I miss the old Kanye. No really, I do. Along with millions of others, I was anticipating a triumphant return of one the best rappers of all time on his latest album, The Life of Pablo. Also like millions of others, I even downloaded the buggy music streaming app TIDAL to listen to it when it was an exclusive. Singles leading up to the album such as “All Day” and “Only One” both written with the help of Paul McCartney, led me to believe he would create an entire album of substance and innovation, something he has not done since 2008 with 808’s & Heartbreak. However, this is not to say he doesn’t still make great music, but rather that he has departed from what made him truly great. Kanye West used to be inspiring.
To understand the appeal of Kanye there is only one song that explains it all, and that song is “Last Call” from his debut, The College Dropout. In this song he lays out his entire journey from shopping demos to A&R’s and ghost producing to being signed by JAY Z’s Rocafella Records. Back then, he was a perfectionist who kept working regardless of how many times he was rejected and scoffed at. This is a story to which many people can relate. Everyone goes through trials and rejections to hopefully fulfill their dreams. Of course it is unfair to wish that Kanye West were to stay the same since his first album. In fact, I’m glad he has changed and adapted over the years. One could draw small similarities between him and David Bowie with both unafraid to completely alter their sound and appearance with each new album. Both are also considered fashion icons, and have held great influence on youth and mainstream culture.
My views on Kanye West are far from the minority. Many fans were disappointed with his last several albums and are also baffled by his ongoing erratic behavior. Kanye is well aware of this and addresses his critics and fans alike on “Kanye Loves Kanye”. Among the group of fans/critics is J. Cole, who last year made a song called “False Prophets” which subtly but not subtly is about Kanye and his fall from grace: “He's fallin' apart, but we deny it, Justifying that half ass shit he dropped, we always buy it, When he tell us he a genius but it's clearer lately, It's been hard for him to look into the mirror lately...While the world's eggin' him on, I'm beggin' him to stop it, Playin' his old shit, knowin' he won't top it, False prophets”. Meanwhile, the music media continues to praise The Life of Pablo with Pitchfork giving it a 9 out of 10 and Rolling Stone laughably calling it a “conflicted masterpiece”. Conflicted? Yes. Masterpiece? Far from it. Of course, Yeezy thinks differently, tweeting that Pitchfork should have rated it a “30 out of 10”. In a nutshell that is the problem. People continue to compliment his most mediocre work and it only encourages him to make more shallow music.
Sonically, every Kanye West album is great. The mixes are balanced and the sounds and samples used are just always high quality. Not to mention his visual accompaniments and live performances. Production was always his strength and his lyrics were a bonus. Yet, now I feel like I have to tolerate cringy lyrics and off-beat, out of breath verses just to enjoy the great production. The Life of Pablo has 20 songs and I keep only 12 of them in my phone. Averaging that, is not a good score and certainly not a 30 out of 10 let alone a 9. The first song “Ultralight Beam” is an inspiring mix of swelling synths and gospel singing. It got me excited for the rest of the album up until the very next song which also features beautiful gospel influences, only to start with the lyrics: “So if I fucked this model, and she just bleached her asshole, and I get bleach on my t-shirt, Imma feel like an asshole”. Ummm...what? Is this the same man that once said ”Reach for the stars so if you fall you land on a cloud”? Kanye went from promoting hard work and self confidence to just being self centered. The world doesn’t need more ego-driven rich people, wake up Mr. West.