To some, June 18, 2013 was just another Tuesday in the middle of the summer;two days before the Summer Solstice, two days after Father’s Day.
To others, that day meant something more, it was the day Kanye West and Def Jam Recordings released Yeezus, the sixth studio album of West’s career., It was his first since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010 (unless you count Watch the Throne in 2011, which he produced alongside Jay Z).
In the eyes of many, Yeezus was a flop. It was certainly a change of pace from what Kanye West fans had become accustomed to in his previous albums. As Mr. West once rapped on Good Life, “50 told me go ‘head switch the style up/ And if they hate then let ’em hate/ And watch the money pile up.” Well, Kanye, you may have switched it up a little too much on your summer solo album.
So, we waited. Following Yeezus, Kanye began to dabble into the world of fashion. His Yeezy shoe-line with Nike was a massive success on the retail and resale market (there were stories of people trading cars and kidneys for a pair of Nike Air Yeezy 2 “Red October’s”).
Finally, in 2014, West announced that he was working on a seventh studio album. The name and details of the album at the time remained a mystery, but this much was clear: Yeezus had risen again.
As time passed, however, it was evident that music wasn’t the only thing on West’s mind. It began to become clear that West’s fashion career was beginning to catch steam. His first step was his heavily-criticized move from Nike to Adidas. West’s fashion line, albeit incredibly scrutinized, gained popularity via his Yeezy Season 1, 2 and then 3 fashion shows. His Yeezy 350 and 750 shoes proved to be just as successful as his Nike line, with people lining up in person virtually just to grab a pair. As with Nike, the resale prices were through the roof.
Still, no album.
We were teased, however. From Only One with Beatles legend Paul McCartney to All Day, a Yeezus-esque single which he dropped in 2015, Kanye kept feeding the masses just enough music to keep us hanging on. And of course, we did.
But finally, we saw a glimmer of hope; an album name. So Help Me God, was the name. In May of 2015, West tweeted that the name would be changed to SWISH. Probably the last name change, right? Wrong (I mean, this is Kanye West we’re dealing with, right?). In 2016, West would change the album from SWISH to Waves to The Life of Pablo, all in the span of a few weeks.
But forget the title, it was music we wanted. West responded, masterfully might I add. He began to release music on a week-by-week basis, all while being in “the lab” working on SWISH/Waves/The Life of Pablo, which he announced would drop Feb. 11, 2016. The single releases started on Jan. 31 of 2015 with “Facts”, a diss track attacking Nike. Next came “Real Friends” which saw West return to a soul-music style we haven’t seen since his early days. “No More Parties in L.A” dropped next. He and rap icon Kendrick Lamar combined for an upbeat jam which still embodied the style seen in “Real Friends”.
We downloaded, we listened and we critiqued. But our minds were on Feb. 11. Our minds were on the album, now three years in the making. We followed the bizarre tweets – from battling with Wiz Khalifa to updating us on the process of his album.
Finally, Feb. 11 came. Speculation ran rampant as to what time of the day West would release the album. People refreshed iTunes, SoundCloud and Spotify religiously, all to no avail. Midnight struck on Friday morning, and The Life of Pablo was nowhere to be found.
Another 24 hours passed – nothing. West held his third “Yeezy Season” fashion show at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 12 – where he played parts of his album live – but still nothing for the hungry public.
Another day went by.
Saturday started with a message from Kanye via his Twitter account: blame Chance. While the details at the time remained a mystery, it had turned out that Chance the Rapper was lobbying for “Waves”, a song written by Chance, to remain on the album. Chance got his way, but the release was delayed, much to the chagrin of many.
Saturday night hit, and after two days of constantly stalking West’s twitter feed and refreshing every music streaming service under the sun, some began to wonder whether the album would ever see the light of day.
Sunday, Feb 14. The clock hit midnight, and Saturday Night Live began to air. West was the musical guest, and if SNL producers are wondering why they saw their show spike in ratings this week, Mr. West and The Life of Pablo are to thank.
West opened the show – alongside Young Thug and a cast of musical friends – by playing “Highlights” one of the songs set to be on his highly anticipated album. Everything about the performance was beautiful – aside from a few miscues with the censorship button. Social media was buzzing, and the anticipation for Pablo had reached an all-time high.
West exited the stage and the skits started, and still, no album.
Aside from a skit in which SNL actor Kyle Mooney “battles” Kanye, we didn’t see much of West until the final act, in which West, alongside Chance the Rapper and a crew of singers, debuted “Ultralight Beam” another song off of Pablo. The performance was everything: chilling, entertaining, powerful, you name it. West and Chance both did wonders on the microphone, and once again, social media went wild.
The performance ended with West laying face-down on the ground. Suddenly, he jumped up and grabbed a mic. He screamed to go on to Tidal (Jay Z’s music streaming website) and Kanywest.com, and ran off the stage while babbling some form of gibberish.
It had arrived.
People jumped to their phones. Kanywest.com had what sounded like a voicemail from Yasiin Bey, the artist formerly known as Mos Def, talking about socio-politics. While many sat in confusion, others leapt to Tidal to sign up for a free one-month trial (sorry, Jay and Ye, but we’re cancelling our subscriptions once Pablo is up on iTunes).
It wasn’t until around 2 a.m. Eastern Standard Time that most people had finally gotten their hands on the album, three-years in the making. We let the sweet sound of West, Rhianna, Chance and others into our ears. We heard the autotuned music which had been missing since 808’s and Heartbreaks, released in 2008. We heard the Kanye West soul-music which we hadn’t seen since his earlier album. We heard a powerful Kanye West which many believed was non-existent in Yeezus.
Ask any Kanye West fan: The Life of Pablo was worth the wait. The three-year journey from Yeezus to The Life of Pablo was riddled with singles which kept us asking for more. It turned die-hard Nike fans into Adidas wearers. It allowed us to re-love Kanye’s old work.
To some, February 14, 2016 was just another cold, winter day. Many couples joyously celebrated Valentine’s Day, with boxes of chocolates and oversized teddy bears.
To others, it was a re-birth of Kanye West fandom. They missed the old Kanye, chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye. If you listened to Pablo you already know those words. If you haven’t, I suggest you get on it. Because The Life of Pablo isn’t just an album with 17 songs on it. It’s a modern epic.