WVAU’s #2 Album of 2016: "Life of Pablo" by Kanye West

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WVAU’s #2 Album of 2016: "Life of Pablo" by Kanye West

Jonathan Skufca

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Oh, high school me. How naÌøve you were. I now laugh at the amount of times I turned up my nose at the fantastic music that Kanye put out, while secretly hoping that “ Gold Digger‰” would come on the school bus radio, or that the DJ at my junior prom would put on “ POWER‰” for me to brood in the back and pretend I wasn‰’t enjoying it. That all changed the summer going into my senior year of high school when he put out Yeezus. I had seen the articles on social media about the ridiculousness that was the “Bound 2‰Û music video, and, when I finally decided to watch it, I realized that I genuinely liked it, and I did not need to pretend not to like it anymore. Now, when that track comes on, I get in the zone and have the time of my life…especially after a beer or two.

So, as anyone who was following the music industry in the past few years knows, the process leading up to the release of The Life of Pablo was the most Kanye-like process possible. Going through multiple release dates and multiple titles—starting with So Help Me God, changing to SWISH and then to Waves before, ultimately finalizing the title only a few days before the initial February 14, 2016 release date.

And, of course, that release was exclusive to the Jay-Z owned music streaming service Tidal, which likely doubled Tidal‰’s subscriber base as Kanye fans sign up for free trials so they can listen to the album as soon as possible. I know I did. And I listened to it repeatedly, experiencing a roller coaster of emotions as one does when they listen to a Kanye record. But I ended up loving it, and Kanye became a frequent point of discussion when hanging out with my friends. I believe we ended up deciding that Kanye was a modern-day Beethoven and had to end on a high note as Beethoven did with his Ninth Symphony. And this is coming from a music major. We weren‰’t sure if TLOP is that high note, but is sure a damn good record.

After the record is eventually released (in a slightly changed form—something I‰’ll bring up later) on all other streaming services in April, it entered my listening rotation. I‰’d put it on while walking to my Music History classes, wondering if, in 50 or so years, students will still be sitting in Katzen Room 123 learning about this record. And I hope so. This record contains such a wide variety of music, ranging from the incredible Gospel-styled opener “Ultralight Beam,‰” to the acapella (and one of my favorite songs ever) “I Love Kanye.‰” Kanye throwing lyrical shade at his haters in “Famous‰” can seem crude at first, but it frequently gave me the courage to power through many a crappy day. And “No More Parties in LA‰” is absolutely phenomenal in every single way.

Kanye, like any good artist, reveals quite a bit about himself in his art, and it allows an insight into the braggart that many who don‰’t listen to his music see on the news. And it pains me that many won‰’t experience some of the greatest music of our time because of Kanye‰’s ego. I almost didn‰’t. And The Life of Pablo, while not as great as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is still one of the best records of the decade.

So, earlier I had mentioned that the album went through serious changes post-release, something Kanye announced he had the intent of doing—in a tweet he mentioned the album was a “living breathing changing creative expression.‰” Initially, around March 2016, an updated version of the track “Wolves‰” featuring vocals from Vic Mensa and Sia, replaced the version that had previously been on the record, and the version that was eventually fully released in April had twelve tracks that were entirely different from the February release. However, Kanye still was not done with The Life of Pablo. On June 14, FOUR MONTHS after the album was initially released, an additional track was added to the record (“Saint Pablo“). This ability to change and update albums on the fly contrasts with the seeming permanent nature of an album. It makes the current nature of an album ephemeral and is a way of releasing an album that is only possible on streaming services, as even the files downloaded onto a hard drive are a permanent version of the album. In this current age where physical media is on the way out, this way of releasing an album allows for the artist to have a different level of creativity. Instead of the physical album art (something I personally still love and wrote about in my 2015 countdown article) they can continually review, edit, and remix their craft. This brings up an interesting question, though: When are albums done? When the artist is satisfied? How far should these edits go? Should songs get removed from albums? Or only added?

Things like this are why I love the music industry. As old and established as it may seem, things are continually changing and Kanye West‰’s The Life of Pablo is a perfect example of the direction the industry is heading—like it or not.