The importance of consistent branding examined through “The Life of Pablo”: Kanye’s worst album, with Kanye’s best song in it.
Would you agree — provided that your knowledge in Katy Perry’s music doesn’t go that deep — that it’s equally possible that her song E.T. could be in the album “Teenage Dream” (the one with California Gurls in it) or in the album “Prism” (the one with Roar in it)?
Would you also agree that there is absolutely no chance in hell that Kanye West’s Black Skinhead song is in the album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” “808s & Heartbreaks,” “Graduation,” “Late Registration” or “The Life of Pablo”? You’d bet your life it’s in Yeezus, right?
This fact is also the reason why Kanye West is so successful musically. His approach in all albums before TLOP is honed through a discipline and a focus on a very specific theme. Kanye picks a theme and then creates a different, exciting version of it. (That is close to what fashion designers do, by the way. For example, in early 2010, the fashion industry picked the nineties as its go-to theme and the world was flooded with updated versions of the bomber jacket.)
The absence of that disciplined focus on the theme that Kanye picked for “The Life of Pablo” though is clearly the reason why that album is his weakest one so far.
Kanye made an excellent choice in picking the theme for TLOP: Gospel. Unfortunately for us, he didn’t stay true to the theme, giving us only glimpses of that creative commitment through Ultralight Beam and Fade.
I consider Ultralight Beam to be Kanye’s best song so far. Pitchfork described it as “gospel music that’s hollowed out”. I call it an ode to minimalism experienced through the lens of spirituality. It uses a minimalistic production approach which was most probably born during the making of Yeezus and stayed with Kanye afterwards. Fade, although different from Ultralight Beam, is a track that remains true to the theme but manages to surprise us through the music genre that the “Gospel x Kanye” theme decides to take on: EDM.
Yet one more time Kanye zagged when every rapper was zigging aaaand…. that’s where the good stuff ended, with the rest of TLOP feeling rushed, unfocused and… unnecessary. It’s as if the rest of the album has no reason at all to exist other than to fulfill contractual agreements with record labels and live entertainment companies and to play the troll in shortsighted celebrity feuds.
So, which theme will Kanye pick for his next album? More importantly, will he stay true to it? True to it from intro to outro?