Over the years, since appearing in a pink Polo and a backpack with sunglasses like shutter blinds, Kanye West has taught us all a lot about where hip-hop can go and what fame can do to a man. With the release of his seventh album, The Life of Pablo, Mr. West has offered another lesson. This time it’s on how not to release your new batch of material. It’s a lesson that musicians should take note of.
From the moment the cow jumped over the Jumpman, The Life of Pablo has been a botched delivery. Since the very tip of 2015, when West dropped the singles “Only One,” “FourFiveSeconds,” and “All Day,” it was clear that Yeezy season was upon us. The leaves were starting to turn black gold. He performed on award shows, runways, festivals, gave a few rants, shadowboxed with Paul McCartney. He had a title for number seven: So Help Me God. Then that became SWISH, or, SWiSH, or, maybe just Swish, we won’t ever know.
This past New Year’s Eve West let slip out into the world the spasmodic, fucking-goofy track, “FACTS.” Something was near. Then came the tweet revealing a release date of February 11, a Thursday. Not the usual day for new releases, but that hardly matters online. The title changed again to Waves. He shared a picture of a handwritten tracklist of 10 songs. Kylie was there. Then that blew up to 18 songs a few nights before. Who knows how many times he ended up polishing “Wolves.” Oh, and the title changed again to its current state (or is it?).
February 11 came. West held back-to-back listening parties at Madison Square Garden while debuting his new fashion line with animatronic models. The Kardashians and the Jenners were there in white feathered robes. Shit, Lamar Odom even came out to play. But, there was nothing online, no stream, no payment plan offered. There was a broken link on KanyeWest.com and tweets about still being in the studio. Chance the Rapper apparently held up the final mastering or maybe he was thrown under the bus. You set this date, Kanye! What are you doing? This was your schedule. We would’ve waited until it was right.
Nights later West performed on Saturday Night Live spewing some inaudibles about the album being available online right now. “Right now! Aaaagggggrggrrggghhgrh!” It wasn’t. The next day he offered it on his website, but only in thirty-second previews. The full stream was available only to Tidal subscribers. Personally, I’m against streaming music. That just wasn’t gonna happen.
Week and a half later and it’s still unclear how this album can be widely purchased and which version it will be. Kanye’s saying it’ll only be available on Tidal. The whole thing has been one Kanye Thunderclap of Confusion for such a long build-up to what was an inevitable album. The 18-track version that has been circulated feels overstuffed and maybe the original 10-track version might’ve been a more succinct listening experience. I’m reserving my review here, but that thing is bloated.
So, bands, musicians, artists take note. If you and your band go through the long haul gruel of creating a cohesive unit of songs to be played as an Album, it should be delivered with authority. Don’t be like this season’s Yeezus. Be committed to the final product. Let some mystery build behind it. Know for certain when a song is complete. When music makes it to the Internet today, it travels fast. If you’re not putting the most complete version out there it’ll get thrown in the whirlpool and now people are hearing something incomplete.
The Life of Pablo had huge hype. A handy tool for sales. But given that there was no clear path for purchase and that streaming services through Tidal aren’t counted by Billboard, the album has no official standing of its total output effectively ruining all that built-in hype. That can’t be good for your $53 million debt, fam.