I’ve been thinking about the polarizing ‘Kanye Issue’ intensely since The Life of Pablo. This album is a great listen. It’s uplifting, it’s energetic, it’s interesting. His lyrics are completely scattershot – in one realm, he’s talking about bleached assholes. In another, he’s lamenting not knowing the names of his friend’s children and calling himself selfish. One thing he is, throughout, is completely self–aware – of his vulnerability & weakness as well as his monstrous ego: “I’m a 38-year old eight-year old.”
People may not like Kanye, but he’s honest. And sometimes that jolts the listener, which is exactly his intention. Musically, this album is curated beautifully by mood & phase. Spiritual, nasty, introspective, chaotic, and moody. It’s a aural journey, and it’s a really fun experience. It’s not entirely polished, but it’s a good manifestation of his life at this point, and it sounds genuine. And that is something that people always underestimate about Kanye – love him or hate him, he speaks from the heart. I also feel that the album is composed of four distinct chapters: the soulistic, gospel-inspired opening chapter encompassing tracks 1 – 4; the more rugged, grimey stretch from tracks 5 – 9; the haunting & introspective 10 – 14 (perhaps the most ‘beautiful’ portion of his work); the concluding, musical and ‘fun’ closure of the album from 15 – 18. Really interesting to hear the album in this context.
Also regarding Kanye‘s previous work. I’m a bit more vested than most because he literally came from the Chicago underground scene in the late 90’s, and his affiliations with Common (Sense) when he was at his dopest, and influences of the post-Panther/educated african-american second city sound was clear through his sampling, soul undertones and ability to intertwine ‘song’ with real hip hop. Some of his early work with Little Brother remains on my radar, simply because he was one of the first Chicago producers to gain universal acceptance underground. Through the Wire remains inspirational, and actually foreshadowed his career – always fighting through self-inflicted wounds, yet ultimately succeeding through the might of his own will.
The early albums were laden with pop hits, but these hits – think Gold iIgger, Jesus Walks – have a brooding, layered complexity that enables them to have staying power. They’re real music, they’re not just pop formulas. When 808s and Heartbreak was released, it was truly a revelation. Again, the sound was melodic, melancholy & visceral. Yet it still maintained commercial appeal. For a hip hop album, this is nearly unprecedented. To this day, it contains some of his best work. The maligned My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is probably my ‘favorite’ album of his, incorporating his early ‘true hip hop’ sound with the modern Kanye braggadocio and immaturity. His life was just beginning to spiral into the 000.1% of American royalty, and he chronicles every step with a huge middle finger, yet knowing his limitations enough to not try to do more than he can on the mic. He lets his guests shine, and if that’s not ego suppression. . .With Game of Thrones & Yeezus, Kanye could have easily sleepwalked through the sessions and produced mediocre material, but he didn’t. Both are laden with unique sounds, interesting composition and deceptive insight.
Again, Kanye talks about pussy as much as he talks about anti-depressants, but they’re both equally relevant to his life, and you can’t fault him for that. Because that’s his Life. The Life of Kanye.