What do you give the man who has everything? Well, if that man is Kanye West, you can start with a f*cking break.
‘Ye’s latest album The Life of Pablo continues to explore the darker side of fame and fortune, a theme that he’s harped on in every one of his albums since his 2010 paranoid magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
To fully understand how dramatic ‘Ye’s anti-fame shift in attitude is, we need to take a look at his early work. The Pink Polo Kanye of the College trilogy saw fame and fortune as the ultimate end goal. He was proud of his Benz and his backpack. He couldn’t wait to get his money right. The overwhelming joy of Yeezy’s early production style echoed his unbridled enthusiasm for getting money and getting known. ‘Ye wanted listeners to understand that fame was everything, even more important than craft. Getting on this TV (Momma) tellingly held priority over putting sh*t down.
Then, Kanye got what he wanted. And found out that all that glitters – even the ridiculously opulent packaging for Watch The Throne – is not gold. Since MBDTF, Kanye has repeatedly tackled the various pitfalls that are only revealed to the uber-rich and famous, like the tippy-top tax bracket comes with a societal decoder ring.
Yeezus tracks like “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead” railed against avenues that still weren’t available to Kanye as a black man. Overwhelming wealth couldn’t help West break into certain areas of society, including high fashion, where ‘Ye says designers wouldn’t be “satisfied unless he picked the cotton [hisself].”
“Real Friends” off of Pablo takes a decidedly narrower view of fame’s downsides. Rather than focusing on society as a whole, he’s taking aim at his family and friends. West is harried by his obligations to those who are closest to him and feels like being one of the most successful rappers on Earth and keeping up with your inner circle at the same time is an impossible goal.
“I’m a deadbeat cousin/I hate family reunions,” Kanye says in an abrupt turn from previous messages on tracks like “Family Business.”
Kanye closes out that verse exasperated at his own fast-paced schedule and the way it turned him into a bad companion.
“When was the last time I remembered a birthday? When was the last time I wasn’t in a hurry?”
Kanye West reaching the top was like Scar ascending to the throne. Everything around him – especially those early relationships – withered and died. He’s taken on his regret over making it to the summit before, most notably on the MBDTF single “Power,” and continues the trend on Pablo. The man who once wanted to touch the sky now frets that he might end up like Icarus.
“Don’t fly too high, your wings might melt,” Vic Mensa warns on “Wolves” and it’s clear Kanye is writing from experience.
Kanye locked himself inside a bank vault five years ago and has spent that half-decade rapping about how dark it is. But with his marriage to Kim Kardashian and the birth of his two children North and Saint West, it looks like Kanye is finally willing to crack the door and let some light in.
Kanye claims he was “lost and beat up” when Kim found him, surrounded by hungry, yellow-eyed wolves that are waiting to eat him alive over the slightest misstep. ‘Ye has made it clear that Kim pulled him out of that desperate part of his life.
“When I was at my lowest moments – I could get on the phone with her,” he told Ellen DeGeneres. “She would make me feel like, you know, I was here for a reason.”
She’s definitely had an effect. Along with Kanye seemingly finding religion, Pablo is a much brighter-sounding record than anything we’ve heard from him in a long time. It might not be possible to make a song with Chance The Rapper and Kirk Franklin that doesn’t sound life-affirming, but Kanye still chose to put “Ultra Light Beam” on the record.
Kanye’s clearly looking to get out from under the pressures of fame on Pablo. He wrote a whole song about people’s expectations and love of the “old Kanye.” He’s over it and lets it be known on “Father, Stretch My Hands” by repeating “I just wanna be liberated” over and over again. And it looks like Kanye’s on the right track.
It’s unlikely we’ll ever get the 100 percent joyous Kanye back. Since those early albums, Kanye’s lost his idealist streak – losing your mother (and then planning a video game about her ascent to heaven) and having the entire world turn against you in a moment can do that. But Pablo puts us on the path to a new Kanye: weathered and world-weary but ultimately – dare we say it? – happy.