“Hip-Hop as British Reference Group and The Life of Pablo’s Frat-Boy Anticlimactix”

Boy, are the British ever overly infatuated with American rap music. And meanwhile, they’re sitting on subtle, gentle cultish acts like The Macabees, which resemble My Morning Jacket in their prime, and the noise barely gets above a hush.

Anyway, I started subscribing to NME last fall and I must say the sheer MASS of music commentary of which Dave Grohl is not a part definitely has its satisfying payoff. You can flip through the random pages toward the end and find accounts of what average Londoners are listening to — and then there’s ONE spread about movies, ONE spread about video games, the rest is a nerd’s haven. No, there isn’t usually book coverage, the New Yorker is still probably the best crutch for that, but needless to say there’s more music, movies and video games coming out these days than books.
And ok, they have to sell their magazine. They have to APPEAR PUMPED about things, to theoretically, get readership. But come on, Kanye West “the most talked about album of the year”? First of all, we’re only in February, and we’re expecting long-awaited presents from both Tool and PJ Harvey, whereas Kanye is a regular album-pumping salad shooter.
Second of all, I grew up in a racially mixed college town 90 miles east of Chicago, and you can’t PAY people to talk about Kanye’s music here. Is America white trash? Sure, but still, it IS the birth of hip-hop, so that any discussion of the art form, whether it’s in Britain or Sri Lanka, must in some way probe the root of the problem, the fathoms of bilious hatred, of sociological malignancy, which spurred people to rap in the first place, to yell in our ear drums atonally as a viable art form.
And to be honest, whether it is people’s hypersensitivity to ego at work or not, Kanye has syphoned the well dry on album hype, big time. Like with me, I liked Yeezus, but he put that out on CD (I’m old school) and this new one is not only file-only, but it’s accompanied by (a) temporal proximity to the Grammys and (b) that Taylor Swift jab, the kind of thing that might have seemed excusable around the time of Watch the Throne, but is just materializing as frat boy boorishness at this point. I realize it’s necessary to divorce the man from the artist, but in this case I don’t even see that as a possibility — the artist is literally shoving his alpha-male shamelessness in our faces.
Kanye has the stage, and is sitting on the cusp of the black presidency’s end — it’s a perfect precipice on which to socially pontificate on black values. The fact of whether The Life of Pablo is good or not (I’ve heard some good tracks off it) is almost immaterial at this point, considering the artist incurred about his pinnacle of hatred following Yeezus, which had my favorite first two tracks on any ‘Ye album to date. In America, it will always be about his public image, and his bulbous ego, and now we’re at this polarized point where so much does he feed off hate that he deliberately invites it, and his blind followers such as Britain’s NME only shower him with more kisses and accolades. Plus, it’s streaming only, so he could have put it out as just a bunch of singles — or, what would have been more fun, debuted all the songs live, and then sell the bootlegs. I’m rejecting the very concept of this being a Kanye “album” at this point, because I have no reason whatsoever to root for this guy, given his behavior leading up to the “release.”
The other problem I have with NME’s Kanye cover which depicts the phrase “Making a Masterpiece,” the reason I KNOW it’s publicity fluff to sell America on Britons, and not actual artistic headway, is that even if Pablo is a masterpiece, it’s like Kanye’s eighth fu**ing masterpiece, so the terminology is semantically insufficient.

It’s entirely possible, nay, probable, that Britons actually hate Taylor Swift to the amount of actually resembling coherent music consumers. So let’s allow for this fact’s liquidation, for purposes of this argument. NME is then seen as siding with Kanye, with art as erring on the side of substantial and original, as opposed to the ostensibly American “value” of wielding a positive celebrity image, which may be Taylor Swift’s masquerade at this point. The points of contention still abound with The Life of Pablo nonetheless, such as “Real Friends” which drones on and on without guest rappers on the track. Beanie Sigel’s uncompromising guttural rasp would have been a wondrous makeover for this track. And what’s up with this album having no physical form, but still having a cover, and having that big white butt on the cover of it? I mean, does that girl have like elephantitus of the a** or something? That’s hardly fitting of the wannabe harda** image on the NME cover, which attempts to call to mind some ghetto vista like Nas’ Illmatic. Even discounting this magazine cover, Kanye is becoming like the Frank Zappa of hip-hop, except he’s actually serious about wanting all this carnage, not making fun of “fembots in wet t-shirts.” That’s a lot of reparations in the form of white flesh for one man to handle, and frankly, I think it smells of shtick.

And if “Real Friends” is any indication, with which Kanye issued that adolescent picture of himself in that V-Neck sweater (which was pretty funny, I’ve got to admit), then I know what to expect from the rest of the album: more churlish whining at how hateful his surroundings were growing up, when here he is calling our main pop diva a “bit**,” and offering no apology for interrupting all those awards ceremonies. I mean, why do we need an ALBUM for a glimpse into Kanye’s life at this point? We can just pick up a National Inquirer. But sure, tell the British that The Life of Pablo is an actual hip-hop statement… I wonder how many of them have even heard “Made in America,” and realize how any statement made AFTER that should necessarily be kitschy and stylistically angular, else veering toward retread territory. I thoroughly enjoyed “On Sight” and “Black Skinhead” in small doses, like the disposable pop that they were, and were meant to be, and now I have the gospel numbers like “Made in America” and “Heard ’em Say” if I want to reacquaint with ‘Ye’s actual artistic vehicle. It’s hard to believe, but I actually saw this cokemachineglow.com critic make the illuminating discovery that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was garish and overly indulgent. It’s like, No sh**, sherlock! Yeezus is crisp and brief… not sure how he missed that, though he did manage to write like 1,500 words on that 40-minute album which he termed a “disaster.” Finger aerobics, maybe? Anyway, I’m taking that big white butt on the “cover” of this “album” as a warning sign. Kanye doesn’t even respect his own artistic expression anymore, so neither should I.

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