Kanye West has called his latest album, The Life of Pablo, “a Gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it.” The February release (as with everything West does) has been controversial to say the least, and many are rightfully questioning if it’s a gospel album at all.
The release party for the for the album happened at Madison Square Garden in New York City for a sold-out crowd and was live-streamed on Jay-Z’s music streaming service Tidal. Kanye arrived fashionably late and began playing the open song. The album opened with a clip from a four-year-old charismatic preacher saying “We don’t want no devils in the house, we want the LORD” then Kanye singing “We on a ultralight beam/this is a God dream” followed by a gospel choir’s crescendo “I’m trying to keep my faith.” All this ushered in a feeling of great spiritual power as the camera slowly panned and tilted over the bodies of numerous fashion models wearing Yeezy’s apocalypse-themed line of clothing. The whole event felt surreal, confused, scattered and uncertain. It was odd to see Kanye head-banging and dancing to his own music, but there was a childlike innocence and joy about it alongside the ego-maniacal childishness.
The album itself is no less scattered and schizophrenic. There are high-highs and low-lows which often bump into each other like a jump-cut YouTube video made for the Buzzfeed generation. And it’s clear that this is all Kanye’s intention. The awkwardness in the room is palpable when, on the fourth track, Kanye drops “All the south-side Nggas that know me best/I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/I made the btch famous” triggering Gut-laughter, head-shakes, and gag-reflexes all at once.
As a Gospel album, it is as scattered morally as it is musically. The track “Low Lights” is a full two-minute testimony to the power of the Lord and his faithfulness and it’s followed up almost immediately by an auto-tuned Kanye singing “I wish that my dick had/go-pro/so I could play that sh*t back/in slow mo.” In its final form, this 18-track epic has more cycles of apostasy than the Israelites from Exodus to 2 Kings.
On The Life of Pablo Kanye provides nothing short of a full and honest picture of himself, warts and all. At the end of the day what emerges is a picture of a man honestly; albeit disjointed, confused, idolatrous, and misdirected; seeking after God. While the Gospel bears witness to a light which shines in the darkness, a “Gospel” album filled with such ego and profanity bears witness to the reality of a world where the sacred and profane are happy to dwell at peace together. Judge for yourselves whether or not it should be so.
photo by Piotr Drabik