produced by himself, on this one most of the songs are co-produced. We still get the Kanye that has been dubbed a lyrical genius. His flow gets harder and his music more impressive. Like his rookie album, this one will go triple platinum selling over 3.5 million copies. It is structured as what we would now consider a classic Kanye album. The narrative has not changed.
One of my favorite tracks is “Crack Music”:
“You hear that?
What Jill Scott was hearin
When our heroes and heroines got hooked on heroin.
Crack raised the murder rate in DC and Maryland
We invested in that it’s like we got Merril-Lynched
And we been hangin from the same tree ever since
Sometimes I feel the music is the only medicine
So we cook it, cut it, measure it, bag it,sell it
The fiends cop it
Nowadays they cant tell if that’s that good shit
We ain’t sure man.”
Put the CD on your toungue yeah, thats pure man.”
Late Registration dropped on August 30, 2005, and 3 days later, Kanye stands up during a nationally televised benefit for Hurricane Katrina and instead of sticking to the script, he says what is on his mind. He notes the differences between portrayal between white and black people during the crisis and then says “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
We’ve always known Kanye was a bit of a ‘loose cannon’ but this was a moment where we actually got to see it live. In an interview a while after he was asked about his reflection on what he said and his answer was simply, “ I have a hard time believing George Bush cares about anyone.”
At this point, Kanye is still who we believe him to be. Speaking truth over dope beats. He has become one of the best artists in the game and he’s had us hanging on to every word that comes out of his mouth.
In September Kanye releases the album Graduation (which I loved because 2007-2008 was my graduation year from university). This solidified everything for consumers as far as Kanye’s talent was concerned. Can’t Tell Me Nothing, his first single off the album, was right in step with what we expected from Kanye. His ego magnified yet still that hint of vulnerability, bearing his soul to the world. He admits he has a problem but in the same breath will tell you he does not care what you think of him. After two triple platinum albums, why should he?
This album was great and again an improvement on his previous albums. But, he also gives the people what they want to hear in a bit of a different way. It works, I mean, The College Dropout and Late Registration were very successful. Graduation will end up going double platinum and we all are now Yeezy fans. All kinds of artist are still singing acoustic versions of Gold Digger on YouTube. His music is popular worldwide. He continues to feed us songs we relate to. We understand he tends to be a little eccentric in public, but musically we know at this point he is a genius so we are willing to deal with it.
“I had a dream I can buy my way to heaven
When I awoke, I spent that on a necklace.
I told God I’d be back in a second,
Man it’s so hard not to act reckless.
To whom much is given much is tested.
Get arrested, guess until, they get the message.
I feel the pressure, under more scrutiny,
and what I do? Act more stupidly.”
-Can’t Tell Me Nothing
Songs from this album became people’s anthems. ‘Stronger’, ‘I Wonder’ and ‘Champion’ were inspirational and motivational. Kanye, always rapping about who he is and where he is at in that moment blew up the previous notions of what was hip-hop and created his own genre. If you check out that early 2002 interview, it was obvious to Kanye that he was going to be big. He had a dream and a goal and by 2007 he is literally living the words he had been speaking since he was in high school.
In November, Kanye receives some really bad news, his mother dies. I won’t go into detail or speculation about what happened because the internet is full of that and if you are interested I suggest you do your own research. All I know from the music Kanye puts out is that his mother (like most mothers) is everything to him and he has lost her. When I heard the news, I was slightly devastated for him. I remembered ‘Roses’ off of Late Registration and how that song helped me cope with my own Grandmother’s passing. I knew immediately as an artist this would be a defining moment in his career and to myself (a little selfishly) I couldn’t wait to hear his interpretation of this experience and his journey through it. Please understand, I was not being insensitive, but I only know Kanye and his emotions/mind through his music. I didn’t expect him to say much publicly about his mother’s passing but I figured I could always count on his music to let me into his soul even if it’s just for a line or two.
808’s and Heartbreak (2008)
A year after his mother’s passing and some time after a broken engagement, Kanye delivered the most unexpected album of the year. Glad to know I wasn’t the only one who thought this, 808’s and Heartbreak was named the most groundbreaking album of all time by The Rolling Stone. The reason being is because this album paved the way for the emotional artists like Drake to come into the game. It was different and I think it shocked the hip-hop community. Where recently the popular opinion of him was in his favor, this album began to split his audience. This is when Kanye became one of my all-time favorites. Personally, I believe any good artist will have people who absolutely love them and what they stand for and others who just plain can’t stand them. This is how I know for sure you are being true to who you are and your craft. ‘Say You Will’ has a little over 3 minutes of just music at the end of the track and it’s the first song. That’s a bold statement in itself. The beats are still dope and the album is a masterpiece. Now go listen to Future and Travis Scott and try to convince me Kanye had nothing to do with them.
