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THE LEVEL$ OF PABLO

“I just wanna feel liberated,” Kanye West auto-tunes on “Father Stretch My Hands.”

Let the unveiling alone of The Life of Pablo be a reminder—a face slap, really—that it is never a linear hang with this artist, but creative on multiple levels at once. Debuting the album at a fashion show in Madison Square Garden, surrounded by a chaotic posse and all the Kardashians, in a multimedia assault that required you to absorb the fashion looks and the music hooks at once while the party was broadcast across the world to 150 other satellite listening parties. This is Yeezyland.

The consumer’s experience of music has been completely transformed, and Kanye West embraced this fact. It’s an interactive hang now and via the rise of social media, we demand to be in on the process. The extreme real-time editing of the final album is an interesting evolution musically. Taking a cue from Silicon Valley, the same way tech apps regularly send you updates of their new and improved versions—that’s what Kanye has been doing with The Life of Pablo, even down to ever changing album title.

The Oz-like curtain that gets pulled on “release date” is now gone. Yeezy’s over here being a real artist with his audio sketch book, putting out drafts but then rethinking it and pushing the edit/resave button.

It’s a collaborative process with fans—exactly why he can do a song like “I Love Kanye” and we immediately all get it—from the annotators on Genius.com who explain the subtle layers to the language to the Twitter meme kings with the jokes and opinionated hip-hop bloggers, it's a swirling hive of constant communication. In that vortex, West has been quite careful to allow no narrative hijacking by staying loud on Twitter, while shouting out his influencers, along with all those positive mantras intact to keep the project flowing forward…it was kind of dope to watch the totally collaborative manifestation of TLOP.

Thoughtfully weaving the stylistic themes of his discography’s best moments, Ye revisits the gospels of College Dropout on “Ultralight Beam” and the unhinged rapping and sonic distortions of Yeezus on “Feedback,” and with his producer’s cap on, coaches some of the best performances from a Pro Bowl lineup of music superstars—Rihanna, Andre 3000, The Weeknd, The-Dream, Chance the Rapper, Kid Cudi, Ty Dolla $ign, Post Malone, Chris Brown, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin and Frank Ocean—into one masterful and truly emotional piece of work.

As 18 tracks stream into that centerpiece, we sort of got to watch him splatter the paint in real time over the last few years as he assembled it. An album originally emerging as So Help Me God and the debut of V.1 of “Wolves” at 2015’s Fashion Week presentation of Yeezy Season 2 exactly one year ago that originally, and for the following year, featured Vic Mensa and Sia on vocals has become something else entirely in the final draft.

The TLOP hand-scribbled notepad hit Instagram to feed the wolves. Names were added. Track listings were changed. Doodles were drawn. “Kylie was here.” “Kim never left.” 

The poignant ending of a freshly constructed “Wolves” now features Frank Ocean, whose long and low-key exile even has Adele in the feels, and it was worth the wait. West’s update was a crazy-good morph. Same thing could be said for this final version of “Waves,” a song Chance the Rapper fought for so passionately for that it delayed the album release. Yet that magical chorus from Chris Brown was worth the sacrifice—amen.

TLOP, when it was called SWISH, also battled a savage leak of an early sketch of “Feedback,” after Ye’s own cousin stole his laptop—which then, inspired the later song “Real Friends,” added to the album toward the end. Confessional constructions ripped in real time from his real life, which is why people are connecting with and are so inspired by it. Every song has moments where it switches up entirely, various samples and voices or noises invade the space, but it’s a new flow we’re actually accustomed to—the same way a text ping interrupts that song you’re streaming on the phone. Sounds come out of nowhere in the new world.

The fluid approach to music making is messy for the traditional consumer but not the Internet one, because in that realm all our lives have versions. This album is for, and of that world. How many times do we all “bend the universe” a little from that Instagram filter to the Twitter delete button and Microsoft office edit? This is actually a profoundly modern way to approach art.

And so help him God, Kanye is also trying to have a modern outlook when it comes to music distribution, but on this mark he fumbled at the one-yard line. The last-minute curve to Tidal is understandable, because it’s rooted in core values of hip-hop crew loyalty and respect for your elders—both are positions that Jay Z inhabits in his life. But it’s bad business when you’re out there taking preorder money from people.

I respect Ye for staying down with family, but I also gave this dude money for the album when I bought a ticket to his fashion show. As of this writing, five days after its “release” and many bullshit emails from See Tickets about my DL link, I still do not have what I paid for, being forced to hijack a password to Tidal, cuz I’m not signing up—already subscribe to Pandora and Apple Music—enough! Give me my album, bro.

But that’s the lick, isn’t it? What are the rules in this streaming era? TLOP has allegedly gone "pirate gold" on the torrent sites already. This is all part of the New World Order, and none of us has the answers yet, not even Kanye. 

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