The Growth of 'Ye and Me - A Review of Kanye West's Albums Including T.L.O.P

 
 

As much of the world would agree, pleasantly or unpleasantly, the almighty Yeezus is a creative God. Needless to say, T.L.O.P. is yet another extension of his abilities. A 'gospel' tribute to his faults, sorrow, acceptance of these, and egotism included in the wonderful world that is Ye. Listening to the album today, I couldn't help but reminisce from the instrumental echos of T.L.O.P. of my affair with Kanye's work from a youth to now, and the effect that it's had on my life.

I was first introduced to Kanye at the ripe age of 12. Summer '04, I was at home laying on our sticky leather couch watching MTV while my mom was scheduled to work that night. I had just got done riding bikes with the neighborhood kids and decided it was good time to take a break. I flipped on the screen and the next thing I know, I hear this Chaka Khan sample getting looped over hip hop congo drums and this soul bassline. (FYI, I had no idea what sampling was during this period of time, but whatever it was, I realized this was it and it sounded cool.) Anyways, the beat starts rolling and visuals of this guy named Kanye West's life starts moving on screen through a sort of montage style video placed over a cork board background. He begins to rap and I start to realize he's rapping about his broken jaw along with a slew of other issues he's facing and his raw determination to overcome them.

"How do you console my mom or give her light support? Telling her your son's on life support..." - Through The Wire, The College Dropout, 2004

All it took was the first verse to get my attention. Hearing the above quoted lyric reminded me of my own relationship with my single struggling mother, imagining myself in the same shoes, going through the same situation. Then when I listened closer, I started hearing the physical pain and struggle in his voice as if he really was rapping with his jaw wired shut (which apparently it was). I had never experienced anything like that before, making me a fan off jump.

Then I saw him again on MTV with scenes of black prisoners in white jumpsuits and a rhythmic slave hymn, I perked my ears up as they marched in chains. 

"God show me the way because the devil tryna break me down. Jesus walk with me." - Jesus Walks, The College Dropout, 2004

Both these tracks were on his first album entitled, The College Dropout, which to me was a testament of my own childhood in which Kanye was a distant uncle teaching me about life and the things to come. He was a young black man, hungry for change and somewhat brash, but willing to face the consequences for the things he wanted.

Kanye's 2nd album, Late Registration, was next. A young teen now, I remember sitting in one of my childhood best friend's bedroom jamming to this album, staring at the wall dreaming of the day we'd 'Ride Slow' never forgetting what we 'Heard 'Em Say'. I memorized every line of 'Touch of the Sky' hoping one day I could rap it to a girl in class while sporting my pink polo with the popped collar. To me, this album was representative of him implanting his foot on the music world as the next great. Many sophomore albums are too safe in which artists become reluctant and hesitant of not being able to produce like their debut, but not 'Ye. He wanted to show that he was not as just any rapper, but one who understands music and seeks versatility to win.

Graduation came out when I was 15. Partying and girls started becoming the thing. I was also heavy into Ye's kanyeuniversity.com (now defunct), his personal blogsite that contained everything from art and music to fashion and cars, an arguable predecessor to the notable modern-day Hypebeast or Highsnobiety news sites. I used to sit in class and scrolling through posts, enamored with all these dope things I'd never seen before. Through both his music and blog, Kanye opened my eyes to a new sense of style. This combination of electronic influences from Daft Punk and artwork from Japanese contemporary artist Takaski Murakami on his new album made me understand that there was limit into what could be cool. Coolness was a creation of self-worth, an understanding of worldly influences, and rebelliousness. I went everywhere with the intentions of being best dressed, most creative and cultured, ready to rock my glow-in-the-dark shutter shades at a moment's notice.

