Article by Monica Couvillion | esPResso Staff Writer
If you’ve been on the Internet in the past month (and most likely, you have) there has been an inescapable amount of coverage surrounding Kanye West and the February 14 release of his most recent album The Life of Pablo. West’s first album since 2013’s Yeezus was promised first in the summer of 2014 and then teased by mention, word-of-mouth and individual song releases on his personal Twitter account ever since with announcements coming at an overwhelming rate as we neared closer to it’s release.
Before The Life of Pablo, the album was first titled So Help Me God, then SWISH, then Waves, the latter of the three previous titles igniting a well publicized Twitter feud between West and fellow rapper Wiz Khalifa. Along with the changes in album title, The Life of Pablo premiered unconventionally during West’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden on February 12 as a part clothing line unveiling, part listening party extravaganza. The album was officially released on February 14 through the exclusive streaming service Tidal, where it will allegedly remain forever, never to be sold by Apple or streamed on other services such as the popular Spotify.
The Life of Pablo has been described by West himself as a “gospel album,” as it includes heavy vocal backing by a gospel choir on various tracks and specifically on the song Ultralight Beam, which premiered publicly during West’s February 13 performance on Saturday Night Live, that includes a feature from gospel musician Kirk Franklin. This distinction matched with it’s unconventional roll-out has put The Life of Pablo directly in the recent media spotlight.
The track Famous calls out pop media darling Taylor Swift and implies that her success is a result of his involvement in her career (“involvement” in the form of the famous 2009 VMA interruption). The scrapped album title Waves ignited the now infamous Twitter feud between West and Khalifa that resulted in a 17-part rebuttal from West. During the exchange, which took place on January 27 and is now mostly deleted from Twitter, West attacks Khalifa’s character, parenting skills and fashion choices (see my personal favorite tweet: “@KanyeWest: I went to look at your twitter and you were wearing cool pants”).
West’s other comments surrounding The Life of Pablo’s release included the Twitter confession that West is $53 million in debt from pursuing his creative ideas, a meltdown caught on tape on the set of Saturday Night Live when his performance stage was altered and numerous announcements of who West was collaborating with on the new album.
All of this press, mostly generated by West’s own comments, seems to desensitize music fans to the actual artistry of The Life of Pablo and place the focus on the creator, not the creation. It would be wrong to mention all of the “hype” surrounding the new album without noting West’s marriage into the Kardashian family, a new facet in his career since 2013’s Yeezus that was rolled out with just as much conversation but (debatably) more brand consistency. West’s failure to first settle on an album title made The Life of Pablo an un-brandable, inconsistent promise. This inconsistency matched with his assertion that he is “the greatest artist of all time” (taken from his January 27 Twitter exchange with Khalifa) while simultaneously being $53 million in debt and asking Mark Zuckerberg for a million dollar donation has damaged West’s once well-respected place in the music industry.
While The Life of Pablo is still being hailed as a phenomenal album (Rolling Stone gives it 4.5/5 stars, Pitchfork gives it a 9/10 and a “Best New Music” distinction), West displays his scattered and highly controversial thoughts publicly in interviews and on his Twitter account, leading to a lack of professionalism that West once capitalized on. While he was always regarded as somewhat of an ego-maniac (see: album title Yeezus, a combination of West’s own alias “Yeezy” and Christianity’s Son of God, Jesus), he was making headlines for his artistry, not his most recent Twitter fight or misogynist lyric. Match this with the fact that The Life of Pablo has been illegally downloaded well over 500,000 times already (according to an article published on TorrentFreak on February 16, only two days after the album’s official release). This is most likely due to it’s exclusive roll-out on Tidal.
From a purely business standpoint, it is likely that The Life of Pablo could have been dropped without any surrounding promotion and still received the same amount of purchases (or illegal downloads) as it has with it’s elaborate publicity. Beyoncé did it in 2013 with her self-titled release which became the fastest-selling album in the history of iTunes. West’s own comments seem to be hurting his reputation, not helping it, as many people have been inundated with Kanye West quotes and announcements for the past two or three months. His ruthless unprofessionalism on Twitter makes him an eccentric and entertaining public figure to follow on the platform but, in my own opinion, it is delegitimizing his status as a serious artist.
His musical genius is evident on The Life of Pablo just as it was on Yeezus, my personal favorite Kanye release My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and even his first album College Dropout, yet the media storm surrounding The Life of Pablo has been almost too frenzied to give listeners the time to sit back and explore his creative vision. The “old Kanye” seemed to be focused more on this creative vision; following the recent publicity hysteria the “new Kanye” seems a little confused. As a fan, I’d love to see his next release be more cohesive in promotion, execution and personal branding – “man, that’d be so Kanye.”
*(final quotes taken from I Love Kanye, a track off of The Life of Pablo)