In a recent interview, G.O.O.D. Music president and cocaine cowboy, Pusha T, announced that the Def Jam imprint is anticipating an exciting 2017: starting off strong, Big Sean dropped I Decided. on February 3rd; Teyana Taylor is working on her sophomore album; the King himself plans to expand upon his incredible 2015 Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude. But perhaps the biggest announcement from Push’s Washington D.C. 93.9 WKYS interview was the reveal of Mr. Kanye West’s planned 2017 release.
Typically, the brightest art is born from the darkest pain. Creating art is a cathartic expression of suffrage, as it allows humans to materialize their deepest emotions, fears, and worries that are too ineffable to describe vocally. Sometimes, as cliché as this is, a picture really does say a thousand words. Kanye’s album history loosely adheres to this sentiment, with certain albums depicting his plight, others celebrating his victories. Regardless of the content, the emotional investment is steep, and his struggle is palpable.
I believe that his expected 2017 release, currently titled TurboGrafx-16 (this name was chosen one-year ago, and knowing Kanye, is subject to change), will yield traditional artistic expression by channeling his deep-seeded pain into beautiful art. But before we can understand the context of this upcoming project, let’s briefly explore his most momentous and influential albums.
In 1996, Kanye was a 19-year-old kid from Chicago, starving to establish himself as more than just a soulful producer. He’d gotten big name placements, like on Jay Z’s 2001 "Heart of The City," but wasn’t viewed as the dual rapper-producer threat he knew he was. Finally, after years of politicking, supplying countless beats, getting jerked around by major labels, like Capital Records, Dame Dash and Hov gave the Chitown kid a shot on their joint label, Roc-A-Fella Records. The product? His 2004 debut album, The College Dropout.
You can taste Kanye’s struggle on this project. Prior to receiving Dame and Jay’s blessing, Ye’s endless rejections suppressed him until the crushing pressure left him one choice: explode. The College Dropout was Vesuvius; we were Pompeii. Songs like “Spaceship” demonstrate his ironclad resilience that perpetuated his drive, evidenced by lines, “Y’all can't match my hustle / You can't catch my hustle / You can't fathom my love dude / Lock yourself in a room doing 5 beats a day for 3 summers.” This album’s domain explores Kanye’s pride, insecurity, perseverance, and humor, subjecting his audience to a preview of Ye’s diverging chemical makeup. But above all, it’s an honest expression, born from years of repudiation, avenged by bulletproof confidence.
The College Dropout’s strong commercial and critical response afforded Kanye the high life he chased, which he celebrated on subsequent releases, Late Registration and Graduation—home to some of his biggest hits like, “Touch The Sky,” “Gold Digger,” “Gone,” “Stronger,” “Good Life,” and many more. But happiness is fleeting, and fame grows stale. Life’s checks and balances ensure evenness. In November 2007, Kanye’s mother, Donda West, sadly passed away. Months later, Ye and his fiancé, Alexis Phifer, ended their engagement and five-year relationship. Topping these tragedies was Ye’s struggle of coming to grips with fame, which surrounded him like the paparazzi that perpetually stalked him. These congealing events spiraled West into a deep depression, inspiring him to create possibly his most influential album, 808s and Heartbreak. The brightest art is born from the darkest pain.
808s and Heartbreak deviates from Kanye’s conventional aesthetic, both sonically and conceptually, to reveal his dejection. It’s an unfiltered musical approach that strings together therapy sessions detailing loss, love, pain, and uncertainty; it humanizes Kanye, clipping his wings that ascended him to the heavens. This album proves that depression isn’t blind or selective—we’re all susceptible. 808s’ relatable concepts paint a stark juxtaposition to the visionary sonics explored throughout the album. Detouring from his Hip Hop roots, this album maneuvers through a bed of auto-tune vocals, experimental sounds and synths that gravitate around an 808 core to create a Hip Hop sub-genre adopted by a large portion of his successors. Next to College Dropout, 808s is quite possibly his most influential work to date. Kid Cudi, Travis Scott, Metro Boomin, Migos—they all borrow from this sound. Kanye shaped contemporary Hip Hop in his vision, using 808s and Heartbreak as his chisel. The events leading up to this album were among West’s most painful, forcing him to create one of his most challenging, inspirational pieces of art. The brightest art…
Three and a half albums later (Watch the Throne is technically half Ye’s) bring us to February 2017—the announcement of Kanye’s alleged eighth solo studio album. So what can we expect?
