For the first two months of its now infamous release, Kanye West’s seventh album, The Life of Pablo, could only be heard (legally) through Tidal. Plenty of people bought into the service in order to hear one of the year’s most anticipated new records, and plenty of people dodged Tidal’s attempt at securing new subscribers by scrubbing the album from various illicit channels. One Japanese producer, frustrated by the fact that Tidal was not yet available in his country, took a third route to The Life of Pablo: He made his own version.
On 印象III : なんとなく、パブロ (Imagining "The Life of Pablo”), the producer who makes music as Toyomu recreated The Life of Pablo track by track, line by line. The album wasn’t available in Japan, but its DNA was; anyone with an internet connection, no matter where in the world they lived, could look up Pablo’s liner notes and lyric sheets. Toyomu knew exactly which samples Kanye had used to make the record. He knew the name of every guest artist and producer. He knew every word rapped and sung on Pablo’s 18 tracks.
So he put all that data together, assembling a piece of music that sounds very little like a Kanye West album but very much like a product of the internet age that enabled it. It sounds like a computer procedurally generating a piece of music after being given a very specific set of data points.
Toyomu hadn’t heard The Life of Pablo before making his own, and outside of the tracks Kanye has uploaded to Soundcloud, he still hasn’t. He hadn’t read about it either, except for "a few tweets and comments on Soundcloud.” He just spent time immersed in the same source music Kanye had while making the original Pablo, and came out with something frighteningly unique.
None of the bars on Imagining "The Life of Pablo" are actually rapped, at least not by human voices. Toyomu punched the lyrics into a Mac text-to-speech program and modified the synthetic voices with Ableton. Throughout Imagining, neutered robot voices swear and rage and brag about getting pussy. The way the vocaloid mispronounces “Lexapro” is hilarious. Some of the album’s most jarring moments come when the robot's delivery veers so far from Kanye’s that you can’t believe they’re saying the same words; equally disturbing is when the synthetic speech sounds almost too much like its original human counterpart.
"I focused on whether Kanye is angry or happy in each lyric,” Toyomu told MTV News via email. Any vocal similarities to the original album, though, are coincidental: "On rhythm and flow, it's only just happened [as] a miracle if you can hear [it] as machine rap."
Toyomu was already familiar with older Kanye West material; he says his favorite Kanye album is Yeezus, whose industrial aesthetic bleeds into both Kanye’s Pablo and Toyomu’s Imagining. "I'm influenced by his experimentalism,” Toyomu said. “I think it's also a spirit of punk."
Imagining definitely has punk’s sarcastic humor, if not its form or structure. Like albums made entirely from pieces of other albums (i.e. Girl Talk), it works on the mechanism of recognition and disorientation. Parts of what you’re hearing are familiar, but they’ve been displaced into entirely new contexts, which tends to have either a creepy or funny effect. Imagining offers plenty of both, which is what makes it so bizarrely compelling.