For the first time in over a decade, Kanye & I have don't have much to speak about.
As a twenty-something male immigrant, listening to a Kanye West album nowadays feels like checking in with my mom on her way home from work. I love her to death. I’m unfathomably in debt to the foundation her and my father have provided, and, most importantly, I’ll always answer when she calls. Still, nowadays, we’re kind of going through a period of not having much to say. I’m working on myself and my goals, while she’s transitioning into a new, more independent phase of her life. We’re both working towards bettering our family and those around us, but the bond we once had has come to feel more like an obligation.
It’s sad, of course. If someone were to articulate these very sentiments to either my mom or Kanye, I’m sure they would tear up a little. But the point still stands. While he was once a pillar balancing my fragile sense of self, the “All Falls Down,” rapper has since given me the confidence to parse the never-ending stimuli of the world on my own accord. That’s the role they’ve both - Kanye and my mom, that is - played in my life up until this moment. But a change has come. Clearly, it’s going to take some time before we’re all comfortable in our new positions.
To me, this new Kanye project is his most interesting to date. It lacks the context of any of his prior releases, despite the fact that he went out of his way to establish multiple bad-guy narratives during the tumultuous rollout. The disconnect between the album’s promotional run and the woe-is-me musings about marriage and fatherhood within have many earlyreviews suggesting that Kanye is “detached from reality.” As someone who accepts him as the self-proclaimed family member he claims to be, he seems more acutely aware of his constraints now more than ever. Like my mother, he’s fishing for new ways to resonate, whether through his re-energized samples or his increasingly eclectic pool of features, unsure of his role for the first time in his adult life.
I genuinely appreciate the effort, even if it ultimately results in him talking my ear off for another fifteen minute about his coworkers, his diabetes, my dad - wait, sorry, I’m getting mixed up here. What I mean to say is this: while the backlash he’s facing for his impish support of Trump, among other reckless actions, is his to bear, a fan must remember that he’s in a transitional phase. There is potential for good, and that potential shouldn’t be prematurely extinguished by the court of public opinion.
Just as he’s become increasingly disinterested with the traditional art of rapping, so has Kanye begun to reconsider what registers as an album in modern hip-hop. His dedication to structure and “cohesiveness” peaked with Yeezus. Structured to play like an angry, pent-up series of diatribes that condemn the human soul before the idea of love saves of us all, Yeezus is shaping up to become a prophetic album in Kanye’s discography. Since that moment, Ye has continuously sought to recreate that eccentricity with increasingly sloppy gestures. But, because it’s Kanye, both the rollout for The Life of Pablo and, now, Ye, effectively worked; they did that thing products are supposed to do, which, of course, is to sell.
If we’re being honest, they also did the thing that art is “supposed” to do. Make you feel something. Like the man he named his last album after, Kanye has continued to aggressively shift from the hyper realism of his early period to a purposefully more abstract and suggestive aesthetic.
If we’re to believe Kanye West, he lives for the now. But that hardly rings true with the guy who samples Slick Rick all over his new album. At its core, his declaration for the now has always been a ploy; Kanye has always been concerned with history, as well as with what the kids have to say. It’s just that he approaches these perspectives through non-traditional manners and filters them through an undeniably selfish lens. Yet selfishness in Kanye’s eyes has never been a sin. The more money, power and respect he accumulates, the better he can challenge, mold and push culture. If anything, this is one of Kanye's major hurdles as an artist: taking grand, futuristic ideas and presenting them as crucial, of the now, thoughts that may actually cause a paradigm shift. All this, without coming off a deranged megalomaniac.
The Social Media Era finally became an established norm a few years ago, and the Streaming Era has now quietly started its reign. The conjunction of these two, and the broader, continuously avalanching impact of the Internet, sees society shifting towards an endless 24/7 input of stimuli and output of reactionary gestures. All the great artists of our time will find a way to cut through this shifting culture with their individually piercing voices. I, along with many others, had simply assumed Kanye would be one of them. Instead, he still seems to be actively searching for a way to truly do so.
During this past decade of his career, Kanye West has quite famously left things until the last minute. But never has he been so flippant about the final product. From his early demos to the dark and twisted climax in 2010, to the fiery falling action of Yeezus and his increasingly belligerent rants, he’s always been hands-on and inextricably concerned with package and presentation. Yeezus and its blank cover was a statement; now it seems like he’s taking #NoFilter Instagram pics, editing them in-app, and calling it Art.
To be fair, it’s an impossibly difficult task to take on - making cutting edge art for the masses that simultaneously maintains high taste while tangling in the weeds of the now. With The Life of Pablo, his first true post-streaming album, he introduced the idea of a "living breathing changing creative experssion." With Ye, and the rest of these GOOD music rollouts, his new strategy seems to involve micro-dosing us with brief - and, hopefully, resonant - bodies of work.
Sadly, it doesn’t feel like enough at the moment. What do you think?