Tonight, I sat down to write my first music review in over two years. I always thought that I never needed to be forced to write. I didn’t need any constraints or deadlines; when I wanted to write, I wrote. Simple as that. This week, I felt something entirely different, something that I believe borders dually on social commentary and music review.
It’s the new Kanye West album.
And while some of you may snicker, I hope that you’ll take what I’m saying with the knowledge that whatever this man says/does impacts America in some way, whether in the tabloids, politically, or pertaining to rights (remember Taylor Swift during the Grammy’s, slamming back at West after his back-handed jab at her in his track “Famous” from this record).
First, let’s talk about what drove me to listen to this in the first place. By no means am I a hardcore rap/hip-hop fan. In fact, I’m quite the opposite, but I certainly appreciate the art form. I heard and enjoyed Kendrick’s new album, and I love Dilla’s Donuts and jam it in the car often. This new album by West is something different; however, and it’s been hyped over the past few months on an immense scale. From cryptic Tweets to press releases, it seemed like this album was truly going to be something special. It changed titles from So Help Me God to SWISH to Waves to, finally, The Life of Pablo, arguably the worst and most embarrassing title of the bunch. A month or so back, West released the track ‘No More Parties In LA’ on his Soundcloud, and it was fairly great, most likely due to Kendrick Lamar’s appearance on it. Aside from that one track, I hadn’t heard anything else from this album prior to listening to the full thing on TiDAL a few days ago.
It started off great. The track ‘Ultralight Beam’ is fantastic. The beats are solid, and West has a minimal appearance on the track. Maybe that’s why I liked it, but still, it had something. Almost angelic, it had a message. ‘This is a god dream.’ Could this be West going against the odds to create something completely new in the genre? Was he attempting to reinvent it once again like he did with My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy or Yeezus? Nope. Definitely not, and it’s sad. West goes wayward a few tracks later, and the few shining moments on the album don’t let the great tracks truly shine. On “Famous,” West raps ‘I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, why, I made that b***h famous.’ I understand that this has gone around in the media in the past few days, and it only highlights the misogynistic tones that West highlights on this album. Over the next few tracks, West raps about being famous, being rich (even though he tweeted recently that he is over fifty million dollars in debt and begging Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for a million dollars), others being jealous because he’s famous, comparing himself to Steve Jobs, bragging about his wife Kim Kardashian, saying he can still be friends with Ray J even though they ‘loved the same b***h’, and so on.
West is certainly a narcissist, but that doesn’t mean that every track needs to be about his narcissism. In the beginning, hip-hop was about social issues. Expressing oneself because there was no other way to get people to listen. Bragging about oneself seems to be the opposite of what this form was meant for, and West only highlights this in his new album. There’s no real cohesion between the tracks other than West proclaiming his fame and wealth. Other than Kendrick Lamar’s new album, West’s new album doesn’t discuss any class issues. He’s so far removed from where he was in the beginning of his career that he’s lost touch with reality, much less what the people want to listen to, and much-much less what the people can identify with. Out of the few shining moments on the album, “Real Friends” is a highlight. Here, West talks about the value of having people behind him, trust issues, and letting people trust in him. This track is one of the only points on the album where West is honest. ‘When was the last time I remembered a birthday?’ Because of his fame, West left his ‘real friends’ behind, and he’s ashamed of it. This is also one of the only times on the album that he discusses the negative aspects of fame, and it’s searing. The only other track that fully grabbed my attention was “Fade,” purely because of its Dilla like beats and loops. Talking with a friend recently, we discussed the idea that Kanye’s persona is overshadowing every ounce of actual talent that he actually has. Much like the reality show that his Kardashian wife is a part of, West’s life is now a reality show. He’s in the newsweeklies sitting on the rack at CVS now, and that’s not a great thing. It only feeds his persona more, something that simply doesn’t need any more of an egotistical boost. It’s time for West to go back to his roots and get down to the social issues that are plaguing modern-day America (Black Lives Matter? Anyone? Anything?) instead of focusing on the fact that people will follow him everywhere he goes, and will buy everything he does. As far as I can tell, Kendrick Lamar is the future of hip-hop, and after that, I don’t know where it’s going. Where’s the next cultural shift? When you find out, let me know.