February 22, 2016
He has never scored a goal, taken a shot, or even skated a single shift, but Kanye West boasts an unmistakable presence in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ locker room.
Since West officially released his seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo, in the midnight hours of Sunday, Feb 14, many of its 18 tracks have been on repeat during workouts, after practices, and before games.
The Penguins have Reid McNeill to thank for that.
McNeill, the team’s resident hip-hop aficionado, has long been a fan of Mr. West, and has quickly warmed up to the self-proclaimed greatest artist of all-time’s latest release.
“I love it,” McNeill said of T.L.O.P. “It’s probably in my top three Kanye albums. Probably behind Graduation and 808s and Heartbreak. I think it’s a little bit tamer than Yeezus, but it’s more intense than… I mean, it’s hard to describe.”
McNeill wouldn’t be the first person to fall at a loss for words when trying to encapsulate what T.L.O.P. is all about. It has a more schizophrenic, scattered composition compared to West’s prior releases, but it still meets the high-standard of West’s calling card: production.
“Musically, I think he’s brilliant,” McNeill said. “He doesn’t put any boundaries on what he creates. He might look like he’s going one direction, and then out of nowhere, an orchestra drops, or somebody starts screaming.”
And production-wise, T.L.O.P. borrows from just about all aspects of West’s prior career. It returns to the zoological exploration of sonic boundaries from Yeezus. At times, hearkens back to the more soulful samples and influences that turned West into a household name over a decade ago with The College Dropout and Late Registration. And in terms of content, West evokes the same haunting combination of bravado and introspective depression he revealed to the world on his late-2010 magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
“Everything on this album from the instrumentals, the production, the lyrics, the features, the album artwork, the album title, everything he’s done with that, he had me hooked,” McNeill said. “He had everybody, I think, hooked.”
Of course, a big part of the hook West lodged into the public’s conscience came from the circus surrounding T.L.O.P.‘s release. The album went through a myriad of different titles until reaching the cryptic namesake has now. Following a series of heated Twitter spats and a curious rant on his current monetary situation, West debuted the album at his own fashion show taking place at Madison Square Garden and was live-streamed in movie theaters across the globe.
It was a grandiose and befuddling marketing strategy (if it even was that,) and those extra-circulars don’t go unnoticed by even West’s biggest supporters like McNeill.
“I feel like he’s doing it for the attention and the publicity,” McNeill said. “He’s got such intense opinions on a lot of things and a lot of people. Some people take that very negatively. I like to listen to his music just because I think he’s a great artist.”
The excessive nature of West’s ego would completely come off as white noise if he didn’t
come through with brilliant musical offerings to the masses, which is exactly what T.L.O.P. is, according to McNeill. Without hesitation, the Penguins defenseman gives the recording a five-star review.
“I think it’s grown on me so far, and if it was a top three Kanye album for me after the first listen, that’s gotta be five-out-of-five.”
That’s high praise to begin with, but how long is its shelf life in the locker room? West’s 2007 chest-puffing, attitude-enducing anthem “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” has made regular appearances after Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s wins throughout the entire season. McNeill admits he has to choose appropriate times to play T.L.O.P. with his teammates, but it’s not going anywhere any time soon.
“I’m gonna pump it until I don’t want to anymore,” McNeill said with a laugh and a slight air of West himself.