The Life of Pablo (TLOP), like the life of Kanye West, is currently a mess. West first introduced the track listing of the album by writing it down on a piece of paper and posting it on his Twitter page. Over the next few days, he made some alterations to that sheet of paper and kept posting the updates, until this sheet of paper was an incoherent jumble of crap. Oddly enough, the same can be said about the release of this album.TLOP was first played in its entirety during Kanye’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion show on Feb. 11. The album was released two days later … well, kind of. The album was initially supposed to be available for sale on his website and for streaming on Tidal, a music app owned by West’s former BFFL Jay-Z. However, West later decided to have the album available exclusively through Tidal.
Not releasing an album on Spotify has become a trend among musicians, and an understandable one considering their reputation for underpaying artists. Not releasing an album on Apple, on the other hand, is an unusual move. Apple and Tidal are both known to compensate their artists handsomely. West has previously stated his admiration for Apple, even giving him the highest ordinance of praise to Apple founder Steve Jobs by comparing himself to Jobs. West provided a lot of thoughts during his Twitter tirade, but his reasoning behind not releasing TLOP on Apple was given no explanation.
Business wise, this was not the smartest decision for West. West has a fan base the size of his ego, which means many Yeezy loyalists (myself included) switched their preferred music apps to Tidal. This led Tidal to reach the #1 position in the app store for the first time since its creation. However, there were other factors that West did not take into consideration. Tidal’s availability is restricted to 45 countries, as opposed to 148 countries for Apple. By releasing his music solely on Tidal, West alienated a vast proportion of his target audience. With no other option, fans turned to piracy. TLOP quickly became the most pirated album of all time. (Of all time!) The album was illegally downloaded up to 500,000 times within one day, estimating a $10 million loss for West and his producers.
In addition to hurting West economically, this decision also impacted his musical legacy. West has been a controversial figure from the get-go, but his music has always taken precedence over his public image. After the 2009 VMA incident involving Taylor Swift, Kanye’s career seemed to have met its unglorified end. Mr. West, however, retaliated with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album that received unanimous praise and brought West redemption. Sadly, he could not repeat the same formula with TLOP. While the album was artistically phenomenal, no one seemed to care. The album’s botched release only added fuel to the firestorm created by West’s Twitter fiasco. Other than the backlash regarding some distasteful lyrics, the discussions surrounding TLOP barely acknowledge the music in the album and have instead focused on West’s bad attitude. The year 2016 is quickly becoming for Kanye West what 2007 was for Britney Spears, only with better music.
However, not all hope is lost for Yeezus. This is the same man who has reshaped the music industry multiple times. 808’s and Heartbreaks was the genesis for the urban-contemporary genre and the blueprint for artists like Frank Ocean and Drake. He has been compared to musical trailblazers like Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Nas. In an article for Times magazine Elon Musk (another genius compared to West by himself) wrote, “Kanye’s been playing the long game all along, and we’re only just beginning to see why.”
Maybe this has all been about West’s long term artistic vision: a planned downfall, only to be followed by a majestic comeback (some self-awareTLOP lyrics and themes may foreshadow just that). He has promised more music in the near future, suggesting the possibility for another Kanye West masterpiece and a chance to reclaim genius status. This scenario seems far-fetched but not entirely implausible considering the nature of Kanye West. After all, this is Kanye West’s world and we’re all just living in it.