In 2008, 808's and Heartbreak was a poetic justice album preaching to my issues as a broken-hearted teenager filled with angst and emotions that I didn't know how to deal with. My issues with identity mirrored that of Kanye's with his ever-evolving contradictions, views on life, and fashion styles (Rosewood Movement), along with his genre bending music reaching further and further in uncharted waters for hip hop. Also, thanks to 'Ye, I was also introduced to KAWS, one of favorite contemporary artists who developed the album artwork for 808s. Nonetheless, this expansion was necessary. Kanye's intimate dive into his personal life with issues of love and his mother's death, resonates with all of our lives. Every high must have a low, it keeps a balance that is representative of a healthy human soul.

I'm not loving you, way I wanted to / I can't keep my cool, so I keep it true / I got something to lose, so I gotta move / I can't keep myself, and still keep you too - Love Lockdown, 808s and Heartbreak, 2008
How could you be so Dr. Evil? / You bringing out a side of me that I don't know / I decided we weren't gonna speak, so / Why we up 3 AM on the phone? / Why do she be so mad at me for? / Homie, I don't knowshe's hot and cold - Heartless, 808s and Heartbreak, 2008

Easily in my top 5 favorite albums of all time, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was pivotal in my growth. 2010 was the year that I left my hometown, taking a hold of my childhood dreams and my mother's aspirations, going to college, and hopefully discovering who I would become. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the background music for life. From the artwork created by George Condo, to the execution of the backbone instrumentals and features, to the diverse content of bold lyrics, it completely encompassed my perception of the world. Although I didn't face the issues of fame and wealth, I was akin to the themes of moral introspection of self-doubt and escape from living in excess, consumed by outer forces that made it harder to realize the true value of life and what happiness really was. By now, Kanye had established himself as a prince, if not a king, among hip hop artists and producers. But it didn't stop there, he was also well rounded artist that imbued his talent not only in his music but in the visuals and fashion that he created. And just like any other celebrity, with such unparalleled talent and vision comes relentless coverage and the loss anonymity, further pushing humanity away from us. Everyone has 'skeletons-in-the-closet' moments, and this album was Kanye's.

On a bathroom wall I wrote / "I'd rather argue with you than to be with someone else" / I took a piss and dismiss it and went and found somebody else / Arguing harvesting the feelings, I'd rather be by my fucking self / Till about 2am and I call back and I hang up and start to blame myself / Somebody help - Blame Game, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010
I embody every characteristic of the egotistic / He knows, he so fuckin' gifted / I just needed time alone, with my own thoughts / Got treasures in my mind but couldn't open up my own vault / My child-like creativity, purity and honesty is honestly being crowded by these grown thoughts / Reality is catching up with me, taking my inner child, I'm fighting for custody / With these responsibilities that they entrust in me / As I look down at my diamond encrusted piece thinkin'... - Power, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, 2010

Watch the Throne to me was not a "Kanye Album" per se. It didn't fit his artistic direction and growth. It was obviously a collaborative project that encompassed not one vision but of both him and Jay Z. Listening to the album, you can obviously sense the disconnection of that more personal touch that we'd experience with Kanye's previous works. To me, this album was the full of the rendition of the successful man's party and celebration anthems. Ones that made you envision wealth, inspired you to attain it, then spend it all on alcohol, women, and designer clothes. I raised my fair share of glasses to this one.

Two tattoos: one read "No Apologies" / The other said "Love is Cursed by Monogamy" / It’s something that the pastor don’t preach / It’s something that a teacher can’t teach / When we die, the money we can’t keep
But we probably spend it all cause the pain ain’t cheap/ Preach - No Church in the Wild, Watch The Throne, 2011

Cruel Summer, again, was an album composed of Kanye and multiple artists, noted as a presentation of GOOD Music, Kanye's own label of which he heads. Through a presentation scheme and artistic direction indisputably similar to that of Watch the Throne, Cruel Summer was a created during a time when hip hop music had become a team finesse war in which self-proclaimed labels would release compilation albums/tracks of all the artists signed to each respective label. Each album also followed the same thematic purpose to 'stunt' upon competitors, competing through hard knocking beats laced with lyrics about wealth, jewelry, cars, and why the respective squad is or should be most respected in the industry. For me, Cruel Summer was a fun album to drive too. It's something you'd turn the speakers up, roll down the windows, and make face to passing drivers or pedestrians. The album came at a point in my life where the stresses of schoolwork and internships took over my life. This album was relief from those things, giving me the opportunity to be wild and disorderly for a few tracks.

