Friday, September 30, 2016

All Praise To Saint Pablo

Photo Credit: Marc Nader 

To understand Superman you have to begin with his origin story. To understand Kanye West you have to take it back to the beginning. Kanye West started his career writing hits for some of the biggest artists in the game. This includes Jay Z, Nas, Little Kim, Janet Jackson and Talib Kweli. Despite his success, he couldn't get anybody to sign him to a record deal to write and record his own hits. In fact, legend has it that he was only reluctantly signed to Roc-A-Fella Records so they wouldn't lose him as a producer. Then, on October 23rd, 2002 everything changed. Kanye West was in a major car accident that left him with his jaw wired shut. Instead of taking some time off for his recovery, he went into the studio two weeks later and recorded what became his debut hit "Through the Wire" through the wires in his mouth. Kanye's verses were witty and showcased the fact that he wasn't your typical hip hop artists. Against all odds something clicked and Kanye West became a star.

His first full length album was released in 2004. It featured hits like "Through the Wire", "Slow Jamz" and "Jesus Walks".  He pushed the boundaries of hip hop and put out music that no one else was making, he was finally being seen as an innovator. He released his second album Late Registration in 2005. On this album he mixed big horns with hip hop verses and created music that you could dance to. Despite his success, he always saw himself as the underdog. the fighter, someone that had to prove himself. He returned to the studio in 2007 and recorded Graduation, an album that was heavily inspired by rock and roll. He wanted to write arena worthy hip hop songs and that's exactly what he did. For the first few albums he toured with live bands and a person dressed up in a bear costume. He rocked pink polos and turned every venue he played into a dance party. During his first two stops in Detroit he played Chene Park and The Fox and made the whole room move all night. He was cocky, but we all thought it was justified. After all, he had overcome the odds, spit verses through the wire, and changed hip hop music. He deserved to be a little cocky.

In 2008 he introduced auto tune into his music and recorded 808s and Heartbreak, a heartbreaking album that West created shortly after the death of his mother, Donda West. This album was a real turning point for Kanye. He stepped out of his comfort zone and showed that he was much more than a hip hop artist. Shortly after the albums release he embarked on the Glow in The Dark Tour. The live show featured Kanye West "crash landing" on the stage and trying to find his way home. There were lights, there were lasers, and there was a full orchestra supporting West on stage. He also wore a glove that controlled the way the stage moved and lit up. The show was visually pleasing and changed the way that I viewed live events. Unfortunately, by this point Kanye had become a public spectacle for his onstage antics at the 2009 VMA awards and everything he had worked so hard for was dismissed because the dude had a pretty big ego. That's when everything seemed to change. Instead of West being viewed as a cocky go getter who was fighting to get the recognition he deserved, he was perceived as a spoiled jerk who spent too much time talking about how great he was.
Photo Credit: Marc Nader
He followed up 808s with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album that helped redeem him to the haters and was well received by the critics. It was so good that some of the songs were even being played on indie stations. It was in that moment that everyone collectively said, we don't like the fact hat he's so cocky, but he can write some damn good music so we can excuse some of his antics. He further sealed his superstar status by recording Watch The Throne and touring with Jay Z in support of the album in 2011. During that tour, Jay Z and Kanye created video screen stages that played videos of animals attacking each other in the jungle and went back and forth playing hit after hit. They also used lasers a lot and it was cool as hell. He played everything from his hits to his B-Sides and re-established himself as a real artist and innovator. The show was unlike anything I had ever seen before and once again changed the way that I viewed live events.

He followed up this comeback success with his seventh studio album Yeezus. This album featured songs where Kanye literally declared "I am a God". His ego seemed to have taken control and he was literally comparing himself to the savior. He saw himself as the savior of music and he wasn't afraid to let everyone know it. The tour mirrored the vibe of the album and strayed from all of the work he had done leading up to that point. He wore a mask for most of the show and then literally crowned himself with thorns by the end of the night. The show felt disconnected and turned a lot of his die hard fans, including myself, off. Something didn't feel right. This whole show was a mess and I left the room feeling conned.

Then, this February Kanye West released his eighth studio album, The Life of Pablo, a musical masterpiece that reminded me why I fell in love with him in the first place. He introduced me to my new obsession, Chance the Rapper, on the albums intro track "Ultralight Beam" and it only got better from there. I knew that despite feeling so let down by the last tour I had to give Yeezus a chance to redeem himself. I arrived at Joe Louis Arena with an open mind last Wednesday night and left two hours later smiling from ear to ear and covered in sweat. Saint Pablo did more than redeem himself, he resurrected my faith in the marriage of music and art and reminded me why I fell in love with him as an artist so many years ago.

I have read a lot of reviews of his show and it seems that other people perceived  this setup a bit differently than I did. They saw Kanye's innovative floating stage as a way that he could literally put himself above his followers, but  I didn't see it that way. Yeezus may have been a bit too full of himself and robbed his fans of a real experience, but Saint Pablo has came back and paid for his sins in full. I saw Kanye's floating stage as a way for him to connect with his fans. Because it keeps moving throughout the night, there is literally not a bad seat in the house. And, if you were lucky enough to be one of the people standing on the floor, you may have had a moment where you felt like Kanye was looking right at you while he was performing. I heard a lot of people saying that they felt like he was interacting with us as he moved around the floor. The lights and the smoke rising from below us only added to the magic of the night. This time around Kanye played a variety of the new stuff but mixed it up with a few bangers, like my personal favorite "Touch the Sky" towards the end of the night. After two hours, I left wanting more. I bought a $65 shirt with Kim Kardashian in a bikini and left laughing about it all.

Yeah, Kanye might be full of himself, he might sell shitty fancy clothing, and say stupid shit in front of camera, but he has written 8 of the most innovative albums of my lifetime and impressed the hell out of me by changing my perception of what is possible during a live show. He also got my ass moving and dancing for two hours without a care in the world.  The Life of Pablo isn't so bad.

Kanye returns to Metro Detroit for a second round this coming Thursday, October 6th.  If you want to experience something different, something special, and something  magical, get a ticket. Thanks to Saint Pablo, there is no front row and their isn't a bad seat in the house!


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