It’s been over a week since Kanye West‘s extremely highly anticipated seventh solo LP The Life of Pablo (T.L.O.P.) hit the stratosphere and got previewed on earth on 11th February at New York’s MSG via a bombastic and cataclysmic listening party that converged fashion and music into a single global event. Yet, in the history of recent major pop releases there has probably never been less clarity and straightforwardness about an artist’s longly awaited effort. For once, almost 10 days after its “release” – or revelation to the mere mortals I should say – the album is still unretrievable for purchases in digital stores and has therefore been illegally downloaded over 500’000 times bringing back old early 2000’s memories (Kanye opted for the solution of assigning to buddy JAY Z’s Tidal music streaming service T.L.O.P.’s exclusivity for a period of time that only God or Yeezy truly know how long it really is). Second of all, the album went through at least three different sonic versions after its disclosure at the MSG event, and no one really knows how many others may see the light of day knowing Kanye’s distinct unpredictability and perfectionism. Third, just recently it was revealed that an another album-worth of demos and outtakes from T.L.O.P. (9, though the number may be rising quickly in the future) got leaked online and I would add could also be reinvigorated by Yeezy himself for further version of the album that may as well arise shortly. I guess the fourth point of this introductory “set-the-scene” list would be the multitude of claims and revelations that Kanye has been shooting out on the Interweb through his hysterical and unfiltered Twitter account, though at this point you’d all have probably read way too many news stories and reports analysing and assessing every single chirping the Chicago man has published. Therefore I’m explicitly avoiding contextualising this last point and I’d rather leave it to the differently layered channels of mainstream media.
The irony of all this, however, is that this whole single draining confusion had begun way before T.L.O.P. was actually debuted, as Kanye managed to push forward in time the release date multiple times, changed the album’s title four times and periodically took to Twitter to reveal significant restructurings of the track listing (at least three major changes). Such artistic incoherence and mind-changing, irrespectively of how planned they were, actually made for a pretty genius marketing and PR move, as with every single alteration and amendment of an album’s element there was always a new huge opportunity to talk about Kanye and T.L.O.P. (yet) again. To be fair, I do believe that a major part of the said confusion was actually due to authentic and artistic sudden steering changes, mostly of recording and production nature, that seemed to have shaped Kanye’s approach to the album and possibly also denoted some traces of insecurity. Nonetheless, I can’t believe that Kanye is the only one managing Kanye and that what he’s been tweeting over the past months were just instincts and honest opinions, thus there must have been some kind of thought building up to T.L.O.P. promotion and release. Having said that, I guess we’ll never really know the true motives causing such trouble and mess surrounding Kanye’s latest album, and in the end I believe the only thing that counts is the musical output as such, which is what I’ve been trying to focus on for a while despite all of the above external stimuli and distractions.
I don’t want to make this an ARM blogpost, i.e. I’m not going to review T.L.O.P. in the way that I’ve done for other albums in the past. Also, I’m sure by now there are some many album reviews out there on the Interweb that one could potentially read a new one every day for the rest of 2016 and not running out of it. What I’d like to stress in this case is that, again voluntarily or not, I actually came to really like this idea of an album that’s never finished, that’s work in progress even after it’s released, that’s changing shape according to the creator’s feelings of completeness and culmination. Obviously, there are rather natural and for a good part also artistic limits to this approach, though hypothetically speaking, given the amount of T.L.O.P.-related tracks and versions that are now available out there and the easiness of procurement of such songs online, one could bucket together their very own personalised version of the 18-track LP. This way, someone would have the demo versions of “Waves” and “FML” in their tracklist and skipped all the spoken (and probably rather unnecessary) interludes while someone else would add up to 24 songs in their own T.L.O.P. including some of the alleged “outtakes” too, exactly because Kanye himself is still not sure what version of the new album is the real one. Make your version of T.L.O.P., patch it together the way it appeals most to you, make it somehow your own. I think this mechanism also steers a bit towards the tendency of personalising the fruition of art more in general, thanks to the resources and capabilities of the cybersphere and the enhanced connectedness between all of us that, as with other domains such as journalism and media, go to blurry more and more the boundaries between creators and users, musicians and listeners, directors and watchers. I believe there is something really powerful in such a thing and instead of seeing it as a flaw or a representation of lack of quality I’d like to think of it as a true artistic accomplishment.
My opinion on Kanye has changed over time (also thanks to that time I got to meet him in London, see pic below), I love his music and I feel like he’s given genius inputs to the public opinion, though for many reasons he himself makes it virtually and ontologically impossible to be fully likeable. Regardless of the shape, to me T.L.O.P. is phenomenal and offers so many interesting musical cues and insights that it’d be impossible to narrow them down in written form whatsoever. As Kanye himself revealed on Twitter before the LP’s release, his latest album is “actually a Gospel album”, and in many ways he really stayed true to such claim all the way through the creative process. For gospel music is notoriously sung in large groups and is a celebration of single contributions among a tight togetherness: Kanye somehow wants us to take T.L.O.P. and make it our own, by putting our perspectives to its completeness forward designing the perfect end-version for every single one of us.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.