If your one of the many who have dismissed "The Life Of Pablo" within 48 hours I think your being a hasty, maybe a little prejudice and unrealistic in terms of your expectations. Some might be forgetting the idiosyncratic nature of Kanye West's music that we all appreciated even if you weren't a fans.
Indeed, this was one of the most haphazard album rollouts from a major artist I can remember, literally all over the place however I'll admit that the album is better than I expected.
I temper that by saying my expectations were extremely low. I definitely thought we had seen the best of Kanye as a force in the rap game. It appeared his focus had been divided, Truman boat hit the wall, passion lost and all of the above but I'll go as far as saying that Ye might have made another game-changer. An influential body of work that people will deny at first but in two years time will hear echoes in others work.
If you take a broader view of the situation you might look at things a little differently. Kanye designed a fashion collection and created an album at the same time. Culminating in an unprecedented joint public listening and viewing in front of an arena of fans in the iconic Madison Square Garden. This accomplishment alone deserves credit even more so as he is yet to fully establish himself in the fashion world and needed to silence the doubters with this album. You can criticise him for many things and I certainly have but this gets my respect. A man backing himself in the pursuit of his dreams should always be commended.
I'd give the album a 7.5/10.
For the few thousand in attendance and the millions around the world this was the indelible image that Kendrick wanted to leave imprinted in everyone's psyche at the end of a sensational and breathless performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
The gawd emcee from Compton, LA took home five awards out of the eleven he was nominated and stole the show with a heart thumping performance. He entered from centre stage clad in prisoners attire at the head of a chain gang breaking in to the opening of "The Blacker The Berry" from the now decorated "To Pimp A Butterfly" album.
His posture and tone were strong and direct, no half stepping in the deliver of an uncompromising lyrical depiction of the reality for a group of people who remain disenfranchised by the nation they reside in. Many in that room won't fully understand the underlying message that the image portrays and some will choose to ignore it but this doesn't detract from its power.
In the city of angels, a city that symbolises the extravagance that it's country can provide for privileged individuals sits an area that has been systematically left to its own devices by the powers that govern both the state and the nation. Today, it bares the legacy of an era when crack cocaine infiltrated African American neighborhoods’ in south LA for the benefit of others who are now known.
The evidence of the message of inspiration behind this album has been consistent since the lead single“…I love myself…” was heard by the masses. But some rejected it, probably due to the absence of 808’s. Since then there has been an assortment of powerful images and videos throughout the year culminated in arguably the most poignant moment at the end of his Grammy Award performance.
The image speaks of a good kid who has traversed the landscape of his environment and the challenges of navigating the backdrop of colour lines. Not just of the melanin kind but those drawn by gang affiliations and them other boys in blue. This partly explains why Kendrick's response to last year’s needless murder of a young Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri at the hands of a police officer. He took a different angle to those whose emotions were charged, clouding their ability to understand the perspective shown by the emcee. In his immediate environment the murder of young black youths including friends and relatives has been commonplace throughout his life, often at the hands of people that look like them.
His outlook was that black people should also look at improving the dynamic within and amongst themselves in order to gain strength and move forward. A mindset woven into the lyrics of lead single "I" from the platinum selling album.
The image speaks of the similarities between the world's eye view of the continent of Africa to every socially and economically abused region in the world that tends to house an inordinate percentage of the African diaspora. In the eyes of the western world they're both viewed as the bottom-feeders of local and global society, dependent, used for their talent and natural resources but neglected for their basic human requirements.
The image also invokes a feeling that the African side of the "racial group" - African American has long been overlooked and even scorned upon in ignorance by some African Americans themselves. Perhaps if black communities in these regions, in the main, had a firm understanding of their heritage then a greater sense of comradeship would be fostered rather than having a disregard for another. Perhaps.
It could be argued that the negative reception of "To Pimp A Butterfly" by a minority of mainly black rap music fans provides further evidence of the ignorance towards a message that needs to be heard by the very people rejecting it. For now the eyes of their understanding are wide shut. Nevertheless the hope is, much like the album to those slow on the uptake, that with time the message will penetrate and the beauty of both the music and their rich heritage will be revealed like the butterfly.
I was momentarily in an internal frenzy when I heard that the Underground king Curren$y had dropped another mixtape produced by none other than Alan the Chemist.
Alchemist & Curren$y hit a nerve with me on this joint. It's only one supercharged verse from the New Orleans spitta but the beat is signature Alchemist.
It's been a few weeks since the Spotify /Genius "Behind the Lyrics" collaboration was unveiled so after the initial hype had calmed I was looking forward to testing out the latest offering from the Swedish sophisticates of streaming.
With the impending threat of a 200m lawsuit looming and despite braggadocios statement's from their main competitor's of 10 million active users, the smart people at Spotify appear unfazed from outside looking in. Well why should they be? New reports suggest Spotify are progressively gnawing away at they're freemium users announcing an increase to 25-30m paying subscribers. Key acquisitions have recently been tied up whilst they're steady cracking on with innovative ways to enhance the user experience and convince the tens of millions of non-paying subscribers to cough up £9.99 a month. It still remains the biggest challenge that they are admirably attacking head on and delivering features their loyal fan base are more than satisfied with.
