TOYOMU – 印象III : なんとなく、パブロ (Imagining “The Life of Pablo”)

Toyomu - Imagining the Life of Pablo

印象III : なんとなく、パブロ (Imagining “The Life of Pablo”) is the perfect metaphor for the cultural zeitgeist of 2016. Produced by Japanese producer TOYOMU in response to Tidal’s lack of presence in his native country – on which Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo exclusively premiered – Imagining represents the dichotomy between the ubiquity of information and social stratification in the digital age through (literal) outsider hip-hop. TOYOMU had no access to the actual album, but he did have access to every bit of information about it: lyrics, samples, tracklist, and context provided from West’s interviews and public announcements.

The results are fascinating, even if they are not necessarily musically pleasant. TOYOMU took West’s claims of TLOP being his “gospel album”1 very literally; the majority of tracks prominently feature choirs and pulpitry as per West’s sample list. In lieu of rapping, TOYOMU plugged in all of West’s raps into the Microsoft Sam voice-to-text program; the result is a surreal, Michael Betancourt-esque delivery of lines such as “I made that bitch famous / goddamn” and “wake up nigga.” It’s creepy, but perhaps not as much coming almost two decades after Radiohead did the same2 on OK Computer‘s “Fitter, Happier.” But then again, maybe the datedness is exactly the point, expounding upon the divide between east and West3 regardless of one’s WiFi connection.

Imagining is a hodgepodge of dusty club beats, dissonant noise, and general weirdness, all which actually has quite a bit in common with its parent album.. TLOP itself was pretty weird in its exceptionally disparate sound quality and discursive track structure, with the strangest juxtaposition of God and debauchery that West ever put together since “I Am a God” from Yeezus. The best example is the opening three tracks, the second of which uses a “hallelujah” sample caught in such life-affirming ecstasy that it’s actually a better track than West’s equivalent “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.” “LAシンドローム” turns West’s “No More Parties in L.A.” into a spliff-heavy robotic dirge, and “増>>>>減<<<<増” is a straight-up electro-funk jam in comparison to party-closer “Fade.”

TOYOMU chops and screws West’s samples to unrecognizable degrees, as on “ゆらゆらボックス” with its equally creepy Mickey Mouse vocals. “波乗りマックス” utilizes the soundtrack to the infamous NES Silver Surfer video games, with West’s intermission taking on the effect of mission control’s thank you to the titular superhero’s success over Mister Sinister. The two compliment each other, and it’s a damn shame that there won’t be a TOYOMU/West collaboration any time soon, because if Sam’s vocals were replaced with an actual human’s, Imagining would be one of the most genre-bending, boundary-crushing hip-hop albums of the decade. A robot can only rap so hard; by the end of Imagining, the “wow” effect is gone, filling the uncanny valley with monotony.

印象III : なんとなく、パブロ (Imagining “The Life of Pablo”) may not find itself on anyone’s repeat listens. But as a concept? It’s fucking incredible. Imagining is an exercise in plundering ideas for source material instead of music, an example of the overarching(-whelming?) memetic force that is a celebrity’s personality in the information age, and an expression of one artist’s tenacity in bridging extant socio-cultural divides.4

1. 汝、光を見たか4 – (4:38) – ★★★★☆
2. 導きたまえ5 – (2:41) – ★★★★★
3. 導きたまえ25 – (1:16) – ★★★★☆
4. 有名税6 – (1:33) – ★★★☆☆
5. カニエの帰還7 – (1:33) – ★★★★☆
6. 8:38-39 – (2:11) – ★★★★☆
7. 5:13-16 – (0:44) – ★★★★☆
8. 不満爆発8 – (2:43) – ★★★★☆
9. I still love K.A.N.Y.E. – (1:50) – ★★★☆☆
10. ゆらゆらボックス9 – (2:39) – ★★★☆☆
11. BTI (Break The Internet) – (1:54) – ★★★★☆
12. いつみても波瀾万丈10 – (3:28) – ★★★☆☆
13. マン・ウィズ・ア・ミッション11 – (0:58) – ★★☆☆☆
14. 波乗りマックス12 – (1:05) – ★★★★☆
15. スメケに逢いたい13 – (3:34) – ★★★☆☆
16. LAシンドローム14 – (3:25) – ★★★★☆
17. nikeezy – (1:31) – ★★★☆☆
18. 増>>>>減<<<<増15 – (4:03) – ★★★★★

Overall: ★★★½☆

1Kanye West, Twitter post, 27 January 2016, 11:54 a.m., https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/692435575836676097
2… using the same program, too!
3I’m so proud of this pun.
4Japanese translation: “Have you seen thee, the light?”
5 Japanese translation: “Before guidance”
6 Japanese translation: “Price of Fame”
7 Japanese translation: “Return of the Kanye”
8 Japanese translation: “Eruption of Discontent”
9 Japanese translation: “Swaying Box”
10 Japanese translation: “Stormy Itsumi”16
11 Japanese translation: “Man with a Mission”
12 Japanese translation: “Surfing Max”
13 Japanese translation: “I Want to See Sumeke”16
14 Japanese translation: “L.A. Syndrome”
15 Japanese translation: “Increase>>>>Decrease<<<<Increase”
16Yeah, my Japanese translation skills are probably off on these ones.

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