I miss the old Kanye, straight from the gold Kanye. Chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye. I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye. Are these my views on the infamous Kanye West? Maybe. But more importantly these words are his own. After hearing The Life Of Pablo it’s clear to see that he isn’t afraid to show his true colours.
When breaking down the record it’s obvious that there are elements of both the ‘old’ Kanye and the ‘new’ Kanye. From his signature beats to bizarre lyrical euphemisms, there seems to be a somewhat ugly yet beautiful middle ground. The album showcases his evolution as both a producer and a tastemaker, with stand out instrumentals such as Father Stretch My Hands and the more Yeezus-worthy Feedback where West brings out Roland 808 programming and soul samples for a more abrasive industrial sound. Both tracks are equally remarkable in terms of their production value and demonstrate a transition from the Kanye we once knew and loved to the more egotistical one we see today.
As I made my way through an initial listen of the album, it was easy to develop a love/hate relationship with the man. The inner musician in me couldn’t help but appreciate aspects of the craftsmanship and courage that Kanye embraces in some of his production. This is embodied in a track such as Fade that shows Ye’s ability to explore an 80s-esque house beat, most likely in homage to the house scene developing in Chicago. It was moments like this that reminded me why he is respected by many and continues to be able to take the out-dated and make it relevant once again. Furthermore, songs such as No More Parties In LA, and the more minimalist 30 Hours, take straightforward kick snare and hat patterns that could have come straight out of the west-coast in the 90’s and turn them into works of art.
This restorative ability is equally prevalent in his non-musical endeavours, especially as an emerging fashion designer. The launch of Kanye’s Season 3 highlighted his ability to renovate (or more fittingly, distress) simplistic clothing and footwear and send it straight into the future. This skill is recognised by many, something that is increasingly apparent every time time Ye tries to attach his own brand to a product. West’s work appears to be equivalent to a religion for many, with each new launch bringing together his congregation. This is also apparent in his discovery of rapper Desiigner who he featured on The Life Of Pablo. Since then Desiigner has gone on to sign with GOOD music, and has seen a transformation from being a relative unknown to a global artist. In the words of Chance The Rapper, “I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”.
On the other hand, there are moments that make me detest The Life Of Pablo. Take, for example, Mr West’s choice of lyrics in Father Stretch My Hands (coincidentally my favourite instrumental on the record) where, in full auto tuned fashion, he refers to a model bleaching her asshole and ponders whether getting that same bleach on his clothing would make him an asshole? Conversely, Kanye’s incessant desire to speak his mind can be a positive thing. This is shown when Ye delves into his mental health issues in FML, including lyrics describing his relationship with the antidepressant Lexapro. These unrefined and raw moments almost make up for the imperfections the rest of the album has. That being said, The Life Of Pablo seems detached and despondent compared to his previous efforts, especially in comparison to 808s and Heartbreak, College Dropout, and even Yeezus. The songs of this ‘new’ Kanye feel like individual moments as opposed to a cohesive story. They act as an endorsement for the creative ADHD hurricane that is most likely going through Kanye’s head.
Kanye has previously referred to himself as the greatest living rock star on the planet, (which is most definitely not true because John frusciante is), but regardless of his ego, one can’t deny his contribution to wider hip hop culture. His no fucks given approach to music, fashion, and the world in general is what makes him who he is. There is a reason why the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and Vic Mensa refer to West as a major creative inspiration, and I feel like The Life Of Pablo shows us exactly why. Unless this changes, at the end of the day, I love Kanye like Kanye loves Kanye.