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West’s February record The Life of Pablo spent the first month of its life online tethered to one subscription streaming service. And there’s no Tidal in Kyoto, Japan.
Making lemonade out of the liner notes, producer Toyomu decided to forge his own Pablo and upload it to Bandcamp in mid-March.
Toyomu told the Daily Dot he’s been a West fan since 2008 when he was in high school, although he doesn’t describe his fandom as “enthusiastic.” He’s made hip-hop beats for the last seven years, too: And the learned painting on his tribute album, officially dubbed ??III : ????????? (Imagining “The Life of Pablo”), has been met with critical praise.
Wrote indie music cool table Pitchfork: “The project isn’t so much a recreation as it is an uncanny, absurd outlier among the scores of fanservice-y ’Ye mash-ups populating the internet.”
To make it go, he read through all of the artists sampled by West on the album, then used the Rolodex as a framework for an original work built on the same reference points. To fill in the actual rapping, Toyomu nabbed the lyrics on Genius and programmed a computer to spew cold, shrapnel performances.
Instead of West’s caffeinated, manic confessions on songs like “FML,” we get choppy robotics. As the Kyoto-born producer told the Daily Dot via email:
I wanted to make a [weird] Rap album like Lord Quas’s 2nd Album “The Further Adventures of Lord Quas”, but it’s very difficult for me to write an original lyrics. So starting Kanye project, I decided to let Mac text-to-speech rap for weirdness and experiment. Though some people say “This imagining TLOP looks like a combination HipHop and Radiohead”… I didn’t have such image of “OK computer” before making this album.
Some tracks are remarkably close to the real thing. For example, the opening 27 seconds of “?????,” the Toyomu version of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” likewise begin with a soulful, copied-and-pasted Pastor T.L Barrett sample.
But he had a stifling experience recreating the Chris Brown-assisted “Waves.” First checking WhoSampled.com’s records, Toyomu read that the song contained a brief snippet of a Fantastic Freaks live performance.
“I thought this sample was for Sound Effect, what is the main melody??” Toyomu said. “Finally I generate the sounds like a roar of waves by synth plug-in. You can imagine Kanye walks above the ocean.”
He wasn’t close. But his resulting “Waves” is tense and leaves a mark: The lingering, synthetic voice spews unintelligible raps while the Fantastic Freaks performance—celebratory as a backyard cookout, but also disjointed and loud—plays on. It makes for an unnerving stream.
If chunks of it spark a chortle, that’s on purpose. Drawing inspiration from this bass cover of Donald Trump saying the word “China” repeatedly, Toyomu said he wanted spurts to be funny. His version of “Low Lights” follows the Trump clip’s gag of playing along to the chatter.
“Spirituality is important sometimes, but this is [entertainment]. Kanye should have to put more funny essence,” Toyomu said.
His Pablo is also ripe with inside jokes, Easter eggs, and hat tips. Here, “I Love Kanye” is in Japanese. Like on the real thing, there are Street Fighter II samples—but mostly the word “Japan.”
Still, the Toyomu experiment matters because of its subtle profundity. It’s an Internet-age fit of expressionist joy.
Toyomu’s product doesn’t so much zap with car-ready swagger like West’s, but when the Mac text-to-speech robot voice says “I can understand how it might be kinda hard to love a girl like me, I don’t blame you much for wanting to be free,” it’s downright heartbreaking.
Now that Toyomu has heard the real Pablo (untethered from Tidal), he’s impressed by West’s venture, dousing chunks of it with praise: “I surprised at original sample, Suzie Thundertussy sang ‘Los Angels’ in lyrics!! It’s amazing.”
You can say the same for the overseas re-imagining.
Ramon Ramirez is the news director, and formerly the Dot's entertainment editor and evening editor. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Grantland, Washington City Paper, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Monitor.