Kanye West’s new album, The Life of Pablo, has a new visual accompaniment, but it’s not a new set of Kimoji. French artist Pierre Buttin has illustrated the song “Wolves,” going through the lyrics line by line and pairing each of Kanye’s phrases with a unique, hand-drawn image.
When West introduced his album last week, Buttin picked his favorite track and decided to draw all its lyrics—but he also gave himself a three-day deadline. “It turned out to be a really unpleasant experience,” he told WIRED. “I almost broke down at the end.”
The illustrations, which Buttin posted as a collection on Instagram, are more whimsical than literal, and at their best are reminiscent of Keith Haring’s graffiti-informed style, with a dash of Dutch artist Parra‘s stylized characters. “I didn’t want to be too literal,” he says. “English isn’t my first language, so I may not have always understood the lyrics exactly. But with art, it doesn’t matter if you know what the artist wanted—it’s if it made you feel something.”
Buttin is drawn to Kanye, it turns out, for the same reasons we all are. “I like the paradox in him, I like that he’s ambivalent,” he says. “I think he makes interesting stuff, and he’s a brilliant beat maker. His rants don’t make him look very good, and he says things I don’t agree with, but he’s a brilliant artist.” (Buttin may be a bit of a paradox himself: He was drawn to “Wolves,” he says, because it struck him as “kind of romantic and nice.”)
Buttin, who is a designer and marketing manager for a software company by day, consciously streamlined his work for the digital age, intending it to be a “mobile-first experience.” And the initial inspiration for the project came from the connection he sees between hip hop and startup culture: he compares the frenetic speed at which hip hop artists produce and promote music to Silicon Valley-style “blitzscaling.” “I’m so fascinated by the fast pace of it,” Buttin said. “So I tried to do something similar, to finish in just a few days after [the album release] … There were times when I was going very fast and I thought, ‘I know it’s not good, but I have to release it.”
Many people (including our own staffers) have argued that Kanye’s creative control and lack of an editor has hurt The Life of Pablo—but for Buttin, that kind of fast and furious creative process is more interesting than the final product. And indeed, the artist’s own self-imposed breakneck speed process, which had him relying on digital techniques he usually tries to avoid, gives his project a certain charm.
Though it’s been three years in the making, The Life of Pablo (AKA So Help Me God AKA SWISH AKA Waves) is an album that’s seen false starts and backtracks very late in the game—including the very track that Buttin chose to illustrate.
Ima fix wolves
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 14, 2016
So even if you were feeling burnt out on Kanye’s Internet takeover, try scrolling through Buttin’s work in time with “Wolves.” It may not be a painstakingly intricate video display, but it still feels like what a nice multimedia companion.