Kanye is a Complicated Love Affair
ON CULTURE’S FAVORITE PERSON TO LOVE TO HATE
The track “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” opens with a gospel sample, before giving way to what may be the most emotionally resonant beat drop ever produced, followed with Kanye West rapping about a model’s bleached asshole. All of this takes place in less than a minute and a half. To call the track’s movement tonal whiplash would be an understatement. This track and the following “Pt. 2” are something like a thesis statement for Kanye West’s newest release, The Life Of Pablo, a deeply personal, outlandish, and opulent ride with pop culture’s favorite person to love to hate.
The Life Of Pablo isn’t the “album of life” that Kanye West claimed it could be. Rather, TLOP reasserts West’s musical genius, while indulging in the worst of his egotistical and misogynistic habits, but still giving listeners one of the most intimate pictures we’ve had of him. West’s art always astounds, but recent outbursts from the always outspoken artist have made it hard to remain a fan.
Album opener “Ultralight Beam” sets the tone with religious themes, drawing heavily from gospel and soul, possibly as a callback to Yeezus, or, more interestingly, to imply a space for confession from Kanye. The track remains sparse through its entirety, while still having an extreme impact when a full choir, horns, and beats come in.
“FSMH Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” explain TLOP in four short minutes. Both tracks are beautiful, anti-woman, and stunningly vulnerable. West’s casual misogyny in the album—the aforementioned “bleached asshole”— paired with his proclamation of Bill Cosby’s innocence mere days before TLOP’s release slaps the listener’s sense of decency right in the face. West then follows up, pleading that he just wants to “feel liberated,” which only partially explains his tendency towards the sophomoric.
Controversy and conflict go hand-in-hand with the very concept of Kanye. Even prior to Swift-gate, West shocked audiences by comparing himself to literal Jesus— though now that seems quaint for him— and his tabloid beef with 50 Cent, whose resolution allowed hip-hop’s musical scope to branch out from just the streets.
Even during his early career, West faced reproach for his unbridled and unashamed identity. That criticism, though, was always tempered by the cliché of the mad artistic genius; if West was making music this good, then a certain amount of eccentricity could be accepted.
Even Kanye himself seems aware of this fact. “I Love Kanye” has West rapping to himself, by himself—no accompaniment—saying that he misses the old Kanye, and recognizing that the public persona of Kanye West is consciously constructed, to an extent.
Following track “Waves”—which was considered as a title for TLOP at one point—is another high point for the album. Celebratory and boisterous, West raps over a chopped, lazy beat, before Chris Brown—another maligned artist— comes in with the hook. “Waves” is a victory lap, and the listener just can’t help but cheer for West to cross the finish line.
Closing track “Fade” is an apt ending for the album, offering some glimpse of self-awareness from the self-aggrandizing musician. Drenched in New Wave keys and basslines, West and Ty Dolla $ign rap that love is ultimately bound to dissipate and fade away. The track would be perfectly at home in a trendy dance club, and is unlike anything West has produced, giving hope of a new direction, both musically and personally, for a troubled artist.
Above: Kanye conflates the religious and the personal in his music and his public image.
photo: Korina Rojo • CU Denver Sentry