I can hear you now: “Aw, seriously?” YEAH, SERIOUSLY. You think I ain’t got nothing to say about Ye?
You either love him or ya him, but Kanye West is an artist I enjoy, sometimes grudgingly. He’s flawed, egotistical, obnoxious, and a whole bunch of other things you probably know, but hey, I dig his work, and his commitment to music-making. Once upon a time I used to detest him, what with his ego, ignorance, and boastfulness, but the music speaks for himself, and little by little his work won me over. Ye’s dogged approach to making the best, or at least, most interesting music he can is really admirable, and he’s done a LOT for hip-hop and popular music in general over the past decade. The ego comes from somewhere, and his pedigree is damned impressive. There’s at least one song of his that you like.
On Valentine’s Day Yeezy delivered his long-awaited seventh album, The Life of Pablo (Escobar? Picasso? Who even knows!), and the record has been divisive on every front, from its distribution method (There’s still no way in hell I’m signing up for Tidal, sorry) to its unfinished feel (He updated the record multiple times since it’s release) and the radical departure from the maximal approach and huge statements he’s made on previous records. Some feel pretty alienated from Ye these days, saying he’s changed too much, jumped the shark, lost his edge, never going back to his old self, and so on, and while I agree somewhat, I’m not so quick to write him off. He thrives on being the underdog.
So, enter Pablo. I admit it took a while for me to listen to the record because I couldn’t be arsed to deal with Tidal, but once the album’s exclusivity with the streaming service relaxed, I gave it a listen, and, well…
It’s a fascinating record. Good. Dare I say, even great in parts. The album definitely has its moments. I like Pablo because it’s ridiculously personal and unfiltered (like much of his work), and Ye is most definitely at a strange moment in his life, what with his laments of being “broke,” the wild Twitter rants, the fashion shows, the Madison Square Garden reveal of the new record and his fairly public family life; it all makes for even more intriguing music. Whereas on previous records he bounced back and forth between savouring the good life and detesting it, now, he’s settled into the contradiction, and cultivates the bizarreness of it all, giving you a front row seat. At times it feels like it’s almost too much info, like the references to his crazy-ass cousin who stole his laptop he was “fucking bitches on” or mentioning how he’s off the Lexapro, and not a lot of rappers can be that personal. He also brings the same music-making techniques he’s employed in previous records to this one, you can hear his trademark sound across the record which veers between extremes. It’s almost like Ye’s laying on the couch pouring his soul out and you’re the therapist trying to make sense of it, and in 2016, it’s kind of refreshing to hear. We need more rappers, especially mainstream ones, to be this off-kilter, unrestrained, and out there. We need more weird rap in general, goddamn.
Anyhow, “Famous” is the joint that got me invested in the record. Of course, it’s the typical boasts from Yeezy over a dramatic beat, with an uncredited Rihanna providing the hook (originally from a Nina Simone song). It’s classic, decadent-era Yeezy, but it’s the second half of this song which catches my attention, where it launches into a tremendous climax of a descending beat utilizing Sister Nancy‘s Jamaican dancehall classic “Bam Bam,” with producer Swizz Beats adlibbing randomly. It’s a moment of unbridled joy, and one of the most exuberant moments on the record, and it’s awesome.
And hell, if you still hate Kanye, if nothing else, this video, which features actors Aziz Ansari and Eric Wareheim goofing off in Italy, confirms that Master of None season 2 is happening. So there’s that.