Black History Month 2016 has been one to remember. From Black Hollywood standing together through the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag to voice their discontentment with the lack of Black nominees for the second straight year, to Beyonce’s electric pro-Black performance at the Super Bowl, to Kendrick Lamar’s breathtaking performance at the Grammy’s as he vehemently rapped “The Blacker The Berry,” “Alright,” and an untitled track. However, I would be remised if I did not mention Kanye West’s contribution to the month, and ultimately my collegiate career.
This month Kanye West released his 7th studio album titled “The Life of Pablo”. West’s album was released in controversial fashion as he decided, last second, to make it only available through Tidal, and in doing made his project one of the most pirated albums of all time. However, if you have the chance to listen to the album you will be infatuated by it. What makes this realization so important is that West has now produced several albums that could be heralded as the album of someone’s undergraduate career. I thought I was going to get that with “Yeezus” but did not, although I do appreciate “Yeezus” for pushing musical boundaries. West definitely provided the soundtrack to my undergraduate career with “The Life of Pablo,” despite the fact that there is fewer than 80 days left for my undergraduate campaign.
How did this development occur? First you have to come to the realization that Kanye West isn’t the same conscious rapper from “College Dropout” or “Late Registration”. I do not consider it a fault against him; he just evolved as a rapper to stop talking about the collective “we” and started focusing on the all-important “me”. Second you have to come to terms with understanding that every artist does not need to be conscious. Kendrick Lamar does a phenomenal job of being the spokesperson for the trials and tribulations Black men face in his city of Compton, and using that as a microcosm for every ghetto across the country as it is relatable. Yet, every song on my iPod does not need to be a conscious one. Instead, I can listen to a song that relates to my current life situation, emotional state, etc. Third and the most important for me is Kanye West is so unapologetically Black. In his verse for A$AP Rocky’s “Jukebox Joints” he says, “They wanna throw me under a white jail, Cause I’m a Black man with the confidence of a white male, Hallelujah”. Kanye is most known for his narcissism, and I am perfectly fine with someone loving himself to that degree, but his passionate proclamations of Blackness are what caused me to never leave him as a fan.
His proclamations are abundant throughout “The Life of Pablo” along with many other sentiments. “Ultralight Beams” serves as a spiritual of sorts as he reiterates keeping one’s faith and realizing one’s mission in life, the outro by Kirk Franklin only bolsters the message sent here. In “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” if we look past the obscure model reference, who hasn’t wanted to feel liberated? I know those of us who are occupying a colligate space would love to be liberated. For “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2” we see how work can cloud our family life and lead to major problems. In “Famous” Kanye tackles the alcohol-induced mistake that has been his claim to fame since 2009. We have all gained some acclaim for something we are not proud of. The track “Feedback” is all about not compromising your dreams for anyone else’s vision of what you should be doing. It is also about hustling and grinding. Hustling so hard that the people around you think you are out of your mind. For me that was junior year in a nutshell. The track “Lowlights” is a return to gospel! Gospel is always a plus. In “Highlights” we get a celebration of Kanye’s career and when you hear it you can’t help but think about your own accolades and future accomplishments. For “Freestyle 4” we see an ode to the wild thoughts we all have lurking in the depths of our minds. Here’s to not acting on inhibitions! The track “I Love Kanye” gives us this gem of a line: “And I love you like Kanye loves Kanye”. The song “Waves” is about losing someone, and we have all lost someone before. The emphasis is on the fact that because someone physically leaves your life, the feelings for them do not really go away. For “FML” Kanye tackles the concept of temptation. We all know temptation is real! And in a college setting temptation is all around you. Kanye reminds us here to remember how much work you put in to get what you have because it takes just one decision to lose it all. In “Real Friends”, probably the most college applicable song on the record, Kanye deep dives into relationships and how they change over time. This challenge is a feature in college life that is hard to avoid. Few people learn how to navigate through their colligate years while losing no friends. The track “Wolves” is an emotional track that follows up with “Real Friends” nicely because those friends you lose along the way become those Wolves that attack your character as an undergrad. For “30 Hours” West is talking about long distance relationships and relating this to college life can be a simple as going off campus and meeting someone at a party and now you have to make that trek every now and then. Not quite 30 hours I hope. The track “No More Parties in LA” tis self-explanatory, so if you’re in undergrad just don’t do it! In the track “Facts” Kanye is talking about letting those who slight you know that you can, and will, get the last laugh. “Fade”, the outro to the album is about feeling when someone is being fake and being cognizant of that feeling in all settings.
All in all, Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” is a very relatable album as each track can be connected to a scenario of phase of one’s life. For me the album is most applicable to my undergraduate career so it is fitting to label the album as the soundtrack to my Duke Career. When I graduate and I sit back and reflect on my four years at Duke “The Life of Pablo” will be playing in my head. Thank you Kanye for giving sound to my once silent movie!