2016, Music

The Life of Pablo (2016) by Kanye West

What am I doing listening to Kanye West’s seventh album before any other album of his? There’s a reason, I swear, but it definitely feels weird and like I am lacking just an absolute ton of context.

For a while, Kanye West was arguably the most famous male musician in the English-speaking world, if not on the planet. (I specific male because Beyonce and Taylor Swift exist.) And yes, despite this fame, I have knowingly heard only a couple of his tracks in my life and two of those are from the very beginning of his career, and I know things have changed a lot. But he’s now less famous and among the more controversial figures in hip hop and I have no idea when that happened in relation to this album. Was it before or after? I think after but I’m not really sure. Basically, most of my recent context for Kanye West is that he has severe mental health problems and his fame complicates that.

So anyway, I was at a party a number of years ago and I heard this bonkers hip hop track, where the samples felt improperly edited into the track, and they felt like were different songs, like there wasn’t much continuity. Sometime after that, maybe the next morning, I found it was Kanye West. (I don’t know what year this was. My guess is, like, 2013 or 2014, probably a little before that. But I think it was then that I finally understood why so many people (including West himself) made such a big deal about him. It reminded me of when editing was suddenly visible in rock music in the late 1960s.

The production is as distinct and weird as I expected. If this is what he’s been doing for years (as I assume) I can also hear his influence in some of the other 2016-2023 hip hop I’ve been listening to these last few months. It’s clear to me that he’s a talented producer. (Of course, I don’t know how much is him and how much is collaboration, but that’s another story.)

But the lyrics are all over the place, especially his. They go from seemingly earnest and heartfelt to absolutely obnoxious, and not in a fun way. At his worst, he reminds me of some asshole on Twitter who thinks pissing off other people is proof to himself of his own intelligence. Now, I kind of expected that going in, but it doesn’t make it any easier to listen to. (Also, some of the references feel more like memes than actual references. The Oprah thing was in, like, 2010, I think. Yet he’s making the “joke” now. Umm…) Also, as with Drake, so many of his lyrics are about him, his success and his life. As with Drake, they’re overly specific and there’s nothing universal. It feels like you have to care about their gossip to give a shit. (But he’s complicated, you guys. He’s got layers.)

But I ignore the songs with lyrics I find obnoxious, I can’t deny this is good. But I absolutely don’t want to meet Kanye. Obviously.


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