First, you must wait. It’s a lesson that Kanye West has forced upon the world since the 2016 release of The Life of Pablo, a studio album that came to retail fruition only after an innovative, yet lengthy, delay-and-update process.
Although unorthodox in practice, The Life of Pablo pushed an interesting agenda in the age of mass consumption: that art isn’t made on schedule. It’s done when it’s done, deadlines be damned. You move around my clock, not I around yours.
Last night in Atlanta, Georgia – the state of his birth – Kanye West once again proved he is the sun of the record business and, for better or worse, the music industry succumbs to him, assembling when told to arrive, with patrons flooding into the Mercedes Benz Stadium.
He had summoned them for a listening event in conjunction with his soon-to-be-released 10th studio album, currently titled after his late mother, Donda, and rumoured to still be in the process of completion. That’s how little is known about the album, and yet, spectators – myself included – arrived, Covid-19 and all its variants, be damned.
For those who aren’t familiar with the stadium, the multi-purpose facility can hold around 70,000 people. It’s a number that disrupts any concept of cautious social distancing. However, Georgia was the first state to remove restrictions in the US, with its capital, Atlanta, presenting an invitation to escapist Americans: come here if you want to gather in clubs and bars to escape from stricter lockdown laws.
Once inside, a poster – that also could be folded into a fan – was handed out. It had a pixelated photo of mother and son on one side and a message on the other:
Was a remarkable
woman and a role
model who we all
Dearly loved and
We are fortunate that our
lives crossed paths.”
A merch line offered a single tan T‑shirt that featured the date, location and album title on the front and a photo of his late mother, as a toddler, on the back. Some threw the merch over their designer shirts, which allowed the photo of his mother to move through the entire arena. Everywhere you looked there was baby Donda staring back.
For a while nothing happened. No announcement, no updates, no nothing. We waited. Just people, in their best concert outfits, wandering around. Drinks were bought, food was shared, seats were filled, West and his mother were discussed, but the empty stadium floor went unfilled, covered only in a snow-coloured sheet, taking on the appearance of an ice-skating rink.
Right before 10pm West arrived, alone in the centre of the floor, appearing tiny from afar. A moving red dot in the middle of whiteness. The attire he wore left a nostalgic impression similar to the iconic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy uniform. But where MBDTF West was brash and braggadocious, this one was quiet and emblematic of a man separated from the world.
The audience leaned toward him, arms stretched, yelling, “I LOVE YOU, KANYE,” but no response came. Not once, as far as I could hear, did he address the crowd. Even his body language, which fluctuated from a leaning walk to falling upon his knees, appeared distant. All this done without a microphone.
Apologies if you read all this expecting a review of the music. Although it was played, the sound was muddled, which made it difficult to comprehend. It was simply loud, booming through the arena like detonated bombs of roaring expression. At times the crowd became energised by its thunderous production, but truth be told, it wasn’t a listening experience to be dissected. More so, it was an experience to be felt, sprinkled with the excitement of new music from a transformative legend who can still evolve as the world watches.
And yet, I still don’t know if I’m able to process what I saw. I’m still not exactly sure what I heard and I’m not sure if it was even worth the health risk. But none of that matters because man can’t help but fly too close to the sun.