TLOP Review: Kanye West, Bono & Weak Tweets
When I first got it, I played The Life Of Pablo front to back, immersing myself into the product of “the greatest artist of all time.” My initial reaction was no reaction. I was stumped but more accurately, bewildered. It’s tricky that as much as the album is not cohesive, it does make a good listen.The Life of Pablo is allover the place in terms of subject matter and much like Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Big K.R.I.T and honestly almost all rappers, Kanye’s contradictions can be found plastered conspicuously all over the album. As much as he is attacked for having them, the bottom line is the same contradictions resulted in him being named called and make him seem to be a hypocrite, are part of us all. Despite the fact that I am a Kanye fan, I was unnerved by it all.
Im still not impressed.
Because he’s always aiming to raise the bar and surpass himself, I imagine Kanye tried to make a better version of the little song he made over a decade ago titled Jesus Walks. Imma let you finish Kanye but even Kanye couldn’t surpass the greatest ghetto gospel song made since R. Kelly’s I Wish. Thank you Yeezus for bringing in Kelly Price out of the ether to bless us with her heavenly pipes on the opener Ultralight Beam. Kirk Franklin and the choir’s appearance tied up the song quiet well and provided the necessary biblical touch the song begged for.
There’s a significant amount of navel-gazing, a lot in fact. The same mocking of his family and the Hollywood lifestyle that provided laughs on the Yeezus album were very much present. The same OMG-I-can’t-believe-he-said-that Kanyeisms are very much present. The same soundscapes that rise and dip dramatically all within a 5-minute track are still very much present. It’s all pretty much the same as Yeezus and a tad bit formulaic. In another form of navel gazing, French music journalist Michka Assayas sat down with U2 frontman Bono over some years to have candid conversations about his life and career. The result was the 2005 book Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas.
The similarities between Bono and Kanye’s paths can be easily lifted from the book’s chapter; two men who have everything but gripped with a need to do more for their fellow man. While the former has put his purpose at par with his vocation, and you could say much further ahead, the latter, Kanye, still struggles to juggle his social conscience with the rap lifestyle with its obnoxious posturing.
“A rockstar has two instincts; he wants to change the world and he wants to have fun. If he can do both at the same time, that the way to go.” — Bono
In the many bursts of Twitter runs he’s been on for the past few weeks, he mentioned that this was a gospel album but the aforementioned peaks and dips get confusing. The album switches gears a lot; it’s a revival, a sweaty turn up at a strip club, a dinner at a quiet upmarket restaurant, and a confessional booth at the same time. The aesthetic switches so much you don’t know how to act before the album is through. If this was an alphet it would be oversized acid wash crushed denim jeans teamed with a silk blouse, a pair of brogues and a beret to top it all off.
“I’m the person I’ve ended up, which is a long way from the people who inspire me. But here I am, and I see the embarrassment, excruciating at times. Of “Rich rock stars working on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable”” — Bono
As always the communal approach to music he has been using since the G.O.O.D Music album Cruel Summer was in full swing. On his Twitter he explained the rationale behind the approach.
The upside of TLOP is the guest appearances and the talents that came together to contribute. Kelly Price and Chance The Rapper on Ultralight Beam, The Weekend on FML, a much more filtered Young Thug on Highlights, the Future clone Desiigner on PT2 and The Dream sliding in on many moments throughout the album. Lest we forget how important #ProducersMustRise is, Pigeons and Planes created this infographic to show the scale of production talent Kanye has been roping in for his albums over the years. As you can see, TLOP clocks in the most credits.
“I have a very loud loud-hailer. My bullhorn is plugged into a Marshall stack, and I can use this ridiculous thing called celebrity to the advantage of these issues.” — Bono
Kanye’s ultimate super power is the ability to pick and manage talents. Kanye knows exactly who to tap and isolate the rare element in each of these talents to add in order to achieve an awesome product.TLOP showcases this superpower and exalts Kanye as a brilliant choir master if not symphony leader. The songs individually are brilliant but as a complete project it comes off as highly schizophrenic. This could be due to the last minute tracklist change before album release — an occurrence that left many a rap writer unamused as evidenced by the many individual attempts to reorganize the list or at best stick to the original.
TLOP, like any Kanye album, is an experience but will it be the best hip hop album of the year when award season comes? I doubt it. Will we be playing this album a year from now? I don’t know about you but I won’t. The Life Of Pablo is cool but it’s not College Dropout or 808s status i.e. it’s not a game changer. The Life of Pablo is an album that reminds us that despite his many other talents, Kanye is still an important rapper. Kanye took time to curate this piece to remind us he is still around. Unfortunately The Life of Pablo sounds like a teaser to hold us over until he gives us the real album. So come with it and quit playing Ye!
“I actually enjoy the fact that I now live very well and i have an irresponsible side, and silliness is something I hold very dear.” — Bono
PS: Can you please go back to tweeting once every 6 months cos you suck
The Life of Pablo help me lay to rest Kanye the inspiration, the idol, but it made me aware of Kanye the painter, a painter of scenes and moods which this album basically is; a collection of moods. Kanye curated a symphony of minds to create a mood board for every occasion. That is Kanye’s genius and I believe he has finally found out that his voice is not the start of the conversation but the collective talents he summoned, as well as his audience, is where he draws strength.
Read through the album credits here
“I don’t have any real power, but the people I represent do. Now I don’t control that constituency but I represent them in a certain sense. [Being in a pop band] imbues you with a power way beyond anything that you might have an influence on. It’s a certain moral authority that’s way beyond your own life and capabilities. The punch you throw is not your own.” — Bono
In an article titled The End of Genius, Joshua Wolf Shenk points out the historical background of “genius” and the false posturing of solitary work. Before The Enlightenment, thinkers were content with acknowledging communal effort in synthesising ideas and products but later emphasis was placed on the individual “genius” — apparent divine gifts bestowed upon a man by a touch from God. We have seen these perpetuate throughout history.
Shenk even brings attention to the celebrated heroes and geniuses of yesteryear whose right hand men pop culture has chosen to blur out of the picture; Martin Luther King Jr’s colleague Ralph Abernathy, Sigmund Freud’s physician colleague Wilhelm Fliess, Picasso’s frequent collaborator Georges Braque and Einstein’s “sounding board,” the engineer Michele Besso. They all played an equal role in making these men great but we have chosen to forget their efforts. Kanye has, for a long time, thought himself a lone genius but I believe it has been brought to his attention that his successes are not at all a sum total of his lone efforts.
It’s clear Kanye has found his purpose but it’s so muddled up within his varied interests that it’s hard to really discern the realness and the nonsense. In the 2005 book Bono had realised his power and responsibility back then. Kanye had it in his early years but gained and lost it throughout his career in consequence to life’s thumps and recurring wounds sustained. On TLOP it is not certain whether we have recovered Old Kanye or not but there is a speck of light shining in the distance that suggests it and gives us hope. Thanks for the fire memes.