My god, he actually did it.
This past week, Kanye West did exactly what many suspected he might do, but didn’t actually expect to happen – The Life of Pablo, still exclusive to streaming on Tidal a full month after its release, was changed this past week. The Life of Pablo, version 1.1.
The process technically began a month ago, shortly after the album’s release, when Kanye declared that The Life of Pablo would never escape Tidal’s walled garden, that CDs were dead and there would be no Pablo CD. He seemingly demonstrated his power over the album by changing the name of “Silver Surfer Intermission,” elongating the first two words to now read “Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission.” After that, Kanye declared that he would “fix Wolves,” and then promptly moved onto the next thing, announcing new album Turbo Grafx-16 was in the process of being recorded for a summer release. We’ll see about that one, by the way. Remember when So Help Me God was a lock for 2014?
As it turns out, however, Kanye truly wasn’t done with Pablo. On March 13, just a day before most peoples’ Tidal subscriptions were to run out, “Famous” was updated with a minor lyrics change, and an edit to the transition into the song’s main breakdown. People were puzzled, more because of what the change implied than what it actually was. Now, Pablo was not an album, a static piece of music, solid in its stance in the canon of Kanye West. No, Kanye had turned it into something else, taking full advantage of its exclusivity to a streaming service, where he could continually tweak and adjust the album’s songs, be it minor mixing changes or entire structural overhauls. The Life of Pablo is receiving patches, friends.
On to “Wolves” – Kanye said he would fix it, and on March 15, he certainly did…something…to it. With Vic Mensa and Sia previously having been cut out of the track in favor of Frank Ocean, Kanye found a way to keep them all in the song, sort of, without reducing his own presence. Now, Kanye’s two verses, Vic Mensa, Sia, and Frank could all fit on the track, more or less. Frank was actually kicked out into his own track, but at 38 seconds and consisting of nothing but the original outro for “Wolves,” it’s honestly just the “Wolves” outro again. It’s even called “Frank’s Track” to emphasize the offhand nature of the track split.
But did he “fix it?” Well…
If you wanted all of those components back in the song, then maybe he did fix it. But it’s clear that this was a reaction, probably some sort of extended knee-jerk reaction, to the fans’ clamoring for the original version from the SNL performance in 2015. Sia’s verse is tacked on to the end of Vic Mensa’s; both are sandwiched between Kanye’s two verses, with little in the way of a sensible transition. The end of “Wolves,” going into “Frank’s Track,” is abrupt and jarring, going from the standard beat of “Wolves” to the sparse, empty original outro. It all smacks of something that Kanye, normally such a perfectionist, slapped together and threw on Tidal, maybe even in pursuit of re-upped subscriptions.
(It’s important to point out that, today, Tidal extended the free trials of everyone that signed up around the time that Pablo was released, with the explicit purpose of allowing people to listen to the changes. Perhaps that means more is on the horizon. Who knows? We’re not paying for it, after all.)
Kanye has always been a fan of trying new things, blazing a new path for himself and not looking back to see if anyone’s following, behind he doesn’t do it for anyone else. The idea of the album as an ever-changing medium with no “definitive” version is interesting, potentially unique, and also potentially a mind-numbingly frustrating gimmick. It all depends on what Kanye chooses to do from hereon out – and, as usual, we’re all just along for the ride.