In the days following the surprise release of Kanye West’s seventh proper album, The Life of Pablo, following his appearance on Saturday Night Live, the conspiracies and theories surrounding its unveiling and very existence have reached speculation supernova on the Internet.
Indeed it’s been interesting reading all this stuff, fielding the different viewpoints, laughing at the know-nothing haters and feeling inspired by some of the more confessional “personal essays disguised as thinkpieces,” as described by the brilliant and beautiful singer Molly Lambert in her article for MTV.
Watching the world dissect the record in the wake of fanfare following its release via Tidal on Valentine’s Day weekend has been wild, to say the least. He changed the title of #TLOP four times, revealing it initially under the name So Help Me God before swapping that for Swish and then onto Waves before settling on Pablo. I love what Pitchfork senior editor Jayson Greene wrote about the official title in his expert review of the album on Monday morning: “Pablo Picasso and Kanye West share many qualities—impatience with formal schooling, insatiable and complicated sexual appetites, a vampiric fascination with beautiful women as muses—but Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole. Kanye, specifically, toasted them.”
However, as West himself revealed during his epic rant on Twitter, the “Pablo” in the title is a reference to the Apostle Paul, who according to the Bible was an enemy of Christianity as Saul of Tarsus before encountering the resurrected Jesus Christ on Damascus Road, inspiring him to travel the lands preaching the gospel of salvation to the masses beyond the Holy Land.
“Paul …The most powerful messenger of the first century…” West tweeted Saturday. “Now we stand here 20 centuries later… Because he was a traveler… He was a learned man not of the original sect, so he was able to take the message to the rest of the world…He was saved from persecution due to his Roman citizenship…”
Like Brian Wilson, its West’s ability to emotionally keep one foot in the sandbox of his childhood that helps him keep the edge of his creative mind so sharp.
Kanye went on to speak upon “the right to speak my voice,” asking the public for forgiveness over his impulsive use of profanity and thanking gospel singer Rev. Kirk Franklin for standing by him. If there is any concrete evidence to the idea that #TLOP is, in fact, a gospel album, one mustn’t look any further than its armhair-raising opening number “Ultralight Beam,” which features a prayer from Franklin who joins R&B singer Kelly Price, Chance the Rapper and his jazz-rap foil Donnie Trumpet in collaboration with a full choir.
The song is immediately followed up with the two-part “Father Stretch My Hands,” which is produced by Rick Rubin and features a sample from an amazing cosmic hosanna courtesy of famed South Side Chicago clergyman Pastor T.L. Barrett. Deeper in the mix, on “Wolves,” West rhymes about a modernized concept of immaculate conception as a sample of Sugar Minott’s “Walking Dub” and the haunting harmonizing of classical vocalist Caroline Shaw intertwine in the background, conjuring the idea of Mary meeting Joseph in a club full of thugs.
As you dig further into the soul of #TLOP, you come to the realization that this is very much a gospel album. Only its the Gospel According to Kanye West, the self-described “38-year-old 8-year-old” who leaves it all on the table and lets the world sort it out. Much like Brian Wilson, its that ability to emotionally keep one foot still in the sandbox of his childhood that helps him keep the edge of his creative mind so sharp.
“My childlike creativity, purity and honesty is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts,” he rhymed on “Power,” the King Crimson-crushing single from 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Five years later, however, he’s a father of two married to one of the most beautiful women on earth. Yet when left to his own devices, he indeed makes it difficult for those not entirely in tune to his artistry to fully appreciate the amazing music he’s created.
For fans of his last six albums, #TLOP is the best moments on The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak, MBDTF and Yeezus pieced back together into an autobiographical mosaic that offers a keen sense of gravitas to the astute listener who was swept up in the greatness of this music the moment they hit the play button.
Pity those who cannot see beyond Kanye West’s public behavior to appreciate his art. The trick here is, the behavior is the art.
This is an album that completely belies the notion that the intake of drugs serves as an enhancement for creativity, as we’ve been conditioned to believe thanks to the intellectual success of such mind-altered masterpieces as Pet Sounds, Revolver, Trout Mask Replica and even At. Long. Last. ASAP. On The Weeknd-assisted “FML,” West reveals that he, in fact, went off his drugs in order to achieve the kind of heightened, unabashedly honest sense of non-linear craftsmanship achieved here.
“You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than this nigga when he off his Lexapro,” he boasts on the song with the same sense of manic bravado Wilson, with a head full of high-grade herb and LSD, displayed when he was creating his own “teenage symphony to God” in 1966 and 1967 during the sessions for SMiLE. Chances are #TLOP could see a fate similar to that of the lost Beach Boys masterpiece, with West refusing to release the album in a physical format much to the displeasure of music nerds everywhere. Whether or not it will exist outside of the Tidal format remains to be seen at press time.
Pity those who cannot see beyond Kanye West’s public behavior to appreciate his art. The trick here is, the behavior is the art. And by that standard, #TLOP is indeed his Picasso. And Pablo is definitely an asshole.