“Name one genius that ain’t crazy.”
It’s finally happened. Kanye West has actually gone insane. His mind has always been in a perpetual state of motion, constantly redirecting his attention from music to art to fashion to Twitter and to God-knows what else. On his latest The Life of Pablo, Kanye’s ego has finally the better of him. The rollout for TLOP was an absolute shit show of empty promises and false starts (it still is). The album itself is an absolute mess. I’m not even confident it’s finished. In fact, I hope it really isn’t finished. If TLOP actually turns out to be an experiment on how the music media will seemingly eat up anything he shits out on both Tidal and Twitter, then I will certainly tip my “Yeezus” cap to him. Until then, I cannot sit here and defend this record.
Not that he needs me to. For all the shit Kanye West gets for is actions outside the studio (some of it deserved, most of it not), people tend to forget that he is a truly gifted musician. Kanye West is a man with a unique gift of musical knowledge and a golden touch for sampling and producing. He is a smart person brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, who can be as articulate as a professor when he wants to be. That’s why it’s frustrating that Kanye West would release such a deliberately half-hassed product, but I like to think he knows what he’s doing. It’s like Kanye knows that even if he farts in a microphone, critics will love it anyway. After listening to some of these lyrics, he did exactly that. He spewed a lot of that sort of crap on Yeezus, but at least on that record, the music had purpose and razor-sharp focus. Every word he spoke came across like an exorcising of demons, and we all bought it. On TLOP, the lyrics are cringe-worthy just for the sake of being cringe-worthy, and now I find myself wondering if everything that was said on Yeezus was just as cheap and insincere. As attention-getters, the X-rated lyrics work, but in the end, many of the songs suffer for the ignorance.
But it’s not just the lyrics that are way sub-par. The music, 90% of it not even produced by West himself, is consistently inconsistent and relentlessly frustrating. You keep waiting for songs like “FML” and “Highlights”, which have SO much potential, to become fully realized. Instead, they feel tossed aside from a man bored with his own creation.
Take the track “30 Hours” for example. Initially, it’s one of the best songs on the album, as Kanye raps like he’s still wearing pink polos over a beat that would fit right in on The College Dropout. It’s hard-hitting, direct, and damn good. That is, until it isn’t. Like a NJ Transit train headed to Penn Station, Kanye inexplicably stops. He just gives up on the song, turning a potential show-stopper into a glorified demo. Instead of finishing the song out, he blabbers on about bonus tracks, mumbles a barely conceived verse idea, and even answers his damn cell phone. He just leaves all of that in there! Critics will tell you this is art – the sound of a scatterbrained man at work – but I’m here to tell you this is bullshit. Any track that features Andre 3000 but doesn’t actually have Andre 3000 rapping (or doing anything, really) on the song is bullshit. The two rappers had a chance at a banger, but instead settled for an under-cooked piece of meat. It’s the story of this album, really. Kanye settles; he never attacks. And he wants Tidal users to pay $20 for this? Come on, man. Would you buy a car with no wheels for $50,000?
Now, that’s not to say that TLOP doesn’t have its moments of clarity. Like I said, it’s easy to forget that Kanye West is a gifted producer. The skeletal “Ultralight Beam” delivers on Kanye’s Twitter promise of this album being a “gospel album.” Ever the curator, Kanye lets the young Chance the Rapper steal the spotlight with the most captivating verse on a Kanye West album since Nicki Minaj’s ferocious debut on “Monsters”. The first true taste of TLOP back in January, “Real Friends,” is another understated but beautiful gem, with a moody, haunting piano setting the scene for Kanye to once again play the bad friend and even worse family member. It’s one of those songs that reminds you why you root for Kanye in the first place. The best song on TLOP by far is “No More Parties in LA,” and it’s one of the best songs of the year so far. It’s a perfect example of what makes Kanye West so great, and also what makes this album so frustration because of how it could’ve been so much more. Kanye, along with Kendrick Lamar(!), just let loose on this track. The three samples on here, including Junie Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy,” have no right being on the same track together, yet it sounds so seamless and captivating. It’s the most fully realized this album gets, and I can guarantee you’re going to be hearing a lot more of it blaring out of car stereos this summer.
I want to sit down with Kanye West. I want to tell him that he’s capable of so much more. We all know this, and I think he knows it too. So, why is he settling for this? I want to know why he isn’t pushing himself to be better, like all the greats. Or maybe he’s pushing to hard… no one man should have all that power, right? I’m not looking for the old Kanye; I’m just looking for a sign that the man is still willing to continue to push himself musically, and not merely settle. Give me a chance to interview him, to buy him a beer he desperately seems to need. I want to ask him all these things and more. He’d probably tell me to fuck off, and if he did, I’d be happy because at least that would mean the fire isn’t out.