"The Life of..."
by Malcolm Carter
Two years ago Kanye West had us(his confused fans) gathered in a circle where he was building the punch line for what we thought was going to be the joke of the century, figuratively, but it was far from it. Once I completely finished Yeezus (a very hard accomplishment) I was almost moved to tears. I've made it my mission to forget that album. Kanye attempted to channel his conscious rapper on Yeezus. He FAILED, miserably! The idea wasn’t terrible, but it turned out to resemble a black history project done by a third grader in Connecticut, presumably white. The “Strange Fruit sample” gave us something to think about but that dissolved quickly once we got to Guilt Trip. The constant spaceship sound effect began to become a nuisance too. In simpler terms Kanye created an unearthly amount of buzz for Yeezus and he gave us subpar material.
Fast forward to February 2016 Kanye is delaying the date, and switching the name of his album every week. It seems like we’re all in that circle again waiting to be hit with a horrific punch line. At a point I felt like I was waiting to actually hear why the chicken crossed the road. Kanye gave us The Life of Pablo, eventually. I was so hesitant to listen that I used the “I’m not getting tidal for one album when I pay for apple music.” 24 hours later I’m sitting in my room with no lights anxiously staring at my phone not sure what hitting that play button will do to me. I’ve never been one to overthink decisions, but I was close to bringing out a notepad to write pros and cons of listening to the album. I eventually hit play, and a little girl saying “we don’t want no devils” hits me quick. Almost felt like Kanye was trying to rob me of my lunch money. I paused the album before any music started, I said a little prayer and pressed play.
Let’s take a moment to establish my relationship with Kanye West. Kanye was born and raised on the southside of Chicago, I was too. One summer after going with my mom and dad to the bank a Mercedes pulls up next to us at a stoplight. The front window rolled down an inch and a half and a little piece of paper dropped to the ground. The window began to roll completely down and Kanye West was looking at me threw his “stunner shades”. He gave me a piece sign and sped off basically showing everyone that he had a Mercedes. At this point in Kanye’s career Kanye the rapper was fairly new. He only had songs under his belt (most of them he only produced), no complete body of work. Kanye frequently collaborated with Chicago based artist like: Bump J, LEP Bogus Boys, Twista, and Common. Kanye released College Dropout and received a buzz globally. Kanye known for his producing skills, introduced a unique sound that commonly sampled older songs and often contained skits during songs. Skits weren’t new to hip hop but skits mixed with Kanye’s particular sound were.
As I stated earlier UltraLight Beam starts off with the audio of a viral video of a young girl declaring her love for Jesus. Kanye, basically, resurrects the career of The Dream on this song, so the Jesus references weren't so far stretched. More importantly Kanye channels his true innovation on this song. “UltraLight Beam” refers to the beam in the bible which blinded Saul on his journey to persecute Christians. Saul was completely blind for three days and once he regained his sight he decided to serve the lord, Saul later would write 13 books in the bible. This light beam that blinded Saul changed his life for the better. Kanye had a troublesome couple of years, Yeezus, the album, failed miserably. His Nike contract failed and he found himself in a rough patch in life. Kanye’s fortune returned after his marriage to Kim and a successful deal with Adidas. Kanye believes he is on an “Ultralight Beam” and he is changing the world, as Saul did. Kanye realizes God has granted him favor beyond believe and it displays it on this first song. We don’t see a sample on this song, but we do get, possibly, the greatest skit on any song. Kanye has Kirk Franklin pray at the end of this song, wrapping up the spiritual theme. Ironically most churches end with prayer and if I know anything about Kanye, his intention was to take us to church, which he accomplished.
The first two songs on this album might be the most important. The organization of an album is critical to its success. The Carter 3 might be the only unorganized album that has success. Kanye follows “UltraLight Beam” with “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1”. Kanye is asking for freedom from his decisions but at the same time he wants to own up to his mistakes. Kanye explains an argument he has with his girl, and at the end of the song he realizes he just wants to wake up next to her every morning. Though the main dialogue in this song seems to be between Kanye and his spouse, I believe this song is deeper than this. Kanye flows Pt. 1 and “UltraLight Beam” together, almost as one. Remember my statement on album organization, Kanye is clearly aware of this. I doubt Kanye decided to rap about only a girl on a song titled Father Stretch My Hands. The chorus of this songs says “Just wanna feel liberated”. Kanye knows his past actions have been questionable but after admitting his flaws to God in the previous song he wants to admit them to the public. One interesting fact with this song is Kanye chose to play this last at his “Yeezy Season 3” fashion show. After this song ended he thanked his supporters and fans for sticking with him and allowing him to expose himself to change the world.
Not to discredit any other songs on The Life of Pablo, but the album changes moods and this change is remarkable. Nine songs into the album Kanye has an acapella song titled “I Love Kanye” the change in mood occurs here. We see Kanye go from praising his lord and savior to speaking directly to his fans. Kanye explains what most of his fans were thinking during his rough patch in 2013. Kanye elaborates about what his fans miss: “Set on his goals Kanye, Chop up the beats Kanye, Sweet Kanye.” Kanye follows this song with “Waves” which features Chris Brown, ironically(I'll explain the irony later if you haven't figured it out yet). Waves speaks on rekindling relationships and reaching out to those who have left your life. Chris Brown opens the chorus of the song saying “Waves don’t die.” He is, in fact, right. Waves don’t die but they flux and re-flux. Kanye is saying the feelings you have for anybody never go away, but the environment can change them. Ironically, Chris Brown sings the chorus on this song. Brown has had his share of being crucified by the media and making questionable choices. We often debate if Brown still loves his ex-girlfriend Rihanna. Brown singing the chorus is a chess move by Kanye. He is alluding to the fact no matter how bad things can end your established feelings may be suppressed but can never fully be gone. Kanye is asking his fans to bring these feelings back, allow the wave to rise.
Kanye released this album after coming off his first album that did not take home a Grammy for best rap album. He also is coming off a failed fashion line and questionable shoe, and he is constantly attempting to rebuild his character. Most didn't know what to expect from him, me included. I doubt Kanye will ever release a album I will put over My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. That is almost asking Nas to make something better than Illmatic, or the Wu-Tang Clan to make something better than Enter the Wu-Tang(36 Chambers)... Impossible. Honestly I will say, excluding Yeezus, this is Kanye's worst album, but Kanye's worst album is equivalent to Jay-Z's The Black Album, or any album from Death Row Records(excluding Pac's albums). So basically, The Life of Pablo is Kanye's worst greatest album. I've only given you four songs out of 19. The message attached to these four songs has more Power than some artist can put in an entire album. All of the lights were on Knaye leading up to this album and he gave us non debatable greatness. Where Kanye will go from here is completely in his hands and whom ever else you might believe in. He has the potential to Runaway with the rap game, if he wants to.
Kanye has the potential to be the Pablo Picasso of this era, but being Kanye West is more important. Kanye wants to be the greatest rapper and fashion icon of this era. Kanye wants to be the wealthiest man of this era. Kanye wants to create something powerfully enough to make him the Walt Disney of this era. Kanye can try and try to be whatever he wants, but he can and will only be Kanye West, a kid from Chicago’s Southside. The true question is how will we remember Kanye, as an innovator or a troubled music artist?
Rather than me explaining Kanye’s last song “Fade” I’d rather you listen to it and think about the previous songs you read about and finish the Picasso Kanye started painting. Time to start feeling it fade. *Drops Mic*