I step in Def Jam buildin' like I'm the shit / Tell 'em give me fifty million or I'ma quit / Most rappers' taste level ain't at my waist level / Turn up the bass 'til it's up-in-yo-face level / Don't do no press but I get the most press kit - Mercy, Cruel Summer, 2012

Yeezus was sonically brash with intentions of being experimental, but lacking consistency. Its content included a variety of controversial fishing tactics, a rebel leader mentality that 'Ye had now adopted through a God-like persona that we now know as Yeezus. To me, it was Kanye's indirect statement to fans and non-fans alike that he was at a point in his career where he could do anything he wants and still be respected for it. With expectations of pushing an unorthodox movement with fandom in tow, his intuition was nonetheless proven true. It was regarded highly and critically acclaimed in 2013.  In retrospect, the album meshed well with my life at the time. With my personal issues of defiance against committing to a 9-5 career that I wasn't passionate about and a failing relationship that I felt restricted me from being me, I needed rebellion in my life. Yeezus provided a sonic soundtrack on my ride to eruption.

They see a black man with a white woman / At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong / Middle / America packed in (black) / Came to see me in my black skin (black) / Number one question they're askin' / Fuck every question you askin' (black) / If I don't get ran out by Catholics (black) / Here come some conservative Baptists / Claiming I'm overreactin' / Like them black kids in Chiraq bitch - Black Skinhead, Yeezus, 2013

The Life of Pablo released only a few days ago and I still have yet to see the controversy surrounding its prerelease and release ending anytime soon. Kanye is the king of creating controversy and social media coverage. His marketing team, whether intentional or not, deserves commendation. I've listened to the album itself 4 times now, through and through, making notes and developing opinions about the work. Honestly in my first pass, I was amazed. But not by striking lyrics and instrumentals, but by Kanye's ability to converge so many top tier and up-and-coming artists onto one album. The features on this album were immensely ridiculous. They included the likes of Chance the Rapper, The Dream, Young Thug, Travi$ Scott, Kid Cudi, The Weeknd, Post Malone, Desiigner, Ty Dolla Sign, Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and even the dormant Frank Ocean. On the second pass, I began to judge the music more attentively, focusing on content and composition. I began to realize that the album itself, although stunningly exciting with its features, lacked true structure. It felt as if it was a bunch of collective ideas were tossed together and a project came about. The experimental gospel beginnings wanders into a nostalgic Kanye middle, but tethers into grey zone lacking organization. The album in perspective is analogous to a high fashion runway show, exhibiting pieces and projects fitting a "seasonal look", but not encompassing one true story. I hate to say it, but the project as a whole makes it seem as if 'Ye is steadily becoming disassociated with the music industry for himself and moving into other passions such as fashion, which in truth is completely fine.  This parallels my life as this album came about in time, where I too, wanted to explore other things in the world, decidedly switching career paths. To me, this album is representative of dealings we all have in life of wanting to focus on different things as we grow and change. 

For the past few weeks, news of Kanye has been blowing up my feed. It was (and still is) literally impossible to scroll the page without seeing a thumbnail or headline of something in relation to his work, whether fashion, music, or the hilarious Twitter drama. I was telling a friend the other day, a self-proclaimed 'Kanye West Hater', that she could definitely argue that some qualities of his coverage is a bit excessive, even biased to an extent, but you can't argue how unmistakable his reach is inside and outside of music. His ability to grow extensively and build artistically through different mediums is a result of  vision, talent, foresight, a heavy work ethic, and proper execution. Thus, it should be respected, whether appreciated or not.