MATTIAS “DUSTY” PRIBOR, ’16
Over the past month the impending release of Kanye West’s new album The Life of Pablo has created quite a stir in the music industry and elicited reactions from fans and haters alike. 2015 was a monumental year for the self-proclaimed “genius,” who married the also polarizing Kim Kardashian, and launched his own music streaming service, Tidal. While marriage and outside business ventures have kept the rapper in the media and dominated headlines, West’s personal Twitter feed illustrates a starkly different narrative than the one of success and genius that he often puts forth.
Instead, as shown in a recent witter spat with rapper Wiz Khalifa (a complete misunderstanding), the relative commercial failure of Tidal, and his admitted $53 million of personal debt have led some to believe that there is a chink in the rapper’s armor of egotism. West is no longer perceived by the public as the Chicago-born underdog who once rapped about relatable topics like his love for his mother (“Hey Mama”) or the pressure of going to college (The College Dropout). Tracks like “I Am God” from his most recent album Yeezus, as well as a plethora of self-aggrandizing comments made by West, demonstrate a complete brand shift for the artist. West’s musical skill has not translated into universal success: instead fame and wealth appear to have distorted West’s image in such a way that with each controversial comment made, there is a sense of lost authenticity. A feeling augmented by the behavior of his Kardashian in-laws, and by the artist’s recent antics.
West has also prided himself on his work in the field of fashion. The premiere of his latest addition to the “Yeezy” clothing line served as the premiere of his latest album as well: West played the technically unfinished version of The Story of Pablo from his own personal laptop as the models wearing his traditionally shabby garments posed behind him in the center of Madison Square Garden. Some fashion critics would argue that this entry into fashion only marks a new level of absurd to the Kanye story.
West, who is known for his twitter rants, recently demonstrated his trigger happy approach to the social media platform by attacking rapper Wiz Khalifa over a comment he took to be jab at his wife, Kim Kardashian. His response was a 14-tweet rampage, in which he goes so far as to proclaim that he is father of Khalifa’s son. West quickly realized he misconstrued Khalifa’s comment and proceeded to delete the entire interaction – a far cry from the artist’s once renowned “no-apologies” attitude. This appears to be a pattern of behavior for West, whose life on social media outlets has transformed into a platform for vehemently denying his apparent insecurities. Comments about his marriage, the “monumental” achievement of his new album (“This is not the album of the year. This is the album of the life.”), and most recently the revelation of the $53 million West owes in debt, paint a picture of a man troubled by those who attack his “Greatest of All Time” legacy as an artist, as well as his business decisions. The Adidas partnered Yeezy Season 1 clothing line alone cost the rapper $16 million to get off the ground – a prime example to some in the entertainment industry of the rapper’s fiscal irresponsibility. Critics hypothesize that this insecurity has increasingly been spilling over into his music, which has devolved into blatantly ego driven self-aggrandizement.
While such ego-stroking is not unique to a hip-hop industry where the proclamation “Best Rapper Alive” is thrown about rather freely, West’s non-music endeavors seem to have negatively influenced the quality of his new music. For example, while the very impressive Music collaboration album Cruel Summer (2012) received relatively positive reviews, the crowdedness, lack of direction and general lack of cohesiveness resulted in what Rolling Stone’s Jonah Weiner described as an “ultimately underwhelming” effort. The same can be said for West’s 2013 album Yeezus. Perhaps West identifies with the suffering of Jesus, as a near fatal car crash in 2002 led him to write the hip-hop classic “Through the Wire.” Similarly the death of his beloved mother resulted in his most poignant music on his album Late Registration (“Hey Mama” and “Roses). But more recently, the tiresome braggadocio of “Yeezus” focuses more on getting a reaction from listeners – good and bad – than it does on actual listenability. While West cannot be blamed for undergoing these artistic changes, his earlier work undoubtedly outshines his newer music, which is permeated with a sense of commercially driven and contrived energy that makes it feel inauthentic.
Judging by the “PR stunt”-like fanfare that has colored the discussion of the new album The Life of Pablo – apparently named after Christian Saint Paul the Evangelist – Yeezy is not moving away from this borderline religious fascination with his own genius. Unfortunately for listeners, West’s music seems to be losing the momentum and honesty that he has demonstrated on earlier albums. Additionally, those who are interested in listening to The Life of Pablo (TLOP) must subscribe to Tidal, a $10 per month investment that is frankly a hassle for those who already pay for other music streaming services. While I will most likely pay this fee just to listen to TLOP, my expectations for the finished version of the album are low. For those who have grown tired of Kanye’s seemingly delusional “me-first” attitude, and the self-absorption that characterizes his current music, this album is not worth the effort. The best thing for the rapper to do is probably to return to the more humble material that brought about his initial success.
MATTIAS “DUSTY” PRIBOR, ’16