Kanye is really something else. He does deserve credit for doing literally whatever he wants. He sold out Madison Square Garden simply to play his new album (which ended up not even being the final version) while his “models” stood almost lifeless wearing his new fashion line. After he finished playing his unfinished album, The Life of Pablo, he previewed his new video game, “Only One,” in which the players guided his deceased mother on her way to heaven. Then Kanye and his friends basically passed around the aux-cord and played their own new songs and some old favorites. You can’t make this stuff up. According to the trustworthy TIDAL, 20 million people watched the livestream of the event either to hear the album or just to witness the spectacle.
Kanye West is certainly no stranger to controversy. This is the man who said on live television that George W. Bush does not care about black people and he interrupted Taylor Swift during her acceptance speech to say she did not deserve the award she won (a feud that was seemingly squashed but then possibly restarted during the Madison Square Garden event).
Kanye the spectacle, however, is much different than Kanye the musician. Kanye is a brilliant musician, and his albums are almost certainly a lock for critical and commercial acclaim. Even his least commercially successful album, 808s and Heartbreak, has become one of the most influential albums for today’s rap and R&B music scene.
Understandably, the hype for Kanye’s seventh album has been very high. After all the release dates that came and went with no album, the date of February 11 seemed firm, especially with the Madison Square Gardening listening party set to launch the album on that day. And yet, the album formerly known as WAVES, formerly known as SWISH, and formerly known as So Help Me God only just made it into our hands at 2 a.m. last Sunday morning. Unfortunately for all of us, the album is exclusive to TIDAL, the streaming service that no one subscribes to and the service that has no right getting exclusives to Kanye, Rihanna, and Beyoncé. We are a long way away from the days when an artist would release a single and give an album release date, and then the album would actually be in stores that day. Beyoncé, this is on you.
The Life of Pablo is removed from the aggressive and certainly not easy-listening Yeezus, providing fans with what Kanye describes as “gospel with a lot of cursing.” This is a pretty apt description of The Life of Pablo. Just as in the great My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye is the orchestrator of a chorus of famous artists. Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, Ty Dolla $ign, and other Kanye disciples all show up to lend their talents for the cause.
Provocative Kanye is also back. We can always count on Kanye to start a conversation, no matter how off his comments seem. On “Famous,” Kanye raps with use of vulgar language about how he made Taylor Swift famous. The line is questionable given Taylor Swift had already won MTV video of the year before Kanye interrupted her, so it is safe to say that Taylor was already famous.
To add to the surreal nature of the whole album and its release, a war may be brewing. Did Kanye actually get Taylor’s approval like he says he did? Did Taylor come up with the lyric herself like Kanye said she did? According to Taylor herself, neither is true, and thus the feud has returned.
Musically, Kanye’s relationship with his family and God is the centerpiece of the album. No longer referring to himself as a God, Kanye discusses his unwavering faith in God in “Ultra Light Beams.” In “Father Stretch My Hands,” Kanye opens up about being abandoned by his father and not wanting to make the same mistakes with his wife and two kids. The previously released “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in LA,” in addition to new songs such as “Famous” and “Freestyle 4,” all discuss the ups and downs of fame and how it affects his relationship with his family.
In the end, it’s Kanye who wins. In “I Miss the Old Kanye,” he spins the “Kanye loves Kanye” meme into a self-aware song about how there may be many faces to Kanye: the provocative Kanye, the musician Kanye, the spectacle Kanye. In the end, he loves Kanye “like Kanye loves Kanye.”