Kanye West Didn’t Break The Rules With The Life Of Pablo. He Changed Them
Five weeks ago, Kanye West released his eighth solo album, The Life Of Pablo. What had long been anticipated as a follow-up to 2013’s Yeezus was quite different than its predecessor. For starters, T.L.O.P. was never released to CD, vinyl, or digital download marketplaces (and reportedly never will be). For second, the TIDAL-exclusive appears to be a living, breathing project subject to artistic changes even beyond its February 14, 2016 release.
Since that Saturday, more than 48 hours after ‘Ye’s promised release date for the LP, the Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum MC/producer/singer/designer has continued to update the alum. In February, he altered the mix of his record. This month, West has changed one song, “Wolves” with a new mix, including vocals by Vic Mensa and Sia. West also altered the album’s tracklist by breaking off a previous ending of a song, and making the Frank Ocean-assisted cut a standalone in “Frank’s Track.”
In an article by Tech Crunch, West’s approach to Pablo is being praised for moving a practice used in product development into the arts space. “In the technology industry, we would call The Life Of Pablo a minimum viable product,” writes Tien Tzuo. “That may sound like a pejorative term, but a minimum viable product is actually incredibly important. Only after it gets something out in the market can a business gather customer feedback and use this data to iterate and improve in a continuous deployment cycle.” The author equates this to “saas” (software as a service) as used regularly in the technology space.
West has publicly responded to critical reviews of his latest album, notably that of Pitchfork’s, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone.
The Tech Crunch analysis points to the 1948 evolution of the album LP growing music beyond the single. In the five decades that followed, acts ranging from Miles Davis to The Beach Boys, Aretha Franklin to Nas have used the form to make artistic statements bigger than a sum of singles. Recently, thanks to digital platforms, the single has come back into vogue (as artists such as Drake, iLoveMakonnen, and T-Wayne dominated 2015 singles charts, without albums for the tracks to belong to). Against that backdrop, the article implies that rather than take additional time to perfect his album by his own standards, Kanye has used a shorter development cycle. Moreover, he has made the experience (indicative of the multiple title changes prior to release) an interactive, real-time experience. West changed the title from Swish to Waves, and from Waves to T.L.O.P. all via Twitter. Instantly, his fans and followers learned of the development, weighed in, and watched the corresponding ideas of said album change. West also previewed material via Soundcloud to test songs on the album. One such cut, “No More Parties In L.A.” which was initially thought to be a promotional effort (based on his 2010 G.O.O.D. Friday approach), would find its way onto at least one iteration of Pablo.
Whether it was a reaction to “Wolves” or Wiz Khalifa’s and West’s very public tiff surrounding the origins of “Wavy,” the feedback has affected the development of West’s product—his album-length music. Tech Crunch deduces, “By putting it out there – and making subscribers pay for it – West is successfully feeding his sales funnel without having to wait for a finished product. Instead he can tinker with his product, optimizing as part of an ongoing deployment cycle.” Regardless of where your opinion of T.L.O.P. stands, that is an innovative way of looking at it.
West’s has announced plans for several more albums in 2016, which will likely show if there is a R&D method to his music-making.