When Kanye West invites 18,000 of his fans to a listening party, you RSVP immediately.
Even if that means ticket prices are outrageous (most snapped up by scalpers within minutes of going on sale), and album details are scant (its track list and title, The Life of Pablo, weren't revealed until the night before). Not to mention the rapper's continually unpredictable antics in recent weeks: renaming his album, starting Twitter spats and claiming Bill Cosby's innocence.
Yet despite all the controversies and questions preceding Thursday's "Yeezy Season 3" event at Madison Square Garden, his Pablo premiere and quasi-fashion show seemed to go off without a hitch. For the entirety of the 1 1/2-hour event, West stood smiling behind a laptop with a small group of collaborators including Travis Scott, Vic Mensa and Kid Cudi. Not far behind, his newly platinum-blonde wife (Kim Kardashian-West) sat with their family (Caitlyn Jenner and Lamar Odom, among them).
"Yo, I'm about to play you the new album, so if you like it, feel free to dance," West told the nearly sold-out crowd of twenty- and thirtysomethings, many of whom were sipping late-afternoon beers and smoking. He kicked off the show by playing Ultra Light Beam featuring Chance the Rapper, which instantly confirmed his claim thatPablo is "a gospel album," as evidenced by the church organ and choir throughout.
Sonically, the album bridges the soulfulness of his grandiose My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with the dark and explosive production of his last solo effort, Yeezus. Nearly every song off Pablo is a bass-heavy, Auto-Tuned banger, with the exceptions of his hilariously self-aware Freestyle 4 ("I love you like Kanye loves Kanye") and Wolves(noticeably absent of Sia, but with the welcome addition of Frank Ocean).
Among many others, Pablo's star-studded roster also includes The Weeknd (FML),Rihanna (Famous, an apparent Taylor Swift diss) and Young Thug (Highlights, which they'll perform together on Saturday Night Live this weekend).
His new collection of clothes and Adidas shoes served, more or less, as accessories to the music. Hundreds of models of all ages, races and shapes stood on and around two small stages in the center of the arena: the earthy tones of their garments in contrast to their muted, blank expressions. Supermodels Naomi Campbell and Veronica Webb added some star power to the Vanessa Beecroft-arranged staging.
After the album finished, West kept the braggadocio to a minimum: running through a list of thank yous and playing his friends' new songs using an iPhone and auxiliary cord. He also debuted a teaser for a video game he's designed called Only One, which tracks his late mother, Donda West, as she flies into heaven's gates. After tepid applause, he emphasized how hard it was to make and played the clip again.
West wrapped the event on a hopeful note, saying how at only 38, he just wants to "bring as much beauty to the world as possible."
"It's been a hard struggle," West said. "I feel so happy. I feel so much joy, to be actually able to follow my dreams without people (expletive) on me and giving me an opportunity to create as an artist."
The "Yeezy Season 3" showcase is streaming free in its entirety on Tidal. The Life of Pablo's official release is still unknown.