The Life of Pablo – Kanye West (GOOD Music, Def Jam, Roc-A-Fella)
In conjunction with the album going platinum, I’ve decided to finally post my The Life of Pablo review.
The first thing to address about this typically atypical Kanye West album is the actual roll-out of it. Kanye made it very clear on Twitter in a very stream-of-consciousness-like fashion that this album would not be a CD and was only ever going to be on TIDAL and would never be on Apple Music. A few weeks later, it was available to stream on Apple Music.
Initially known as So Help Me God, SWISH and Waves, before becoming The Life of Pablo, an entire media circus was in action before West had even shared the first hint of what the album would sound like.
In typical Kanye fashion, he made brash statements about not only Taylor Swift, Mark Zuckerberg and the paparazzi but also came to the defence of alleged-date rapist Bill Cosby.
All of this seemed like a distraction from the multiple delays that this album had. However, when the wife of West, Kim Kardashian announced that the GOOD Friday series would be returning, things began to look up. Kanye had previously done a popular free music giveaway leading up to the 2010 release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by the same name. The following month saw the release of Real Friends with Ty Dolla $ign, No More Parties in LA with Kendrick Lamar and 30 Hours.
The album was first played at Madison Square Garden following his Yeezy Season extravaganza, however the final (first official) release would come around a week later. At MSG Kanye West, an AUX cord, hundreds of models and a packed crowd made for an unreal experience.
When the album finally came out, the internet went into meltdown. TIDAL was, for a brief period, the number one app in the world and Kanye trended on Twitter for days.
So there it is, the rundown of the off-the-wall approach Kanye West used to market and release his long-awaited seventh solo album.
The actual music is equally off-the-wall. Bouncing around from gospel to trap vibes, Kanye creates an eccentric sight into his ever-evolving vision.
The album opens with Kanye on hook duty for Ultralight Beam, a striking track about his faith in God featuring his newest prodigy and fellow Chicagoan, Chance the Rapper, who delivers an incendiary verse addressing the fact he has gone from being a massive childhood Kanye fan to featuring on his song. He also makes several biblical references displaying his impressive metaphorical ability and word play – “I laugh in my head / ‘cause I bet that my ex looking back like a pillar of salt”. This song is, indeed, a god dream.
The gospel sound carries on into the next track, Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1 until a tremendous Metro Boomin-assisted beat change sees the song take a trap approach with filthy lyrics to match. The infamous “bleached asshole” line takes you out of the moment for a second but – that single lyric apart – Kanye created a melodic yet captivating song that flows perfectly into the next track.
Pt. 2, which interpolates the viral hit by GOOD Music artist Desiigner, Panda, is a touching and somewhat sullen ode to his father.
Next in the tracklist is perhaps the most talked-about song Kanye has released in recent memory, Famous. Ignoring the obnoxious ad-libs from Swizz Beats, this track is a shameless and unforgiving lyrical demonstration from Mr. West in which he claims that Taylor Swift owes him sex. Why? He “made that bitch famous”. He continues to flex, this time about his cars and money. Joined by both Rihanna and a remastered sample of Nina Simone, the Illinois MC makes a statement which, while not exactly surprising at this point, still has an element of a shock factor which few artists match Kanye West in terms of.
Feedback, the fifth song on TLOP, has an abstract, Yeezus-on-coke inclination to it. Yeezy comes out swinging, telling everyone to stop sleeping on him and embrace the movement. This song is a real highlight of this album and does everything it needs to do. West’s rambling flow compliments the beat perfectly and suggests despite the disjointedness of Kanye’s life, music and online presence, he is very much a man who knows what he’s doing.
The album then takes a different turn with the atmospheric interlude Low Lights. The female speaker gives a prayer-like testimony, thanking God for everything in her life. It is implied that the interlude communicates how Kanye feels about his life.
Young Thug is a key part of the next track, Highlights. His fleeting yet loopy style of creating melodies transcends the trap sound which he is often categorised under. If Thug’s screeching laid the foundations for the track, Kanye built a mansion on them with his auto-tuned. stentorious verses on this track. Here, he leaves Taylor Swift alone for a moment and rips into Ray J. The singer, who was famously with Kanye’s wife before their relationship, is shot at from all angles as Kanye claims they’d be friends if Ray J didn’t love his wife. He parts with a final blow, saying the only difference between them is that West is rich. West goes on to stunt about his twenty-one Grammy Awards, comparing his family to that of Michael Jackson’s. Kanye really hits his searing stride on this track when he describes himself as a “walking, living, breathing god”, a self-comparison West has never been scared to make throughout his career.
The album goes from this gloriously self-assured declaration of greatness to a disorientating interlude called Freestyle 4 which is simultaneously captivating and upsetting. He raps from the boozy perspective of an intoxicated guy whose going wild at formal events, presumably a reflection of his real life. He describes the sensation of the false reality his drug abuse has created and the never-ending spiral of losing control he is experiencing. Desiigner is recruited again on the outro of this track, West making a real showcase of his then-recently-signed artist.
Another high point of TLOP is Real Friends, featuring Los Angeles’ Ty Dolla $ign. It’s a callback to Kanye’s previously prevalent introspective side as he struggles to balance relationships with friends and family. He describes feeling conflicted about how to handle ‘friends’ who try to use Kanye’s status for their own gain. Ty’s lyrics are from the perspective of aforementioned fake friends.
As the album progresses, the sound continues to transform. Shades of West’s former self show through on No More Parties in LA, the first ever collaboration between him and fascinating Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar. Kanye goes back to chopping up the soul for the instrumental on this track and raps in a way that takes the listener back to the mid-2000’s and the Kanye of old. This version of himself, which he references on the tongue-in-cheek interlude I Love Kanye, is supressed no longer and he raps in such an utterly skilled way that he actually betters the verse of Lamar, widely-regarded to be the best active rapper in the world.
West calls on Ty Dolla $ign again as TLOP begins to wind down with Fade. A club style instrumental built from four samples: Fingers Inc.’s “Mystery of Love,” Hardrive’s “Deep Inside,” Barbara Tucker’s “I Get Lifted” and “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” The culmination of these samples is a cry-out from Kanye to a lover who is becoming distant. He says he can feel their love fading away. West brings himself down to human level for this track and also the final, bonus cut.
Saint Pablo is another self-evaluative track where Kanye West addresses several of the recent scandals and controversies surrounding his name. The deepest issues that were concerning him at the time he was releasing TLOP are all touched on. Most significantly, he discusses his personal debt and how he needs to learn to say no sometimes, as at the rate he’s going he is going to “die broke.” He also addresses recent media allegations that suggest that he is mentally unwell, calling himself “this generation’s closest thing to Einstein” and reminding people not to “worry about me, I’m fine.” This song, complimented with a silk-spun outro from the Drake-collaborator and London singer Sampha, brings this auditory journey to a gratifying ending, tying a bow on the gift that is The Life of Pablo.
As a huge fan of Kanye West’s previous work, I awaited this album with bated breath. When it finally arrived, I was not disappointed. It is the launch pad from which the careers of the likes of Chance the Rapper and Desiigner can become superstars and all the while it remains true to the unorthodox slant that Kanye has maintained since The College Dropout all the way back in 2004. While it is not West’s greatest album, it holds up well against six other solo albums, all of which hold a special place in my heart. A thoroughly interesting and abstract take on modern hip-hop, Mr. West shows he’s still got it against all the odds.
Twitter – @boombapacidrap