Yesterday, Kanye West debuted his new album, The Life of Pablo, at Madison Square Garden. The “listening event” is a long-standing power-move in the most entrenched corners of the record industry—a complementary-wine-and-shrimp sort of affair, where people stand around and maybe take notes on a record while the artist either stares at them intently or, like, falls asleep in a corner, surrounded by well-wishers. Ye’s event represents a reinvention of the form for the Spotify era, turning an insiders-only thing into a streaming-platform cosign, a fashion show, a free, democratized listening event, and an actual documentary of how boring and weird those events actually are. Watching Yeezy Season 3 (which you still can, albeit on loop) is essentially watching a bunch of bored people stand around and be seen. People on stage: bored, being seen. In the audience: bored, being seen. There are lots of shots of people texting.
Anyway, it’s also, as with anything Ye does, a peek into his meticulously curated creative climate, which is apt to include anything at any given moment, and which now apparently includes videogames. He first mentioned his interest in the form last year, but yesterday that became lot more realistic when he premiered a video for “Only One,” which, like the song of the same name, explores his mom’s afterlife. (That song, interestingly, proved to be an artistic dead end, from a period of collaboration with Paul McCartney that West appears to have used mostly to purge the ugly, nihilistic streak of Yeezus and move toward the lively gospel tones of Life of Pablo.) Visually, the game traffics in the bold, maximalist mold of his “Power” or “Bound 2” videos, but little else is known of it, including who designed it, if anyone. As Ye said in between his two airings of the trailer, “I go out and meet with everybody in San Fran, and they’ll diss the fuck out of me. And I’ll be like, ‘I wanna make a game,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Fuck you.’” (If anybody who worked with or spoke with Yeezy has more details, I’m all ears.)
Much more than that is hard to surmise. Yeezy works in fits and starts; The Life Of Pablo, for example, was apparently finished last year, under a different name. He has also claimed exactly once to be running for President. He has never expressed an interest, lyrically or in interviews, in videogames as a form, although his interest in most culture is only as a means for inspiration, as another thing to be curated and filtered into a new expression of his own id. He doesn’t appear to follow sports, for example, but will occasionally summon a Barry Bonds or Michael Jordan metaphor for all-caps GREATNESS. Also intermittently pinned to his mood board: the indie musician Jon Brion, the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, former NBA commissioner David Stern, a Corbusier lamp, boats, The Truman Show (1998), font design, and so on. As a musician, Kanye has utilized this web of influences to transform pop music; as a mixed media artist, he’s got a less-than-stellar batting average.
All of which is to say that “Only One,” Kanye West’s videogame about his dead mom, may not ever come out. It may actually be “coming soon,” as the trailer claims. It may or may not be any good. Mark me down as skeptical on all of these fronts; the long, interpersonal production process of a videogame is not conducive to Kanye’s “tear it down and rebuild it better in two weeks” ethos. But the mere existence of the trailer is, like anything Ye touches, interesting. Let’s not expect anything more than that for now.
And anyway, who cares? Life of Pablo is dope.