By constantly updating his new album after its release date, has Kanye West changed the face of music in the same ground-breaking way that Pablo Picasso changed the faces of his portraits? Reverb Music investigates…
The life of ‘The Life Of Pablo’ has been nearly as chaotic and cacophonous as the life of Kanye. West has previously stated that “I am a god”, but now everyone’s favourite obnoxious and egotistical rapper/producer/fashion designer believes he is taking humanity into a new Renaissance. In a recent daytime TV interview/rant with Ellen Degeneres, Kanye associated himself further with modern pioneers of art and technology such as Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, Walt Disney, Steve McQueen and evidently Pablo Picasso before he demanded: “Name someone living that you can name in the same breath as them.” To what extent has the ambitious artistry of his album TLOP rendered him justified in his likening himself to such influential figures?
TLOP has become not a fixed product, but a fluid construct. Firstly, the album’s title has had multiple amendments as it swayed from ‘So Help Me God’ to ‘SWISH’, then ‘Waves’ to the final ‘The Life Of Pablo’. This is not the first time Kanye has made an album announcement and not provided an LP under that name; will we ever see ‘Good Ass Job’ or ‘Cruel Winter’? Similarly, a few album artworks had been shared by Kanye until the cubism-inspired Microsoft Paint edition became the conclusive cover. Although nightmares for promoters, marketers and even fans, these fickle changes prolonged the album’s hype and built even more anticipation. In a time where record breaking albums last days in the public eye as we persistently seek the next best thing, Kanye West’s (non)intentional tactics managed to grip the public’s attention.
However, the product that Kanye premièred at Madison Square Garden and to 20,000,000+ live streamers on February 11th would not be the final edition. By making further alterations to the album after its release, Kanye West has encouraged listeners to spend more time processing the music and re-listening in order to grant it what it really deserves. Through changes to the track listing and ordering, mastering, release dates, album arts and names plus many musical modifications, TLOP is more of a “creative process” (to quote record label Def Jam) than a rigid commodity. Here are 12 of the many adjustments Kanye has made to TLOP so far:
- ‘Wolves’ – removing then reclaiming both Sia and Vic Mensa’s vocals.
- ‘Wolves’ – separating Frank Ocean’s outro into its own track ‘Frank’s Track’.
- ‘Famous’ – denser tissue of samples.
- ‘Famous’ – lyrics changed from “she be Puerto Rican day parade wavin” to “she in school to be a real estate agent”.
- ‘FML’ – removed backing vocal track.
- ‘Pt. 2’ – raised bass.
- ‘Waves’ – boosted vocals.
- ‘Freestyle 4’ – introduced a new synth layer.
- ‘Fade’ – removed hi-hat in percussion.
- ‘Ultralight Beam’ – new Chance The Rapper lyric “No one can judge”.
- ’30 Hours’ – beat cut for a cappella line.
- ‘Facts’ – Charlie Heat version became final.
“Everyone has made mistakes. I have just made them public.” – Kanye West
Kanye could be dismissed as fussy and flippant with some of these alterations being noticed by only the most West-obsessed Redditors, but many changes have been more significant. Some tracks returned to versions more similar to their pre-album forms and others have been drastically improved. Def Jam have announced to The New York Times: “In the months to come, Kanye will release new updates, new versions and new iterations of the album.” Chance The rapper, (who fought to keep ‘Waves’ on the album), annotated his lyrics from the album’s intro track ‘Ultralight Beam’ on website Rap Genius stating that it was initially supposed to be the album’s outro – perhaps a version of TLOP with that tack ordering will appear next.
Since the album was originally only available through streaming service Tidal, Kanye could edit his album with ease. Yet, although the album release caused the app’s subscriber count to double in two days, the streaming figures were not reported to Nielson Music and thus did not contribute to the Billboard charts. With Billboard claiming it could have sold up to 400,000 copies in that time if sold conventionally, Kanye West’s unilateralism may have been detrimental. Although evolved versions exist, the clunky first edition is to this day the most actively circulated version on file sharing service The Pirate Bay since the album received 500,000 downloads through BitTorrent in the first two days. Despite originally proclaiming that TLOP will never be on iTunes or in CD form, it was eventually fully distributed in April and instantly hit number one in the Billboard album charts. But with the album still changing, what does this mean fro music critics? Should the album’s reviews be updated as frequently as the music itself? West has the answer himself of course: “This is not album of the year. This is album of the life.”
Most recently however, it appears that West has taken his paintbrush back to his 2013 album ‘Yeezus’. Specifically on Apple Music’s edition, the lyric “for my theme song” on single ‘Black Skinhead’ has been pitched down whilst Kanye cuts the beat in ‘Send It Up’ and again in ‘I Am A God’ when stating “y’all better quit playing with God.”. West is really flexing his musical muscles here as well as his ego as he is seemingly capable to perfect previous projects making disappointed listeners return. Yet these tweaks and tinkers beg a further question: if music is no longer stable, what should the limits of this rewriting be?
With Kanye West describing ‘The Life Of Pablo’ as “a living breathing changing creative expression #contemporaryart”, a new era of music has been ushered in eagerly. Given the dominance of streaming services granting a greater ease of distribution than traditionally printing records, artists are able to patch and update their music like software. Using the risky #contemporaryart hashtag further evidences West’s belief that he is a creative visionary like Picasso paving the way for the future’s influential figures of art and culture. As arrogant and delusional as he sounds there, to use his own lyrics from ‘Feedback’, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy”.
Written by: James Wijesinghe