The Life of Pablo: Why Kanye West is (still) a genius
Newest album cements West as performer deserving of praise
For many, the build-up to The Life of Pablo was a truly excruciating experience. After going through a series of metamorphoses from So Help Me God to Swish and Waves and then to the obscure T.L.O.P, Kanye West’s seventh LP was still an enigma just days before the album’s debut. Scepticism was rife amongst those eagerly anticipating the album and as the world waited for Kanye to walk into New York’s Madison Square Garden for the premiere, no one was really sure what would happen. Was the album finished? Was there even an album?
The uncertainty and speculation coupled with Kanye’s cryptic tweets cast a shadow of doubt over the release. Many derided Kanye for his descriptions of the album as 'one of the greatest … of all time', mocking his over-confidence and awaiting his downfall. But as millions of people gathered to watch the premiere/fashion show live on Tidal and in cinemas around the world, what Kanye ultimately provided was yet another demonstration of his genius.
He has always been good at playing the villain. Kanye’s character is that of a self-obsessed, arrogant egomaniac who ruins award shows for pretty blond pop singers and tweets bizarre and controversial statements. He knows how to manipulate his public image to the point where people expect him to fail time and time again. But as the world continues to scoff at his success, Kanye persists, because as writer Heben Nigatu notes, 'for black folks to love themselves is a political act.'
this new album is ONE of the greatest albums not the greatest just one of …— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 3, 2016
Kanye has always been forthright about his identity as a black man, straying from the quiet and docile social contract that many black entertainers feel bound to follow. His deviation from such norms harks back to the days of the Harlem Renaissance, where the intense desire for an authentic black identity within post-war white America resulted in a surge of African American creativity and self-expression in the form of art, music and literature. Much of the poetry and prose of the period placed emphasis on a sense of militancy as opposed to submissiveness and called for defiance against white subjugation. As poet Claude McKay encouraged people to reflect on issues of race, so too does Kanye West through his bold and abrasive persona which confronts attitudes to black ambition.
Though many view him with contempt, the question of how anyone can continue to vehemently deny his talent and ability as a rapper remains. On first listen, The Life of Pablo is another stellar album with beautiful gospel arrangements, skilful production throughout and a stream of powerful guest appearances from the likes of Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean. The album reflects his growth as an artist and emphasises the confidence with which he combines a new energy with old expectations, delivering something typically 'Kanye' and yet profoundly incomparable.
But despite this, if you search on Twitter today you won’t find comments of praise. Instead, you’ll be bombarded with plenty of tweets criticising Kanye for pulling out a Taylor Swift diss in ‘Famous’. As usual, Kanye provokes and the world bites, allowing for a comment to be made on how his brash, lack of subservience upsets modern day white America, resulting in his demonisation as an artist.
'Did I deliver on my promise of an album?' Kanye asked the crowd at MSG. The answer is a resounding yes but what he also delivered is proof that he is right to declare himself worthy of admiration, regardless of how unwilling people are to see beyond his outspoken persona and candid commentary. In over a decade, Kanye has done much to redefine black power and pride, refusing to stay in his lane and play the role society expects of the black male. With The Life of Pablo, he once again affirms that he belongs.The Life of Pablo will (probably) be released today, it is available to stream on TIDAL now.