After endless Internet hype, Kanye West finally debuted his new album, The Life of Pablo, and the latest iteration of his Yeezy fashion line at a kinetic event Thursday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. And, while we still don’t have an explanation for the titular Pablo — or know definitively when and where the album will appear for widespread consumption, for that matter — West and his creative team engineered a spectacle that was in turn bizarre, inspired, and astounding. Read on for some of the highlights from Madison Square Garden and Yeezy Season 3.
The event’s merch line was daunting, to say the least
The first thing to stand out at the Garden show — besides the eerily empty sections of the stands that never quite filled up — were the enclosed structures with diamond-plate aluminum siding sprinkled throughout the concourse. These were how Yeezy Season 3 did merch tables and before the afternoon’s events began, dozens of attendees waited impatiently to get their hands on apparel branded with “I feel like Pablo.” (The text was a reference not only to The Life of Pablo, but to a line West repeats on “No More Parties In L.A.,” the new, Kendrick Lamar-featuring song that he cut from his album at the eleventh hour.) But if the $90 price tag on hoodies didn’t deter potential buyers, the sales pace did: Each stark store only had room for one vendor, and passersby could overhear those in line berating venue staff out of fear they’d miss the main attraction.
West appeared a little late and diplomatically solicited the audience’s praise.
The Garden opened up seating shortly after 3 p.m., and West had pledged to kick off the event at 4. But the TIDAL livestream of Yeezy Season 3 didn’t motivate him to arrive on time — or maybe he was just being fashionably late. Either way, just as fans began to get antsy, West’s family entered the venue around 4:30 to enthusiastic applause, with the man of the hour following shortly after, tossing out handshakes and hugs like a president on his way to the podium at the State of the Union. West beelined for a laptop and immediately got down to business, announcing he’d dive right into the album and asking fans to dance along to the songs they enjoyed and clap at the end if they liked what they heard.
The unveiling of Yeezy Season 3 was West the Showman at his finest
West seems to think more of his fashion line than his music these days — evidenced by The Life of Pablo clocking in as his shortest album yet — so the afternoon’s biggest reveal for many was Yeezy Season 3, which was conceptualized in conjunction with Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft. Following Pablo’s euphoric, Chance the Rapper-featuring opener “Ultra Light Beam,” a crew pulled back the massive fabric shrouds that had been covering much of the floor space at the Garden, unveiling hundreds of models dressed in various hues of red and brown. West has always been a master showman and this moment was no exception.
Frank Ocean returned in a big way
A bevy of high-profile guest spots distinguish The Life of Pablo — the list could even top the liner notes of West’s 2010 LP My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — but R&B crooner Frank Ocean’s guest spot on “Wolves” likely takes the cake for the most unexpected appearance on the album. Ocean has worked with West before (on “No Church in the Wild,” the opening cut from Watch the Throne, West’s 2011 collaborative album with Jay-Z) but has notably stayed out of the spotlight since dropping his 2012 opus Channel Orange. His vocals on “Wolves” mark his return in a big way, because they also replace, rather than augment, the vocal contributions from Sia and Vic Mensa that appeared on the track when West debuted it on Saturday Night Live‘s 40th anniversary special in February 2015. Could this hint at a big year from the reclusive singer?
Kanye was having a blast with his real friends
A major theme of The Life of Pablo, as evidenced by the pensive, penultimate track “Real Friends,” is the nature of sincere camaraderie. West seemed to have that down pat Thursday afternoon, hanging out and passing blunts with a cadre of his best industry pals as the album played. His crew included G.O.O.D. Music president Pusha T, protégés like Kid Cudi and Vic Mensa, and current hip-hop hotshots A$AP Rocky and Young Thug. Even Tyga — he of “Rack City” fame — kicked it with West.
‘Only One’ isn’t on The Life of Pablo — but it is getting its own videogame
Attendees expected to hear a new Kanye West album. They expected to see West’s latest clothing designs. But only his most loyal acolytes could have anticipated that the renowned musician and designer to address another venture: videogame development. “I worked on a videogame that I wanted to show y’all,” said West, as the crowd laughed, assuming he was joking. “The idea of the game is my mom, traveling through the gates of heaven.” An animated version of West’s mother then appeared on the Madison Square Garden Jumbotron and proceeded to ascend to heaven and sprout wings while a reworked version of his Paul McCartney-collaboration “Only One” played. “That’s not easy to do, man,” West added when the animation finished. “Y’all are acting like this s— is regular, man! You don’t understand, like, I’ll go out and meet with everybody in San Fran and they’ll diss the f— out of me. And I’ll be like, ‘I wanna make a game’ and they’ll be like ‘F— you.’ That was hard to do, bro.”
What’s West’s next goal? Creative director of Hermes
“If you’re going to be an artist, you’ve just got to do what’s in your heart,” West told the audience. “Fight for every dream you may dream, whatever discipline it may be. No one can tell you what field to stay in.” From there, he upped the ante for his burgeoning fashion career. “But my dream is to be, just at least for a couple years, to be the creative director of Hermes would be a dream of mine,” he said. “I just want to bring as much beauty to the world as possible. I’m only 38 years old.” High fashion or not, West remains a man of the people. “We’re going to lower prices” on the popular Yeezy shoes, he assured the audience. “I mean… it’s the No. 1 shoe. The No. 1 Christmas present!”
Lots of songs — off The Life of Pablo and not — got played Thursday afternoon, but ‘No More Parties in L.A.’ wasn’t one of them
After debuting The Life of Pablo, West and his posse played multiple songs by him and other artists. “All Day,” West’s wild 2015 track that didn’t make the cut for the album made a cameo, as did “Formation” and “Work,” the two recent singles by Beyoncé and Rihanna, respectively. But “No More Parties in L.A.” — the decidedly Pablo-oriented track that had initially been planned for inclusion the new LP — never echoed through Madison Square Garden. Considering West’s stature and Lamar’s rising status, that can’t have been a coincidence.