Area Man Gets Existential With Kanye West

I stayed up pretty late last Sunday night. Not for school work, like usual, but for something else. Kanye West’s latest album, Jesus is King, was supposed to drop that night after a series of listening parties, and like every other Kanye fan, I was pretty hyped. After all, it was supposed to be the spiritual successor to Yahndi, a Yeezus follow-up that dissipated like water in a desert, forever lost to time. 

However, nothing came of it. Kanye’s back in the lab, still fooling around with mixes. This is going to be Kanye’s gospel-fusion album, and I guess if God wants Kanye to mix one track so it pans a bit further right than before, then really, what harm can it cause? This isn’t the first time Ye has delayed an album. Who can forget the disastrous The Life of Pablo roll-out and the subsequent updates to its track list from there?

I don’t really mind Kanye retooling the album. After all, the final version of Pablo is simply incredible and has Kanye at most his experimental, boastful and vulnerable. However, I feel like everyone involved in the JiK rollout (Kanye, fans and GOOD music execs) look like a bunch of clowns. 

Kanye’s a clown for sending mixed messages with his massive merch rollout and listening parties. The fans (myself included) are clowns for getting hyped for a date that wasn’t really verified by anyone other than Kim Kardashian. The execs are clowns for not reigning in Kanye. I get it, the man’s an auteur, but there’s a definitive line that needs to be drawn.

I guess this really speaks to the phenomenon of hype, and how easy it is to get wrapped up in it without really thinking for a second. I try to always be aware of anything I’m looking forward to, trying to spot anything in the production cycle that seems out of place or unusual (i.e. reshoots, layoffs, etc.) but with a larger than life figure like Kanye releasing an album that’s wrapped in so much mystery and is a radical departure from what he’s done up to this point, it’s easy to find yourself wearing blinders. Who knew blindly following celebrities would be a bad thing?

So for now, I’m drowning my sorrows in fan-made The Life of Pablo remixes, and that’s something else I kinda want to talk about: plunderphonics and remix culture. Plunderphonics is this really niche genre, where artists take music and audio and warp and distort it to resemble something else through extensive sound editing, copyright be damned. Good examples of this include DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….., The Avalanches Since I Left You, J Dilla’s Donuts and the entire genre of vaporwave. It differs from sampling in that samples are usually cleared with copyright laws and make up some portion of the song’s structure, while in plunderphonics the samples are the structure, and everything else to boot.

To get a bit back on point, because of just how fragmented TLOP  is, fans have kind of dedicated themselves to restructuring the album to create a definitive version of it. There are so many demos and live bootlegs of the songs that it’s hard not to think about how it could have been made. It’s a really fascinating exercise to construct a reality where the album that was made was the one that should have dropped, and not the release that we have in the real world. For example, two remixes that I listened to today was the The Death of Pablo remix by the Pablo Collective and So Help Me God by reddit user “mrspacesentry.” TDOP is a companion piece of sorts, consisting of four, long-form ambient/hip-hop hybrid tracks trying to suss out the darker undertones of TLOP. Meanwhile, So Help Me God is a lot more accessible, being more dance and party oriented while containing occasional dissonant and experimental moments. The former can be found on Bandcamp, while the latter can be found on Reddit.

I think it’s interesting how two artists can draw from the same well and come out with two different outcomes. I see remixing as a weird double-edged sword of conformity and individualism. On one side, you’re compromising an artist’s vision to conform it to your own; on the other hand, the art is out there, and you can change, alter and screw with it however you see fit. 

I think people also relate to remixing because it’s about making something old, new, and it ties into people’s fascination with structure. We can hear the same album over and over a million times, but it’s bold to hear it radically shaken up, even if it is a failure. As for the structural aspect of it, remixing is also about tearing something down and building it back up again, and that’s something everyone can relate to. How many times have you reinvented yourself in the course of a year? Five years? 10? People are in a constant cycle of restructuring and change, and the nature of plunderphonics and remixing speaks to that.

 My own life is in a state of flux right now. I’m trying to figure out who I am and what I want to do post-graduation, while balancing a heavy course load and my life at the paper. But, like all cycles, balance will be found, simply because it has to be found. Things always return to some kind of homeostasis, not through inaction, but just by doing what needs to be done to find structure and maintain it. 

So, what’s the ultimate point of this column? I have no earthly idea. Take from it what you will, and remix it into your own meaning. Or don’t. It’s your life, for Christ’s sake, do what you want with it. I’ll see you in the next column, hopefully in a future where Jesus is King has dropped.