Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We Still Love Kanye: The Creative Triumph of "The Life of Pablo"

“I miss the old Kanye, honestly.” A small group of young men are in line for the printer behind my desktop in the library; presumably having glanced over at the sea of open tabs featuring pictures and song samples of the infamous Chicago rapper spread across the screen, one of them continues to his friends, “The new album is great, don’t get me wrong… but it’ll never compare to the old days.” The others nod in agreement before walking away as another one in the group proclaims, “Yeah Yeezy’s too much of an asshole now, like get off the whole creative genius trip and just make music again.”

No one can elicit such a variety of intense and polarized reactions quite like Kanye West; from think piece-worthy sound bites and twitter rants to unorthodox ventures into the world of fashion to being one of the most versatile hip-hop artists as well as the next messiah of our generation, there is no denying that West holds a formidable presence in the innermost circles of the music industry as well as pop culture.  Perhaps the best example of his seemingly innate ability to reinvent the genre while shocking the public all at once is his latest musical endeavor, The Life of Pablo.

For those playing the home game, TLOP (formerly known as Swish, Waves, and So Help Me God) was released at a grandiose premiere at Madison Square Garden on 11 February after nearly two and a half years of production and lineup changes. Even during and after its world premiere, West continued to tinker at it whilst leaving a stream-of consciousness series of tweets that may or may not have alluded to a series of historical figures of whom he claims to be the modern-day equivalent.  If that wasn't enough to make your head spin, he then went on to make edit after edit after officially releasing the album exclusively on Tidal; while TLOP was released (with even more changes) on Spotify and iTunes last week, no one can say for sure whether or not West is anywhere close to being truly done just yet.

It would be remiss to tackle the creative genius of TLOP without first taking a moment to appreciate the magnetism and drive of West himself. Say what you will about his megalomaniac outbursts, but there’s something about his larger-than-life persona and Chicago-style moxie that keeps us coming back for more. Like Stravinsky, Picasso, Gainsbourg, and Basquiat before him, West’s ability to shake up his respective medium with each new album, litany of sometimes head-scratching collaborations, laundry-list of interdisciplinary influences, and self-proclaimed artistic genius makes him a force to be reckoned with. As Csikszentmihalyi explains in his examination of the creative personality, West’s complexity seems to encompass and seamlessly blend all of his extremes into one dynamic, self-contained multitude (57). Does this make him any more tolerable to everyday schlubs like you and me? Perhaps not, but at the very least it makes him quite the case study for the role of the artist in postmodern society.

Speaking of postmodernism, back to TLOP. Following its initial release, music critics have gushed about the way it's revolutionized the traditional concept of the album as a creative product. As Arthur William Radford put it, “half of art is knowing when to stop”. This idea of the “creator’s curse” couldn't be any more relevant with West's insistence on continuing to improve and update his work. If his earlier works (Graduation) were his undergraduate thesis, then TLOP is truly his first album with no consistent theme or purpose. With that being said, despite this frenetic aura and aspects that West may see as imperfections, isn't this rough chaos the perfect way to represent the undeniable madness leading up to its release? In other words, isn't this the perfect way to describe where West is in his career and personal life at this juncture? As Kanye raps on "Feedback," name one genius who isn't crazy.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York:  Harper/Collins. - Chapter 3
Gardner, Howard. "Chance Encounters in Wartime Zurich. Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi. New York: Basic, 1993. 10. Print.

1 comment:

  1. As much as people hate him, I can't help but love Kanye. Although I never bought the Tidal app, I had my ways of gaining access to TLOP. The Spotify version as been playing on repeat for well over a week on my phone now. Kayne drops allusions and references to the cultural climate of the time comparable to T. S. Eliot and other greats. Yet, he's able to take the context of the periods before him and make it relevant, as seen in his lyric "my ex looking back like a pillar of salt" (Ultralight Beam), alluding to Lot and his wife in the Old Testament. He also has the ego comparable to the best *cough, Stravinsky, cough*. May everyone keep loving and hating him so long as Kanye keeps doing Kayne.


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