So far, the album has gone through the subjects of fame, pride, dreams, money, race, and identity. But what about Kanye’s love life?
Devil In A New Dress is special as it marks the beginning of a climax for Kanye as it ties together themes of love and loss.
Put your hands to the constellations
The way you look should be a sin, you my sinsation
I know I’m preaching to the congregation
We love Jesus but you done learned a lot from Satan
I mean a nigga did a lot of waiting
We ain’t married but tonight I need some consummation
Kanye displays an earnest and beautiful depiction of the girl that he has interest in. Even within these first few lines, he knows that he and the girl are both easily swayed by temptation and sin. So why not skip all this shit and get right into it?
Text message break ups, the casualty of tour
How she gon’ wake up and not love me no more?
I thought I was the asshole, I guess it’s rubbing off
And here is where things start to go south. For the entirety of the album, Kanye has built himself up to be this glorious asshole, but now he’s experiencing the other end of it for the first time. He’s been far away from her, consumed by fame, and now this is the aftermath. Kanye has known that he was an asshole all this time, but he actually feels bad about it for once, rather than glorifying it as he did in POWER. This becomes a foreshadowing for the true climax of the album: Runaway.
Run away from me, baby, run away
Run away from me, baby, run away
When it starts to get crazy, why can’t she just, run away?
Baby, I got a plan, run away fast as you can
Kanye tells to the girl, or anybody, that they should run away from him. He can’t change who he is or maybe he doesn’t want to. But in that regard, he actually does change because he’s doing this out of love and respect for other people rather than himself.
Invisibly set, the Rolex is faceless
I’m just young, rich, and tasteless
Pusha T’s verse on this is pure douchebaggery. During one of their conversations, Kanye asked him to write a verse on being a douchebag. After each listen, he would yell,”More douchebag! More!” Finally, Pusha gave in and went all out with it. The entire verse is the embodiment of a bourgeois douchebag yet it lacks any of the glamour behind it. He’s telling the girl this just to get her to see how he really is and leave him.
The ending of the song is distorted in order to show unfiltered, raw emotion. Kanye hum-sings using heavy distortion by a vocoder and autotune to the point where it is nearly impossible to make out the words. Perhaps the only time he ever felt comfortable saying what he needs to say is when nobody can understand him. Whether it is a girl. The media. His fans. Kanye’s somber, crooning outro breaks at a few point where you can hear just a few words from the first four lines but in the end he is consumed by the distortion.
Hell of a Life is the worst song on the album. But there’s a reason for that. Immediately after succumbing to the distortion, the song begins
I think I just fell in love with a porn star
Turn the camera on, she a born star
Kanye relapses into his old habits and the song is grotesquely offensive, interweaving lines about acts of sex with religion. Listening to this song is aggravating. That’s the point. We’re angry not just because Kanye is overenthusiastic when talking about sex and nuns in the same line, but because he had just gone through a cathartic breakdown only to return to the other end of the spectrum by the next track. The song ends with
I think I fell in love with a porn star
And got married in a bathroom
Honeymoon on the dance floor
And got divorced by the end of the night
That’s one hell of a life
showing the fleeting ecstasy that comes with his lifestyle.
Kanye’s first verse on Blame Game reveals that despite his strained relationship with a girl, he’s aware that they’re both toxic for each other and needs to break away from her. This song is his own Runaway.
On a bathroom wall I wrote
“I’d rather argue with you than be with someone else”
I took a piss and dismiss it like “fuck it”
And I went and found somebody else
Fuck arguing and harvesting the feelings
Yo, I’d rather be by my fucking self
Till about two a.m. and I call back
And I hang up and I start to blame myself
Lost In The World is the last, actual track on the album. Sampling Bon Iver’s Woods, Kanye finds that he is lost within himself and is unsure of how to break away from it, but a girl (later revealed to be Kim Kardashian) is there to help him through it. He asks her to run away with him from the superficial lifestyle and create something real, realizing that the other girls from Devil In A New Dress and Blame Game were not the ones for him. Together they “run from the lights” , a possible allusion to the paparazzi or media in general.
Lost in this plastic life
Let’s break out of this fake-ass party
Turn this into a classic night
The ending track, an excerpt from the poet Gil-Scott Heron, cries WHO WILL SURVIVE IN AMERICA? It is more of an ending credit or an afterthought rather than a conclusion to the story. Is there a point in running from the corruption? Is America so fucked up that there is no hope? While some may say that this is a bleak end to the story, I believe that it isn’t anything more than a backdrop. As Kanye and the girl from the penultimate song run off together, they are faced with the issues that are described in this track. Prior to this, Kanye would have given into the temptations of fame, but now he has someone to guide him through it.
So why is this album so great? Kanye came back with not just an album, but a story as well. Multiple stories. All open to interpretation in every single song. Every track is grand and maximalist in both lyricism and production. It is both a pinnacle of man’s hopeful fantasies and dreams as well as a looking glass into the darker side of grandeur. In a time where anyone else would have surely failed, Kanye utilized his faults and transformed it into an empowering, captivating, and heartbreaking masterpiece.