“It seems to be a version of Scriptures in some Indian language, is it not?” I said to hide my dismay.
“No,” he replied. Then, as if confiding a secret, he lowered his voice. “I acquired the book in a town out on the plain in exchange for a handful of rupees and a Bible. Its owner did not know how to read. I suspect that he saw the Book of Books as a talisman. He was of the lowest caste; nobody but other untouchables could tread his shadow without contamination. He told me his book was called the Book of Sand, because neither the book nor the sand has any beginning or end.”
The Life of Pablo is another chapter in the continuing project of Kanye West. A departure from the previous album: Yeezus was infused with harsh noise akin to B L A C K I E and Death Grips, it’s album cover made to look like a homemade CD, or a CD before packaging or an instance of reflecting upon the industry that produced it: an “open casket” to physical media he said. Only one familiar with it from being inside for so long can stand at the precipice and acknowledge it, in lamentation or in catharsis, as if to say with hip-hop braggadocio ”I’m killing this shit.” Or is it a self-aggrandizing “revolutionary suicide”? The album that would finally be known as The Life of Pablo was set to be released exclusively via Tidal. Tidal, partly owned by friend and collaborator Jay-Z, was to be the answer to Spotify but better serve the musicians streamed through it. This has yet to be proven. Additionally, artists like Beyoncé, Jack White and others have promised exclusive new projects, and in the case of Beyoncé, subscribers can for a monthly fee receive a custom playlist and other exclusive content. For over a year, sending out cryptic codes to tease the album and get people excited, the various album covers and working titles (Swish, WAVES) could be seen as fakes, to throw us off from the actual, or they can be seen as all part of the project, like the images and chapters and even page numbers in Borges’ Book of Sand: able to be seen and even discussed but quickly disappeared, obscured, made obsolete, or forgotten particularly in a news cycle that can update by the second and is also customized based on user input and traffic. There is labor in leisure and as platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and now Tidal, all jockey for position as pre-eminent in home DJ (the system one is to trust to make decisions for you, in your interest, while also being able to take your requests), the savvy musician working in the mainstream system would be wise to take heed.
As the goal of making music, going on tour, and selling records mutates, the old mass market, pop[ulist] arts shift and perhaps point to a dissatisfied and shifting public. Recorded music media becomes more and more disposable, and as tours (along with endorsements, clothing, and other auxiliary consumer goods) become the main source of income for big name musicians, some seek to innovate the space of the live performance and tour while considering alternative ways to build and maintain a fanbase and viewer interest.
Even an album cover, once the static piece of reproducible printed ‘art’ is being treated as something other than a static work, as the memeplex becomes a part of the everyday life of many. To take this as merely a continuation of the tradition of fan-made bootlegs would be a misstep. In previous eras (for example : punk bands in the 1970s and 1980s) the logo was a critical venue to become ingrained in the minds of the young fan, reproducible on notebooks, patches, zines, fliers, and to be spray-painted on surfaces illegally. Today, creative forces like Drake and Kanye West see their album art (originally designed by Jim Joe and Peter De Potter respectively) made into modular album covers where users can insert their own ‘content’ into the given structure.
These aren’t gestures produced by the makers and their teams, but ones arising from the babbling brook of creative talent clamoring to gain visibility online, still they speak to a change in the landscape, and the attitude of the consumer.
Although Drake and Kanye West have been a bit less direct in those regards (although a video game dedicated to Donda West is on the horizon) others in their milieu have taken conscious efforts to activate and involve would-be fans like Future’s “I won” feat Kanye West that was made into a minigame where you throw gold jewelry at faceless, abstracted buxom beach babes.
In short, models are being produced, responding to the current situation, but other possibilities are being pointed to as well.
“2020 i’ma run the whole election” Kanye West, “Facts”
Mr West at one time released an image with his signature next to current president of the US Barack Obama, the 44th president. There were additional 3 characters written behind it : #46.
This gesture, bold as it was, next to a man who also has a strong relationship to Chicago, who in a leaked recording had called Kanye a jackass, was the kind of forerunner to the song which would later … announce that he was considering presidency. I had wondered what this all meant, whether Kanye West would be taking on a more extreme version of what Ronald Reagan did, doing what Arnold Schwarzenegger cannot do (because of his foreign-born status), or if it was more of a metaphor, more coded.
Rae Sremmurd’s “Up like Trump” was a hit, and released before people knew of his aims to run for president. Strangely, or fittingly, he never used the song during his campaign run. Within the song the two young musicians from Tupelo, Mississippi (the same hometown of Elvis Presley and Diplo) make an association between themselves and the powerful, charismatic, seemingly rich entertainer and businessman who hosted The Apprentice. Trump, like Kanye West is a master of provocative rhetoric, albeit with a distinctly different bend.
“Keep my name out ya mouth” the Black adage comes to mind. In Kanye West’s song “Famous” he mentions America’s sweetheart Taylor swift (who later was revealed by Kim Kardashian to be not so wholesome after all, after she lied about giving permission to have her name uttered in the song), in the video, an elaborate homage to Vincent Desiderio’s Sleep (2008), he includes a bevy of apparently nude bodies, one of which was Donald Trump. These bodies were of people that had impacted him in the media recently.
