Easily the most entertaining human of the past two decades is Kanye West. If he’s not raging on Twitter, he’s putting himself into fashion or letting us know about him and Kim or making music. And that music? It’s always great.
While an occasional fan, I know that what he does is deeply profound and perhaps definitive of post-Y2K music. Kanye is modern music. He both dictates and reacts to musical trends, operating above and below the line in a way that Beyoncé does in a baby way for baby listeners. He is not intended to be family friendly or kind. He is an adult. Kanye is Kanye.
This is what makes his new album The Life Of Pablo a revelation. More than a new record, it plays like a mixtape of who he is currently into and what the state of his life is right now. It’s a picture book, a multiple yearbook for him to catalogue his thoughts in the way he does best. For example: a song like “Highlights” is the epitome of his high and low culture Americana, of his status, with tosses to upper echelon markers like Equinox juxtaposed with bad bitches putting their hands up. The same song is cut with extreme topicality and director’s commentary on tabloid fodder—like Blac China and Rob Kardashian’s relationship and Kim’s history with Ray J—which affords the album a to-the-moment feeling, that Kanye has preyed upon what you say about him to make. It’s no wonder the album kept getting renamed and pushed around: he was working up to the last second of his deadline. And it includes people like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, and Rihanna? Dude knows how to ride waves. He knows that too as songs like “I Love Kanye” are a parade of self-awareness, that he’s in on the joke. There’s also “FML” which confront his self-destruction, his persona as the anti-produced talent, while both “Wolves” and “Real Friends” capture an extremely emotional urban feeling of being the success in your sphere—and what that means (financially) for everyone around you, from your old best friend to a cousin you’ve never spoken to. The album is a statement of being for all late twentysomething through early fortysomething city people. It is perfect.
Atop of this, the production of the album is fascinating. It taps into “He’s so hot right now.” producer Hudson Mohawke, which of course means he is going to explode. Similarly, samples were culled from Nina Simone, Nelly, Mr. Fingers, and—Yes.—even Street Fighter 2. Of all the use and reuse and found items from Kanye, the one that stood out as deliciously odd was the sample on the two minute improv bit “Freestyle 4,” a sexual romp that weaves itself into it’s brightly dark source material: Goldfrapp‘s 2000 single “Human” from their debut Felt Mountain.
Yes, the song is a bit ridiculous since it talks about fucking on a table in the middle of a god damned Vogue magazine party. It’s absurd. What feels even more absurd is the use of something from Alison Goldfrapp, a contemporary queen of delicate pop dance who is a mega huge gay icon who uses music to subverter sex. It certainly feels funny considering Yeezy’s history of being fake gay and general performance(s) of sex. Not that liking Goldfrapp means you are of a certain sexual orientation but it certainly perked my ears up, providing a funny fuzziness in the stomach since Goldfrapp was so huge for me in early 2000s high school…as was Kanye West. Now, over ten years since being introduced to both, they come colliding into each other in an acknowledgement of goodness. The match is also so unlikely and so deliciously random that it works. Perhaps they met in the mid-aughts, thanks to Hennessy? We can only hope so.
This all speaks to Kanye’s genius, to Kanye as tastemaker, to Kanye as a somewhat superior being in terms of culture making. Anything Kanye touches is changed forever, which is great for me because this probably means we can expect more Goldfrapp. As we will see with HudMo and DJ Dodger Stadium—and as we’ve seen with Arca—the future is bright for his collaborators. The people he works with go on to have big success and rekindled energies. You can expect everyone—from Andre 3000 to Ty Dolla $ign—to be popping up a lot more because of Pablo.
And thank god for Pablo. What a fucking bomb return from someone who has spent his past few years being in a court of fools. He’s thankfully asserted his genius again, to remind us that he is Kanye, he is yeezus, and Ye reigns supreme.