In a Hot 97 interview, Kanye says:
“Yea, it’s different but it’s the music from my dreams and stuff though.”
And then goes on to add:
“…and what happens is your creativity is blocked by what society says you should do and you always overthink yourself.”
Now we have this fresher, freer version of Kanye West, living his life to the fullest and breaking out of the box that the world has put him in as a hip-hop artist, sharing with us his experiences the best way he can. We didn’t expect Kanye to be the same, and we didn’t expect the sound we got from this album, but I think it’s what made it such a special album. I am not sure honestly which song was truly about his mom but I kind of feel like each song on the album had a mixture of all the emotions he had been feeling with everything that has been going on and that was enough for me.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
Old Kanye meet new Kanye. A man without fear.
In 2009, Kanye walked on stage during the MTV Music Video Awards, took the microphone out of Taylor Swift’s hands “ruining” her moment. She won Best Female Video over Beyonce’s Single Ladies video and Kanye voiced his disappointment in a very entertaining way. By now, we are used to this side of Kanye, and even though he handed the mic back to Taylor to finish her acceptance speech, the moment was a huge one in his career (and Taylors). Looking back, it made sense for him to say what he said. Beyonce won Video of the Year but lost in the category of Best Female Video? That’s like winning MVP of the NBA but at your teams end of the year banquet watching someone else take home the MVP trophy. It really made no logical sense. But, either way, this is what really turned people against Kanye, or made them love him even more.
If you have really been listening to Kanye up to this point he has been talking to us now for nearly a decade about issues in America, race relations, drug issues, how the black community spends its money, religion, his addiction to women and sex, his penis, and how he is one of the greatest rappers. MBDTF elevated his work to an entirely new level. Kanye has thrown away the safety nets. He is aware that he does not need them and he is also very aware at this point that he does not need likes or the approval of the audience. As long as he is making music from his heart and is true to who he is, there isn’t a critic, blogger, reviewer or whoever that can scare him into making music that society deems appropriate.
Kanye is a true artist and is no longer has a lane to stay in.
“I don’t base my taste level off of what the trends are, what the common perception is.”
We are now in brand new territory with Kanye as, we really have no idea what he will come out with next and how it will make us feel. If you no longer like his music, you can at least respect the fact that you still wait anxiously every time he announces that he is working on a new music or a new album to figure out what he is about to do.
Watch the Throne (2011)
“The record is just the codes that…go listen to all my music. It’s the codes to self-esteem. It’s the codes of who you are. If you a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me, you’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m just the expresso. I’m just the shot in the morning to get you going.”
Kanye continues to push boundaries on this collaboration with Jay-Z and while I definitely think this is yet another staple and masterpiece in his career, I won’t really go to deep with this album because of the fact it’s a collaboration.
This takes nothing away from what this album is, and we can see the steady progress from MBDTF to Watch the Throne and again, for us true Kanye fan’s, we are still very clueless as to what to expect from him as an artist because, whatever happens from here on out is as unpredictable as the weather.
Personally my favorite Kanye album. I remember sitting with a friend in his backyard arguing about why Yeezus was a masterpiece and it got to the point where I was like, “let’s just get the album out and listen to it so you can hear it.” You see, most people who I came in contact with who didn’t like Yeezus based it solely off of one or two tracks or bits and pieces they heard. Me? Well, when I listen to a new album for the first time I have to put it off until I can listen to it from start to finish with no interruptions. I call them listening parties (although it usually is a party of one). You wouldn’t watch a scene here and there of a movie and then run off and write a review or tell others what you thought of it. You also wouldn’t watch it backward or out of order. When you sit down to watch a film you watch the whole thing from start to finish. That is the only way to take in the concept of the film. Then you might watch it again to possibly gain different insight from it. Why should an album be any different?
I was introduced to Yeezus the same way most people were, with a big projection of Kanye West’s face on the side of a building rapping lyrics publicly that left me with my jaw open, but also pumping my fist (in my head) at the statement he made. “I know that we the new slaves/I see the blood on the leaves.”
