On Thursday, February 11th, Kanye West released ‘The Life of Pablo’ in Madison Square Garden, in what was almost surely the largest and most elaborate album release party ever. Several hundred models donned Kanye’s monochrome designs and stood nearly still in the middle of MSG while Kanye blasted his newest album at full volume for the Garden. Hypebeasts roamed the halls of the Garden and lined up to buy merchandise they had yet to see.
Celebrities showed out in force as well. Pusha T, Travi$ Scott, Kid Cudi, Nick “Swaggy P” Young, Naomi Campbell, Vic Mensa, and all the Kardashians were in attendance. Lamar Odom was there as well, making his first public appearance since being hospitalized. The event, celebrities and all, was large in scope but the real star was the album itself. Kanye chose not to perform, and instead let the album speak for itself as it played over the Madison Square Garden speakers from what appeared to be the Soundcloud app on Kanye’s iPhone.
There is a lot to address when writing about this album, and that may be by design. It’s worth discussing the album’s release on Tidal, Kanye’s recent ramblings around the album, the album’s misogyny, and of course the music itself. So, here’s what you need to know about the album formerly known as ‘So Help Me God’, ‘Swish’, and ‘Waves’, but is now known simply as ‘The Life of Pablo.’
Kanye stated this week that the album would never be released on Apple and instead was exclusive to Tidal. Tidal? Really. No one in the world has Tidal. Releasing an album exclusively to Tidal is like having an art show on a submarine. As a result, the album has been illegally downloaded over 500,000 times.
2. “Name one genius that ain’t crazy” – Kanye West
Kanye has captivated a lot of interest in the last few weeks with his twitter rants. First, he beefed with Wiz Khalifa, claiming that “I own your child,” among other things. Then he went on a series of rants about genius, the new album, God, the price of textbooks, and being “The greatest living artist and the greatest artist of all time.” Naturally, this has sparked some important conversations about Kanye’s mental health.
3. Sex and Misogyny in ‘The Life of Pablo’
Like Kanye’s earlier works, ‘The Life of Pablo’ has lines which are clearly misogynistic. It used to be easier to write off Kanye’s misogynistic lyrics as a sign of the times, leftovers from an era full of them. Notable examples are Kanye’s less than flattering portrayal of women in “Drunk and Hot Girls” that was released in 2007 and in “Gold Digger” released in 2005. Unfortunately, Kanye’s misogyny has not disappeared. Namely, he believes that he still might sleep with Taylor Swift because he “made that bitch famous.” She addressed this at the Grammys, noting that she was the one responsible for her fame, her fortune, and her success in the music industry. On a related note, Kanye appears to be unable to go a whole song without rapping about sex. At first glance, that is a weird way to describe what Kanye has called a gospel album. But, this is encapsulated by the album’s cover art which shows a wedding photo juxtaposed with a scantily-clad butt. Kanye’s preoccupation with sex reflects his split between religion and sexuality, but some of his lines about sex are clearly misogynistic and offensive. Not cool, Kanye.
4. Most importantly, the music itself
The album itself, is fantastic. It’s not cohesive, but it doesn’t have to be. It feels vaguely spiritual in the vein of Kendrick’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ but lacks the direction. It’s also not an album full of singles made for radio. ‘The Life of Pablo’ is actually a pretty unique album. It’s boastful about sex and materialism, but humble before God. It has dark moments where Kanye questions the loyalty of the people around him (‘Real Friends’, ‘No More Parties in L.A.’, and ‘Wolves’) as well as uplifting moments in songs like ‘Waves’, ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1’, and ‘Ultralight Beams’. ‘The Life of Pablo’ is not Kanye’s best album but it’s not his worst one either. In the album’s Madison Square Garden release, Kanye didn’t rap or sing. He stood behind a DJ booth playing the songs, but mostly just celebrating. Kanye knows he made it big and this album is proof. In the words of Kanye himself, “It’s a celebration, bitches.”
Now, put everything I said out of your mind for a bit and go listen to “The Life of Pablo” ASAP. And then listen to it 3-4 more times.