Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Life After Pablo

Do I need to introduce the elements that have made Kanye West music's most notable figure in 2016? Likely no, and honestly attempting to do so would send me in endless roundabouts, constant dead ends, and long-winded backroads. The scene is chaotic, the nature of the music, and more importantly, the actuality of its release woes, have sent social media trend-setters, and trend-hoppers, on a wild goose chase for the latest bits of info, gossip, drama, anything to satisfy the endless appetite of a fiendish mass. And while this editorial may recap some topical events to understand the greater chronological layout, it does not intend on being a discussion of events and the timeline in which they follow. More so, with this piece I will set my sights on the future of Hip-Hop to see just where the genre's most influential figure is sending it. The answer will always be uncertain, especially with the half-baked proposal of a new Ye album on the way this summer in the form of Turbo Grafx 16, but here's to trying our best.

The biggest thing we learned from The Life Of Pablo's rollout is that Kanye can do anything. A festering result of his obsessive fan base who will unquestionably eat anything up, a media who thirsts for the opportunity to provide more candid pieces on their favorite loud mouth, and the megalomaniac himself. Needless to say, it's difficult to gather every ounce of scrap left for dead in the wake of TLOP's disastrous wreckage. Like an explosive last lap in the Daytona 500 that sees half the field destroyed and splayed out for all to admire, including but not limited to, So Help Me God, SWISH, Waves, Wiz Khalifa, Good Friday's, personal debt, Tidal streaming, and an awkward and half-assed listening party, The Life Of Pablo emerged, a flashy but utterly destroyed sports car, hobbling across the finish line with only the essential parts intact. Thankfully, as we've come to expect with Kanye, the music reflected this indecisiveness. 

Every album of his pinpoints a time and a place, nay, a feeling and a purpose. His opening Broadway performance (The College Dropout), its elaborate successor (Late Registration), the top of the world (Graduation), the bottom of the world (808's & Heartbreaks), the famous Hawaiian getaway (My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy), and the artful calamity (Yeezus). So where does that put TLOP? It certainly continues Kanye's trend of flipping between maximalism and minimalism for each album, an approach he's taken since Graduation, but the purpose is what's left unclear. One could argue that with Kanye's spiraling life, whether up or down we're not quite sure, The Life Of Pablo is meant to represent the uncertainty of the future, with many facets of your life changing you're not entirely sure which ones will stick. So, essentially, when you look at the broader palate, Kanye's seventh LP takes incoherency and makes play-doh out of it. 

Whereas all his previous albums obsessed over perfection, following linear themes, TLOP accentuates a relaxed approach that sees errors, problems, and each musical piece being treated like a badly worn substitute. They're meaningless and meaningful at the same time, regardless of how stupid that sounds. Parts get overanalyzed, dissected, and manipulated to the smallest degree. The largest degree too, as we saw with the night Chance The Rapper held up release because of his insistence on the inclusion of 'Waves.' Really all of it had, and still has, interchangeable parts. The precision and craft gone into each becomes mute when haphazardly worked upon in the next iteration. Meaningless and meaningful. Take 'Wolves' for example. An expertly crafted work that first hit the masses February of 2015, over a year before The Life Of Pablo would release, and yet the final version disappointed many, with Sia and Vic Mensa removed in place of a more Kanye-centric finale. But then in the latest 'patch,' as fans have begun to call it, Kanye reverted back to the fans wishes, recalling the two singers to join him. 

This is not the behavior of a perfectionist or someone who respects the value of an album. But what it is, is once again a self-proclaimed (and at times achievable) genius who seeks to redefine the limits of the medium. Older, more respected crafts like music, film, and books spend months and years gripped by their creation before sending it off for finalization, but new age mediums, namely the bustling video game scene, take their works as constantly in a state of flux. If there's a problem, whether technically or dissatisfying to fans, with a film, album or book, no amount of outcry will change that. Video game developers, even after sending their work out to the masses, continually make tweaks based on feedback, going so far in extreme cases, like the finale of the popular franchise Mass Effect, to alter the entire ending because of widespread disappointment

Kanye has essentially done that with The Life Of Pablo and it's split the Hip-Hop community apart. Many purists seek to nullify his accomplishments by pointing out his indecisiveness and lack of theme while progressive's defend his actions as a rebuttal to long etched in stone traditions impeding truly finished works. There's no clear answer, but the best one we'll get is hidden in Hip-Hop's future. What will up and coming artists, or ones already cemented, make of his actions? Knowing that the critically scorned 808's & Heartbreak led to a decisively different, and more creative, Hip-Hop scene goes to show that when it comes to Kanye no amount of bad press will actually detract his vision from reaching those important enough to gain from it. Drake, The Weeknd, Childish Gambino, Kid Cudi, all artists directly influenced by that album, the one widely considered Ye's worst. And as we start to witness the seeds of Yeezus begin to spread, the matter of fact lies on how TLOP will influence those hot on his heels. 

As I see it, the music itself won't do a great deal. It's Kanye's least original, dating back to when Late Registration refined the edges of College Dropout, the sounds don't side-swipe mainstream radio enough to alter it, merely conforming to it if 'Famous' is anything to go by, and the overall palate takes a liaison approach with his other albums, borrowing assets more well defined on each respectively. There's splotchy spots, a loose, almost nonexistent theme that sees tracks like 'Real Friends' appear cluttered and ununiform alongside 'FML' and 'Wolves,' and an overall tracklist that isn't concrete enough to actually even allow for artists to copy it. It's too fluid, genre-less, discordant to actually instill any substantial change. That is, of course, without including the biggest aspect of The Life Of Pablo; everything but the music. 

