In May of 1980, Stanley Kubrick released his horror masterpiece The Shining. Ever in pursuit of perfection, he excised two minutes of footage at the end of the movie that saw Wendy and Danny in the hospital after suffering the abuses at the hand of their husband/father Jack Torrance. The scene tied up the movie nicely, or so we’ve been told. Kubrick ordered the footage destroyed and no one has seen it since. By the end of the year, he would take out an additional thirty minutes of footage.
There are certain struggles in being a perfectionist and a genius. Kubrick was nuts in a beautiful way. He wouldn’t fly, so he travelled by boat from England to America with a special editing room so he could make these last minute alterations before delivering his movies. But as Kanye asks on The Life of Pablo track “Feedback,” “name one genius that ain’t crazy?”
Whenever Kanye drops an album it becomes an Event. Unlike the private Kubrick, Ye does so in full view of the public, his fans and the haters alike. It’s almost absurd to think of Kubrick getting on twitter and sharing a list of edits to his films, but Kanye shared everything. The track list changes, how he felt about white people writing about his music (sorry, btw), to a sad take on Bill Cosby’s innocence. The Life of Pablo is the artifact of this new Kanye: The Kanye who struggles in public with the perception of his personal life and the perception of his art while trying to make the greatest piece of music anyone has ever heard.
It’s become more than evident that Ye cares more about how people receive his art than how they receive him. On the single “No More Parties in LA” he raps “Every agent I know, know I hate agents/I’m too black, I’m too vocal, I’m too flagrant/Something smellin’ like shit, that’s the new fragrance,/it’s just me, I do it my way bitch.” This line is great for a few reasons: 1) he thinks that he has enough artistic integrity to smell like shit, and 2) and he’s right in his claims that he’s too black, too vocal, and too flagrant.
The Life of Pablo then has seen more than the average response of think pieces and supposed album reviews. Some hot takes wonder if he should be considered a genius, some people think he needs psychological help, some people hate on him for being audacious. But I’ve been left to wonder what he’s really done to upset people? The Taylor Swift thing? That was years ago. The Cosby tweet is reproachable, certainly. Kanye West is a bona fide genius who has single-handedly evolved and perfected an entire genre of music the same way John Lennon and Paul McCartney did for Rock and Roll
And maybe he is too flagrant, it’s not like Lennon ever said the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, or saying his treatment by the press was like being crucified, or that he grew his hair and beard out and went cavorting around Abbey Road looking like a black velvet painting of Jesus for an album cover. (Let alone the dalliances with mysticism that was essentially a drug and sex binge.) We tend to accept these things in hindsight, but call them crazy while it’s happening.
This, many times, is what great artists do. One of my favorite theories, The Advanced Genius Theory, postulates that artists at some time or another “embrace some form of God because they are looking for a peer.” Kanye West has been searching for otherworldly peers nearly his whole career (mostly in Jay-Z), and it has culminated in an album called Yeezus, a collaboration called Watch The Thone, and his attempts at making The Life of Pablo a modern day Gospel album. It’s fairly clear that Yeezy has his sights in the sky.
But it isn’t in individual skills, it is in the combination that makes him nearly peerless (if I had to throw names out, the only full package I could come up with is Pharell). Over the last three decades there have been better rappers (on some tracks you can hear him stumble over his own words), and there have been better lyricists (assuming for the moment that the two are mutually exclusive), but his ability to bring social commentary (“Hands up, hands up, then the cops shot us”) with the ability to poke fun at himself (“I Love Kanye”). Put that over a Kanye beat, and it’s bound to be a hit.
Kanye West is just trying to be extraordinary, to make something extraordinary. And we hate him for this? We have an opportunity to appreciate a great artist in his moment, and all we get are think pieces and memes, and that’s when we get “spazzin’ out in the news Kanye.” Most artists out there try to play it safe, that wouldn’t dare attempt anything exciting, whose handlers tell them how to be in public. But as Chuck Klosterman once said, you can’t complain about the whims of popular culture.
So, name one genius that isn’t crazy? Maybe the problem is that we push them there. Maybe they just started as diligent workers, and they became hell bent on making each next thing greater than the last. Maybe they sacrifice themselves for us while we watch as the media and public crucify them for being themselves. Maybe.
At this point, you’re probably wondering if the record is any good. Of course it is.
Article: Christopher Gilson