“Pablo” unites divided Kanye




By Nick Mullen / Staff Writer

I consider myself a Kanye West apologist.

When stories of Kanye’s antics — read: the “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” tweet — pervade the news, I’m jump to defend him, citing his artistry and creative talent.

Besides, Kanye West’s music and his public persona have historically been at odds with each other. His music career hosts a string of popular albums that continuously reveal new side streets of Kanye’s musical talents, with each new release seeing more success than the last. But his public persona is a little more polarizing.

From his remarks about George W. Bush to Taylor Swift, his freak outs on radio shows or his brief Twitter beef with Wiz Khalifa last month, Kanye West knows how to keep a death grip on the spotlight. Whether you like or dislike Kanye, you’re definitely not ignoring him.

But up until “The Life of Pablo,” the two sides of Kanye West have always existed in somewhat separate realms.

After making “808s and Heartbreak,” an album which has forever altered the hip-hop landscape and gave rise to a generation of artists like Drake and The Weeknd, Kanye West forced himself into “exile” after a string of public embarrassments, peaking with the Taylor Swift incident at the 2009 VMAs.

“808s,” his fourth studio album, became a commercial and artistic failure, and his public embarrassments further alienated him from the public’s good graces.

His response to the backlash was “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” an album he and his celebrity rapper-saturated guest list created in Hawaii, where he hid himself in a 24/7 studio. “MBDTF,” which was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year, was his “comeback album,” to prove that he can appease the mainstream while making an artistic and critically acclaimed masterpiece.

Since releasing “MBDTF,” Kanye’s stayed chatty. “Yeezus” was the antithesis to “MBDTF,” showing that as much as he can please the masses, he can just as effectively shun them. Since “Yeezus,” his long winded rants are often and increasingly bizarre, from criticizing everyone and everything working against him to bombastic self-declarations of greatness.

It follows that “TLOP” would deliver Kanye’s latest thoughts and musings to the people. The album is a direct and unfiltered lens into Kanye’s mind, from the Taylor Swift incident to Pablo Escobar.

Unlike his past albums, the lyrics on “TLOP” matter more than the production. Kanye’s ability as a producer is what separates him from many other artists, and his lyrics have always more or less been secondary to the production.

The song “I Love Kanye” sums up the album better than anything else. There’s no music, just Kanye talking about how people “miss the old Kanye.” He closes the song laughing and saying:

“What if Kanye made a song about Kanye, called ‘I Miss the Old Kanye,’ man that would be so Kanye. That’s all it was Kanye, we still love Kanye, and I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.”

Kanye West is nothing if not self-aware — despite what his Twitter persona suggests. From the ever-changing titles and the performance art release and fashion show, Kanye has seemingly planned out everything about this album .

He knows you think he’s crazy, and he agrees. Over “Yeezus”-style beats with beeping synths and snares on “Feedback,” he raps, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy.”

But for all the crazy rants and diatribes Kanye takes on, his artistic talent is still clear.

On “No More Parties in L.A.,” Kanye and Kendrick Lamar spit verses over a groovy and energetic Madlib beat. Kanye’s long and sprawling verse muses on the celebrity lifestyle, and his passionate storytelling is reminiscent of his “Late Registration” days.
“I know some fans who thought I wouldn’t rap like this again / But the writer’s block is over, MCs cancel your plans.”

The album is heavy on features, including — to name a few — Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, Andre 3000, Frank Ocean, Rihanna, The Weeknd, Ty Dolla $ign, Kid Cudi, Young Thug and Chris Brown.

In many ways “TLOP’s” overwhelming guest list reflects Kanye’s simple desire for this album to be heard. This album has been one of the most hyped and anticipated records in recent history. Every time Kanye announced a new name change days leading up to its release or tweeted any other clue about the record, almost every media outlet rushed to cover it — including his brief explanation this weekend that Pablo represents St. Paul the Apostle.

On Saturday, he tweeted “Paul … The most powerful messenger of the first century… Now we stand here 20 centuries later… Because he was a traveler.”

“TLOP” is Kanye’s latest platform to air his stream of consciousness. It’s a sprawling, rambling mess, but like all of his preceding albums, it has praiseworthy artistic merit. The beats come from underground legends such as Madlib and contemporary favorites such as Metro Boomin.

The album is mercurial, revisiting Kanye’s entire career by weaving each album’s distinctly different moods together. Heartfelt tracks, such as “Real Friends,” recall “808s” confessional lyrics mesh with classical Kanye tracks, such as “No More Parties in L.A.,” and more energetic mainstream hype tracks, “Feedback” and “FACTS.”

Defending Kanye’s public persona requires making the case for his artistic ability, which isn’t hard to do. But with “TLOP,” Kanye has managed to fuse his love for self-expression with his genuine musical talent, giving otherwise pompous tweets, such as “I am consumed by my purpose to help the world,” an entirely different context — one we might even believe after a few listens.

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