This is where things get dicey. For now that Kanye's made confusion and ambiguity cool others will look to copy it, resulting in albums with much less focus and adoration. If we use Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly as the ultimate peak of album obsession, few come remotely close to that mark. Many choose to simply attach songs to each other without meaning, because the songs themselves, in relation to the album as a whole, have no meaning. They're just songs based in a collection of songs. And the fact that Hip-Hop's biggest name publically adjusted the tracklist numerous times mere days before release, even going so far as to add five 'bonus' tracks the day after it was supposed to come out, means what little respect new artists have for the album format may go by the wayside, in place of, what they see in their eyes, as a glorified greatest hits. 

But the forced amateurism goes beyond the scope of the music's creation and lies its eyes on the show leading up to it. Obviously his Yeezy Season 3 listening party was a grand reveal, one that could only be accomplished by a handful of artists. That's an in-the-moment ego with the resources deciding to go off the rails, resulting in something few could even dream of. What anyone can dream of, and accomplish in mere minutes, is The Life Of Pablo's album cover. Here's a question for you, do you think more work went into Yeezus' cover or "WHICH ONE"? An ignorant person would assume the former took no time beyond a minute of thought, since it is no cover, and the latter took a few minutes of dabbling with basic instruction on Photoshop. But look at their result, with how plain and poor you perceive them, that in and of itself makes them noteworthy. They're art, and art is never (at least if it attempts to get noticed) lies neutral in the middle. One could make an argument that both reflect on a changing society, Yeezus with the death of the physical CD (made clearer by Kanye announcing he'll no longer release physically anymore) and TLOP with the social media crazed memers. It captured a zeitgeist, and the quick and easy remaking of it, seen in thousands of recreations sprawled all across the web, proved that Kanye, in terms of marketing, knows exactly what he's doing.

In terms of artistic expression? That's a different story. For with his latest antic, that borderline offensive cover to all artisans take seriously, the wave of accepting amateurism has grown. On his latest release, Slime Season 3, Young Thug straight up stole a drawing a fan made, reformating it, slightly changing the colors, and then unleashing it as the first sight to his latest mixtape. The fan, who never submitted it to Young Thug, was given no credit. For all the work Thugger has done in the past few years, churning out an incredibly high amount of mixtapes, he put literally no effort into making the cover, likely choosing it because it passed by on Twitter one day. Being that he, along with Kanye, might soon be the next most copied artist in new age Hip-Hop this relinquishing of duties in presenting your work will certainly fall down the ladder. Accepting of all, this amateur mindset, in theory, could be good, but in practice, there's a reason Kanye West is Kanye West. The talent is what lands you there, something someone reimaging the pitfalls of TLOP would never be able to do. 

In many eyes, the red carpet rollout of The Life Of Pablo was a necessary evil. It was inevitable that with the way our society is evolving Kanye was bound to dive headlong into murky waters. Returning in our attempt to pinpoint the time and place of TLOP the image becomes strikingly clear; the Internet. It's no surprise the dramatic spike of antics ensued by Kanye online has coincided with the rollout of this release. He's always been a loud presence in the media but given a one-way opportunity to directly interact with fans Twitter, and social media in general, has unleashed a side of Kanye that's aimed at being unpredictable, lost, and unforgiving. The main focus of this, unfortunately, is meme's. This all culminated, for me at least, in the wee hours of February 12th. As fans' appetite grew stale with silence brewing on Kanye's end, precariously trolling his Twitter with pictures of his Yeezy Season 3 event, he released a statement that Chance was holding up the album's release. The next morning, still empty handed, we got a tweet replacing the words "WHICH ONE" on the cover with "BLAME CHANCE," posted by Kayne himself. He was in on it. 

He knew exactly what he was doing. With no formal promotional tools going in he was able to stir everyone into a frenzy, force many to try out Tidal, make them wait until the last days of the trial for the 'final' version, all without actually releasing the album officially. That didn't come till over a month later, coincidentally or not, on April Fools Day. The man knew how to work an ever-changing culture obsessed with being in on the action, being one with these superstars they idolize, being able to joke with them like they do on the forums in regards to something as serious as a brand new album. This lackadaisical approach, thankfully, can only be achieved with stars, the no name's still have to work their way up or get lucky off a one-hit wonder, something that's always been the case in music. 

So while we all continue to wait for, who knows what, Kanye extending his hand in the press, working us like silly putty, the 'final' The Life Of Pablo is upon us. Can we finally rest? Will we ever be able to? If Turbo Grafx 16 really is a thing then that answer will likely be no. With that one tweet Kanye essentially stood defiant proclaiming that he'll be around through the year. And guess what, he doesn't even need to release the album to do that. A wait, a delay, or worse, silence, will all create lust from a crowd who always demands more. Only time will tell how The Life Of Pablo will reflect on society, because, as evident by the lyrics held within, society already affected it. We may have very well entered a new age in marketing with this album's success(?), the questioning nature of it all only goes to extend its life pulse even further. Gorilla marketing through the digital age, preying on humans in their low brow lazy state, amplifying discourse by purposely causing discourse. Easily ingestible drama, simple humor that some adore and the rest smirk at, outlandish phrases and lines brought on through Twitter's short blurbs, all the pieces are there to pick and place in the puzzle. In today's age, relating to your consumers by being one might be the best tactic in attracting attention. But would it work if you weren't Kanye West? 

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