The partnership with Genius is also an intriguing prospect with the evident gearshift by the hiring of music journalist Rob Markman (formerly of MTV) as Manager of Artist relations. Notable collaborations have opened up that may not have been possible before, example being the huge partnership with Eminem and Shady Records.
In addition to a raft of new playlists there is the “Behind the Lyrics” feature. At first I couldn't find the feature, in fact embarrassingly I got to the last track of the album "Sunshine" before I was pleasantly surprised by the 'behind the lyrics' tag peering over the top of the album artwork. The designers to ensured the Spotify UX was not compromised and in this particular case the smooth revealing of the lyric breakdown reflected the silky delivery of intricate subject matter's in Pusha's lyrics. If you want you can learn something new whilst getting turnt. It reminded me that the statute of Liberty was a black woman gifted by France to the United States to recognise the significance of black soldiers in winning the civil war amongst other things.
Without lyrics there's a lack of knowledge and knowledge being the fifth element makes this new feature all the more pertinent for hip-hop (well it should anyway). Genius’ communities of contributors are able to provide explanations in addition to help from the artist by expounding on their lyrics and quotes related to the lyrics as the song plays out.
Both features serve to make the Spotify experience all-encompassing, a smorgasbord of useful features for the invested music fan. For me, the Genius feature has potential to be a stayer but will need the artists to invest time to provide meaningful contributions that add value for the listener. Time will tell whether they have a diluting effect or if collaboration creates new converts but for Spotify and Genius, it’s the beginning of a positive creative relationship.
About 3 years have passed since the last Jay-Z album - Magna Carta Holy Grail (MCHG) and there's not an Afro or comb in sight. To seasoned fans they know that the fro in the past has been an indicator that the BK emcee is back in his creative element to make a record. Failing the afro, there's also the clandestine gathering of super producers; Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, Just Blaze and the zen-master Rick Rubin to name a few but they all seem relatively vacant regarding any new projects from the Jiggaman.
The mogul from Marcy projects could be forgiven for taking his eye off the ball with the acquisition of Tidal requiring his time and energy. Rocafella records signee Memphis Bleek also mentioned in a recent interview that he does'nt think that Jay would release another album. However, at the back of Jay's mind will be a certain $150 million deal signed in 2008 which allegedly involves the release of 3 albums within a decade. Well, times almost up and it seems all is quiet as far as albums go in the corridors of the Roc Nation's offices.
Mr Carter is presented with an interesting challenge/opportunity. Tidal celebrated their 1 millionth subscriber last year with a concert in the home borough of Brooklyn representing modest growth when compared to the 15-20 paid subscribers at Spotify, 10 million at Apple Music not to mention Pandora, Google play, YouTube key loyalists.
Let's explore the options. Now let me preface this by saying, Jay will probably come up with a far more ingenious idea but here it goes anyway.
Option 1: Fulfil the livenation deal and release the new album on all outlets inc. Apple Music & Spotify.
Sounds crazy right. An owner of a streaming company placing his new potentially platinum album on the platform of his competitors? Hustling backwards is the term that springs to mind as far as Tidal goes. But for Jay Z the artist it would appear to make the most financial sense given the user base of the rival streaming platforms. However, what message would this move give to the other artist owners and new subscribers about the platform.
In summary, I find this scenario highly unlikely. There is a clear desire to see Tidal become an established outlet that benefits the artists (to a slightly greater degree than its competitors).
Option 2: Pay-off livenation, partner-up and release the the album exclusively on tidal
Did I here you mutter 'hustling backwards' in your mind again? Well let's take a closer look.
Jay Z signed a mega deal with livenation in 2008 which included the release of 3 albums within a decade plus major tours etc. Livenation paid Mr Carter $10m for each album released so why not dip into the pot of wealth to pay-off the $10m and offset it by seeking an advance in a similar arrangement to the Samsung deal in which he pocketed $20m before any eager fan had pressed play. Releasing exclusively on tidal from a strictly monetary standpoint is also an opportunity to take advantage of the upturn in vinyl sales. Producing an exclusive collectable for the diehards could draw even the most streaming-adverse music fan to subscribe.
So how does he find a way to obtain that reach with the new album without sinking back into the arms of Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine or even more humiliating, Daniel Ek? A Tidal/Samsung collaboration seems to make the most sense when taking into account the importance of the streaming platform to his portfolio not to mention his music and business legacy. There are over 200 million Samsung smartphone users worldwide and over 1.4 billion android actives who have potential access to the Tidal app.
Jay Z really doesn't need to release another album from an artistic viewpoint. His position is firmly cemented on the Mount Rushmore of hiphop however, a samsung-powered collaboration maybe the stimulus required for Tidal in what is the biggest challenge of his career thus far.
photo credit: Nathaniel Goldberg
Publised on Hypebot 29/01/16