The Life Of Pablo, with its multiple different versions appearing on a variety of networks complicates the idea of the album as a static “record” and instead could be interpreted as referring to a new paradigm where it’s not the end that is important, so much as the process, easily traceable and trackable with contemporary technology. Does TLOP point to the Blockchain?
Within a blockchain system, rather than having one trusted computer manage the database of information, such as votes, etc, it’s a decentralized process, making it easier to secure/more complicated to hack.
1. A database made up of a peer-to-peer network which records all changes to the database (transactions) such as new information being uploaded i.e. a vote or voter info.
2. The database itself is constructed as a history of transactions (modifications to the database).
starting with the Genesis state followed by transactions/modifications to the network, each ‘block’ of transactions being connected to a cryptographic signature, which functions as a kind of ‘freshness seal’ which invalidates the block if modified and makes it very easy to detect if tampered with.
Blockchain has already shown its power through cryptocurrency like Bitcoin (someone has even created a cryptocurrency called Coinye), but it has other applications such as in the music industry (https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/09/youtube-blockchain-music-tech-apple-google) for paying musicians and tracking royalties, as made evident by the platform Mycelia, launched by Imogen Heap. http://myceliaformusic.org/?rd=IH
Nathan Hourt of followmyvote, a dominant force pushing for the use of blockchain technologies had announced a Kickstarter campaign (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/adamkalebernest/follow-my-votes-parallel-presidential-election-exp) for a mock presidential election which would demonstrate the efficacy of online voting as they conceived of it. Unfortunately it was cancelled.
“While we have complete designs for a secure blockchain-based voting system operating in isolation, there will be more work required to deploy that system in any real-world voting scenario without opening up new vulnerabilities,” Hourt says.
Jackie Burns Koven, Research Asst. of Technology & Public Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs wrote “As every politician knows, voter trust is critical to a campaign; likewise, the most challenging obstacle for e-voting end-to-end verified platforms may not be a technical one, but in winning over a would-be electorate to entrust their credentials to a platform commonly associated with cryptocurrency theft and the blackmarket.” I definitely agree, and simultaneously Kanye West’s “Listen to the kids bro” comes to mind. Such an influential and polarizing figure as Kanye West could certainly corral public opinion towards considering a new means for voting. In his song from The Life Of Pablo entitled “Facts” he raps “2020 I’ma run the whole election”.
Following that at the MTV VMA awards, following receipt of the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award , presented to him by Taylor Swift, Kanye West states:
“I don’t know what I finna lose after this. It don’t matter, though; It’s not about me. It’s about ideas. New ideas. People with ideas. People who believe in truth,” West said. “And yes, as you probably could’ve guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.”
Since Trump has been elected president, there have been some addendums/redactions taking place such as Kanye using the “#2024” hashtag. I’m not sure if that’s a statement of defeat or a provocative way of conceding to Trump and the idea of him being re-elected, but either way it’s surprising. Following that announcement, the Democratic Party tweeted to him encouraging words : “Last night @kanyewest declared his candidacy for president in 2020. Welcome to the race, Mr. West. Glad to have you.”
While I’m excited about the prospect of our first artist-president, and possibly our second president that has no political experience, what intrigues me most about Kanye’s statement about running the whole election is that once again he could be on the crest of a new wave, if we take the “I” figuratively, as is reasonable within a song lyric. A West-run campaign might involve:
1) A new kind of political campaign strategy: Much of the support garnered by Trump was achieved online in ways that may seem alien to the establishment, such as the use of social media, viral media, and repurposing of memes. These are all terrains that Kanye West could excel in.
2) A new kind of political participation: if the shifting and mutability pointed to in The Life of Pablo is any indication, a way of voting which further centers online activity could also be a boon to one of America’s most scrutinized and celebrated public personas.
It would not be the first time: as whisperings have circulated surrounding mayoral runs for Luther Campbell (formerly of 2Live Crew) and the talented Tauheed Epps also known as 2Chainz, who recently gained further notoriety for his lucid pro-marijuana stance on national television in conversation with Nancy Grace.
Finally, we can’t forget Kanye’s loose association to Ken Bennett, deputy chief of staff and director of public engagement for the mayor’s office, via his son: Chance The Rapper, who himself has been breaking boundaries in the terrain of public engagement: firstly by petitioning the Grammy committee to consider mixtapes/free projects such as his recent “Coloring Book”, and by embedding addresses to the audience reflecting an interest in a changing of the guard into his songs, including on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” featuring The Dream, Kelly Price, and Kirk Franklin. In response to the following line, fans have successfully and collaboratively tweeted every line from Chance The Rapper’s album. http://www.mtv.com/news/2881238/chance-the-rapper-coloring-book-lyrics-bars-so-hard-tweets/
In the very song where he announced his interest in winning the election, “Facts”, Kanye deftly references the NYC slang affirmative while also rattling off a series of opinions, creating an amazing diss track to Nike while also speaking perhaps to the current post-fact era of fake news, viral media and the like that helped catapult both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump into the limelight. Could this be the shape of things to come, and is Kanye West signaling us to pay closer attention to it?
As he stated while at a press conference at the Trump Towers standing side-by-side with the president-elect: “I’m just here to take a picture right now” followed by a thumbs-up.