I admire Kanye. The album may have been confusing for most because we were still hoping somehow to put him back in that College Dropout/Late Registration/Graduation box or at least keep him in the MBDTF/Watch the Throne one he crossed over into, and I’m sure people prayed he did not revisit 808’s and Heartbreak. What they got was this punk-rock-hip-hop-pop-art album that baffled most people because, rather than step outside of themselves, most continue to judge music based off of what they think is hot right now. And Yeezus didn’t sound like any of that. I was happy.
If you listen to the lyrics, he is really is talking about basically the same thing he has been preaching on tracks for over a decade. But now he can have the creativity that so many people early on told him he didn’t need to do. Back then he was ‘too different’ and people may not have accepted his message because the presentation is so jarring on this album. With the myriad of trials he has had to get to this point, Kanye is still making music and bearing his soul for the people whether they like it or not, but ultimately, he does something I wish more artist would consider doing: putting out music he alone is happy with.
Plus one thing I learned about Kanye through all of the listenings and watching interviews is that while people are hung up on whether his latest album/project is good or not, Kanye has already moved on to the next thing.
This time immersing himself in the fashion world. I do not have enough space to really dive too deeply into that saga but be assured that the same treatment that Kanye describes keeping him out of the rap game for so long (no after no after no), is what he is facing in the fashion industry. He is very outspoken about how frustrating it is to have ideas in his head and having people tell him he can’t do fashion.
Here we are, almost 3 years removed from Yeezus. Kanye has married TV Star Kim Kardashian and has a baby girl North West and recently a baby boy Saint. His clothing line is on “Yeezy Season 3”. He claims to be $53 million in debt and apparently doesn’t know how to use his twitter (or does, I still can’t decide). And then, he drops TLOP. I didn’t listen to it right away. To keep it Yeezy, I am just going to straight up say I can’t afford a subscription to Tidal, but once I can, I will get one. I got lucky, a friend of mine had the album and I don’t know how they got it (none of my business) but now I have it.
I already told you I loved it. I honestly believe it is on another level to anything he has ever put out. His content has not changed, really. I mean “Ultralight Beam” is Jesus Walks 2.0/on crack. It’s like taking Windows XP and Windows 10 and putting them next to each other. Both of them will do what you need them to do, the way you want them to do it, but Windows 10 has taken computing to a whole new level. That doesn’t mean we still don’t love XP, which blew us away, but times change and companies improve their technologies. This is “Ultralight Beam”. Also, Chance The Rapper killed his verse. “I laugh at my ex looking back like a pillar of salt”. I don’t care who you are if you read your Bible that line is hilarious.
TLOP is a masterpiece. Not because it is the greatest album of all time (although we don’t know what the future holds). It’s because it mimics no one in the game right now as a whole. The truly great artist, when they make art, they can’t be copied. Who else can make an album like Kanye? Who do you know right now that musically, lyrically, and stylistically sounds like Kanye West? If no one comes to mind it’s because there is no one to name. Which leads me to believe one thing.
Kanye isn’t making music for 2016. What I really believe about his music and his clothing line is that he is making music to shape the future. Just like 808’s ushered in a whole new kind of hip-hop artist making it the #1 most groundbreaking album of all time (again, according to Rolling Stone) TLOP and his clothing line will undoubtedly bring us to a new era in hip-hop and fashion one way or another.
I am a Yeezy fan because I support a man with a vision who, in 2002, decided where he would be today and had no shame in telling the world. Then we watched him manifest that vision. TLOP has a sound that can be distressing to someone not willing to step outside of themselves and allow the music to just be what it is, to take it all in and to respect it as art that currently cannot be dissected because we do not have the necessary tools to do so. We can’t compare it to anything out because it isn’t like anything we have heard and we can’t compare it to old Kanye because that man is no longer with us.
I have so much respect for this man’s work that maybe I am blinded by everything he does. You could definitely make that argument and I won’t defend myself because you could be right. Yet, when I look back at the discography of Kanye West and reflect on this most recent experience of listening to all his music from start to finish, my appreciation not only of his journey, but of my own alongside of his from high school graduation (2004) to where I currently find myself in 2016, has grown tremendously. So, I will be that person to say the two words a truly innovative artist and creator like Kanye deserves to hear from his audience.