Review: Live Stream of Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo Album Debut
5:00am – Alarm goes off. Happy Yeezus day, me.
7:30am – My associate and I arrive at Melbourne Central Village cinemas. There are hundreds of Hip Hop Heads lingering around, eager to be among the first to hear Kanye’s new album “The Life of Pablo”. There are Air Jordans everywhere, and some reluctant Adidas too – we all know Kanye wanted that Nike Tick.
8:00am – The live stream begins. We’re now looking down the rows of Village Cinema seats, then down the rows of Madison Square Garden seats, onto a veiled stage. The audience in Village Cinemas Melbourne, in New York City, and all over the world, murmur about what might be under the gigantic silky tarpaulin covers. The audience murmuring is strangely comforting. I say to my associate, “I could meditate to this noise,” and he assures me there are YouTube clips of ambient chatter for just that purpose. I become aware that the hype-anticipation is making me giddy. I wonder aloud if it is a drum kit under one section of the silky tarpaulin that looks a bit drum kitty.
8:30isham – The Kardashians are entering the venue. Not our Melbourne Village Cinemas – Madison Square Garden. There’s a lot of cheering. Kanye enters. He’s wearing “I’m a Genius” attire – a very ordinary sweatshirt, jeans, and a baseball cap. It’s very Steve Jobs – “I’m about to unveil something historic, but I’ll just do it in my everyday wear cos it’s no biggie” type stuff.
Speaking of Biggie, he’s surrounded by other rappers – Chance, Pusha T, 2 Chainz, not Biggie, obviously, cos he’s dead. He’s probably there in spirit. The gaggle of rappers (not the correct collective noun*) mosey on down into the arena. Someone hands Kanye a Macbook Pro, he takes it to the sound desk, plugs a 3.5mm jack into it. He picks up a microphone off the sound desk, it’s the wrong one, it’s the audio engineer’s soundcheck microphone, so the audio engineer hands him a wireless one. He speaks into it.
At this point, the majority of the arena is still veiled under tarpaulin. His introduction isn’t some grand speech, some Jobs-esque hype-revelation – it in fact doesn’t even seem to be planned. He says some thank you’s and that he’d like to play the album, then he presses Space Bar on his Macbook and the first song starts playing.
Little planning has gone into this, it has become apparent. It doesn’t matter though. Because it’s good.
By now I’ve become aware that the Live Stream is not in Surround Sound, and that the audio is only coming from the front, and it’s very quiet. I already can’t wait to hear it through good headphones.
8:45amish – The veils are removed after a few songs to reveal a few hundred fashion models standing in what appears to be Matrix clothing. Not the slick inside the matrix stuff, the outside the matrix tattered things. There is no drum kit. My friend comments that he thinks the look is supposed to be post-apocalyptic, I tell him I think it’s more pre-uprising, like the statement is “The revolution will be fought in these clothes.”
For the remainder of the album, the models stand stock still. Occasionally one will get tired and sit. At the conclusion of the album a smattering of them throw up a Black Panther hand gesture, a few throw up the middle finger, and I see at least one peace-sign.
The album finishes, Kanye asks what song we liked best, there’s a roar, then he plays one again. I think it was “Feedback”, which is a total banger.
The lights come on in the cinema. Kanye plays another song. One of his rapper pals takes the 3.5mm jack from the Macbook Pro and plugs it into his phone, then debuts his new song. Then a few more rapper friends proceed to do the same. Meanwhile, the Kardashians have left, and the audience (both in Village Cinemas Melbourne and in Madison Square Garden) are confused as to whether the show is over or not. The lights go back down in the cinema. I turn to me associate and ask, “Bail?”
9:30am – We’re now among the first in the world to have heard The Life of Pablo.
So how was it?
Extremely good. It’s about family, but it isn’t soft, boring, or overly sentimental, as I feared it might be. It’s strong, catchy, and true to Kanye’s style: it pushes Hip Hop into some new territory. And as for the shambles of a show – Kanye standing next to a sound desk surrounded by his mates, while several hundred fashion models stand perfectly still – that was an experience I actually thoroughly enjoyed and will remember for a long time.
Praise be to Yeezus, he’s done it again.