The past several months haven’t been easy on Kanye. From cancelled shows to an outright tour cancellation; from meeting with Trump to being hospitalized in a mental health facility; from looking so fresh and so clean to resembling sorbet—you get the point: Kanye is sitting front row on the Kingda Ka rollercoaster with his eyes closed, mouth wide-open, and hands high above his head. His mental fragility is being exposed like never before—yes, even more so than his infamous Sway freakout. Ironically, this forces me to believe TurboGrafx-16 will rank among Ye’s most classic albums. This is more than just his road to redemption. Malcolm West is ready to have the whole nation standing at attention.
These collective questionable events paint an objectively dim picture of Kanye. I’m imagining an angry mob congregating around his Hidden Hills estate holding signs saying: Where’s Kanye? Where’s the guy who called out George Bush for hating black people? These questions are completely fair and valid. Ye has seemingly gone off the wagon a little bit. But as The College Dropout and 808s proved, Kanye is an insecure, vulnerable human being filled with emotions who craves attention and affection. Despite his apparent detachment from reality, he hears and sees what’s being said about him. He might present a braggadocios front, accented by a god complex and supreme vanity, but deep down he’s a sensitive artist. Kanye is festering in a pit of emotional pain and despair, and he’s ready to channel those feelings into beautiful art.
I think he knows he has something to prove; he has fans that he needs to win back. The Saint Pablo tour’s abrupt termination, including abandoning its crown jewel Barclay’s Center New Year’s Eve show, sullied some fans’ perception of him. But Stans, like your’s truly, saw this as an opportunity for Ye to seek necessary medical attention; to come back mentally stronger and expand upon his legendary library. I’m confident that Kanye wants to prove that he is in a better state mentally, and will use TurboGrafx-16 to leverage his relatability, as he did on 808s. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as of 2014, 44.7% of the 46.6-million American adults who experienced a mental illness in that year received mental health care. Just like he was on 808s, Kanye West is as relatable as ever. Others saw this as this as a precarious thread poking out of his Versace sweater.
Even though no one was privy to their meeting, Kanye speaking with Trump unravelled the sweater. A proud black man meeting with the physical symbol of bigotry? Inconceivable. Despite Ye’s deleted tweets shedding some light on their rendezvous (he wanted to “discuss multicultural issues” and “issues that included bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago”), I think a bulk of his fanbase still associates Kanye as a Trump supporter. Ye’s rant at one of his last Saint Pablo tours, declaring had he voted, he would’ve voted for Trump doesn’t help his situation. I think this will incite politically charged, impassioned songs about Chicago’s devastating crime rate to defend Kanye’s position as “one of the people,” similar to Watch The Throne’s “Murder to Excellence” lines, “I feel the pain in my city wherever I go / 314 soldiers died in Iraq, 509 died in Chicago.” He knows he has as a lot to prove, and a lot of fans to win back. TurboGrafx-16 will do just that.
Outside of these internal events fueling his return to the throne, external factors are going to play a role. Everybody knows that Kanye has a massive ego—he’s featured on a Beyoncé track called “Ego”… It’s part of the reason why he’s a superstar; it’s also one of the reasons he’s in a free-fall. Their ultimate star status is unknown, but currently, Drake is eclipsing Ye’s clout. And you know this is getting under Kanye’s skin. During the same show when he announced had he voted…, Ye mentioned his anger towards radio’s favoritism of Drake. How does one beat Drizzy when the 6 god seem unbeatable? Easy: make a classic album. 2017 will witness a classic Kanye album. (If it comes out, that is.)
Right now, Kanye is hurting. Even though his 2016 project, The Life of Pablo, positioned him for a successful year, he was hoisted on his own petard thanks to the aforementioned situations. However, Ye’s a fighter, and he’s way too egomaniacal to allow a muddied public image inhibit his musical dominance. He’s damn sure not going to let a kid named Aubrey from Toronto take his spot. TurboGrafx-16 will be his middle finger to all the doubters. In 1996, Kanye was just a kid struggle rapper from Chicago. In 2017, Kanye is an adult struggle rapper living in Hidden Hills, California. Situations might have changed, but his struggle persists. The brightest art is born from the darkest pain.