I deliberately ignored most of the debacle after Kanye West’s new album released. Initially, I was pretty keen on the transparency: Showing off track lists and Kanye’s somewhat DIY-punk attitude about release dates and marketing — including subjecting album titles to debate/voting on Twitter and even including his wife in the game. And to be absolutely clear: this is a game.
But there’s a burnout point with these kind of gimmicks, because now everyone has an opinion. And everyone can express it. The diversity and sheer volume of the response was overwhelming. I didn’t know how to reconcile these two streams, so I pressed pause.
When Kanye declared that The Life of Pablo will never be on iTunes or any physical release outside of Tidal’s streaming service, it seemed like exactly the kind of statement he would renege after a few months. But now, it’s becoming clear why Kanye won’t allow a physical release: That would force him to stop tinkering. And Kanye West does not want to stop tinkering.
Like most Kanye choices, it’s an advanced move: To retain total control over his art and keep changing it when the mood strikes him. First, it creates a weird sort of cult — it keeps listeners hooked to the album, lest something change drastically. Secondly, the album adopts a style of art that we all more commonly associate with video games.
Despite a listening party at Madison Square Garden and an official release, including pulling the album once from everyone who purchased it, Kanye will not stop “updating” his latest release — even as he promises yet another new album this summer. At this rate, the new album will be made within The Life Of Pablo and thank god the internet is documenting all of the changes.
You can hear the most recent version here.
Developers update games whenever they see fit. That way, glitches can be corrected, additions implemented, and balance restored. Especially for games with online components, this ‘forever control’ of the product is a requirement. Sometimes, this trait is a source of much disagreement, especially when your favorite overpowered weapon in Titanfall gets adjusted down a few notches. Other times, this can be a great reward for fans, especially when games like Portal or Undertale unveil surprise updates that only hardcore devotees actually notice.
Perhaps the best gaming comparison is Fallout 4. Bethesda has been eager to release their most stable game ever, so the updates haven’t had to fix game- corrupting bugs. Instead, they’ve focused on constant, small updates that have allowed the team to focus on the minutiae — slightly improved draw distance and cleaning up design flaws.
Is Kanye West the Fallout of rap? Yes, that’s what he is.
In that way, there’s something small and deliberate, but worthy of celebration, here. Kanye is making his album into an evolving, breathing thing that listeners will have to accept. I don’t know if this was a concept West picked up from his work on the video game about his mother, or if this was even part of his original intention, but now I’m so excited by the possibilities of a consistently improving album — especially in the hands if someone so artistically unstable — because it means The Life Of Pablo is alive.
The complicated thing for music reviewers is that they’ll now have to adapt like games reviewers did — you can’t put a score on an unfinished piece of art, so you have to revisit it and update that appraisal. That’s good for the listener but frustrating for your friendly neighborhood culture writer.
And that’s fine. I think I’ll finally listen to the album tonight.