The Life of Pablo takes us on a messy sonic journey through everything about Kanye West we have grown to love, hate, hate to love and love to hate, but does so beautifully. His most enjoyable work since MDBTF, an aptly titled The Life of Pablo, it is Kanye’s most Kanye project to date. From it’s dramatic heavenly opener Ultra Light Beam, which in my opinion is a full on gospel song complete with a choir, an uplifting verse from Kelly Price and a prayer from Kirk Franklin, to the polar opposite Freestyle 4 which is a dark insight into Kanye’s more primal side both lyrically and sonically, rapping about having sex in the middle of a party and on top a table, with this sinister voice. These two tracks could not encapsulate the beginning of Kanye’s career to the last we’ve seen, or rather heard from him better. Ultra Light Beam is very reminiscent of that College Dropout/Late Registration Kanye whereas Freestyle 4 and a track like FML exudes the Yeezus era of Kanye. It’s this disjointed mesh of familiar but not necessarily cohesive sounds that make TLOP so intriguing and wild, but the songs themselves are so well crafted that as a project it makes sense. There is, however, some method to the madness in a way, and diving into the tracklist brings this to light a bit more.
After we get the glorious and illustrious opener in Ultra Light Beams the albums continues upbeat but in a more hip-hop way with the tracks Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 and 2 feeding off of the energy of the opener and taking us on more trap infused route through a similar energetic area. Metro Boomin’s new signature adlib, coined by Future, “If young metro don’t trust you imam shoot ya” followed by Kid Cudi’s vocals on the opening of Pt. 1 really set things off with these two tracks. New G.O.O.D. Music signee, Designer, lays some entertaining Future-esque verses on Pt. 2, taken from his underground single Panda, albeit much more entertaining and audible than Future actually would. Famous and Feedback is the Kanye we saw on Graduation, his most braggadocios and cleanly produced album. In much the same vein, these tracks are the two most legitimate bangers on the album. Famous had the album’s most memorable line “For all my southside niggaz that know Kanye West, I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, why I made that bitch famous”. Feedback reminded me of Glory from Graduation with lines like “PETA mad cuz I made a coat out a possum, I'm awesome, Steve Jobs mixed with Steve Austin” and gave us a Yeezus moment with a “Ghetto Oprah” interlude at the end, which in some ways was unnecessary, but hilarious nonetheless. Low Lights is an interlude which in many ways feels like an ode to the skits we found littered throughout College Dropout and Late Registration, which were not really necessary, but it is part of the overall theme of joy and positivity Kanye definitely was going for on this album. Highlights feels like a MBDTF throwaway (not in a bad way), with traces of auto-tune at the beginning, but a mix of personal and braggadocios raps for the rest of the track. Young Thug’s feature was underutilized in my opinion as he delivered a bridge that was very unlike the Thugga sound we have grown to love, but again, much like on Can’t Hold My Liquor on Yeezus, where Kanye gave us an unknown side of Chief Keef, it was not unexpected. It was yet another nod to a past version of Ye. At this point as if to wave a sign in our face highlighting this underlying theme, we get the interlude I Love Kanye, which is basically Kanye reminiscing on all the things we have grown to love about him over that past decade in a sort of satirical way, as if to say “well I’m really giving you all of this now while you still complain about wanting this old Kanye, you satisfied?”. Waves in many ways seems like a filler, with no real theme going on it’s just a well produced, great sounding track with excellent vocals from Chris Brown and minimal vocals from Kanye. This, in my opinion, is where Kanye seems to be right now in his constant evolution as an artist. Very minimalistic on the traditional hiphop element to a song, but heavily focused on the sonic aesthetics and mixing of different production styles to sort of set the mood or vibe. Whether or not it’s a good thing remains to be seen as this side of Kanye continues to show himself. This was no more present on than on the track Fade, which closed the album. Fusing elements of house, dance, electronic, hiphop and soul into this sonic montage if you will, Kanye with minimal vocals sort of decided to close the album setting a mood of, I think, where he wants us to see his head is at now. Much Like Ultra Light Beam was how he started (it is no coincidence that Jesus Walks was similar in theme), Fade is Kanye telling us, how he feels now sonically. Very upbeat and happy. Directly reflecting how he seems in real life with his much desired and new found success in the fashion world (contrast this with the anger/frustration he felt on Yeezus by being denied those opportunities). It’s the track that encapsulates all the sounds Kanye has experimented with, into one mix. Unknown to many, it’s the first track that leaked off this project over a year ago, when Virgil (Kanye’s DJ) played it at a nightclub. It was the first glimpse into Kanye’s new creative headspace.
The remaining 4 tracks (excluding the Silver Surfer Intermission) is the personal and vulnerable side of Kanye, which are heavily reminiscent of 808’s & Heartbreaks and MDBTF. Wolves is more of the 808’s type track where the others, Real Friends, 30 Hours and No More Parties In LA, are MBDTF influenced, with deep dense verses, soulful samples, clean production. Here we see Kanye open up about his family, friendship and relationship (past and present) issues. A stellar guest feature from Kendrick Lamar made No More Parties in LA an instant fan favorite, but it’s on Real Friends where I truly see Kanye excelling lyrically. His tone, flow and content fit superbly with the beat, making the track one of it not the best song on the album. On FML we see a mesh of 808s and MBDTF influence, with Kanye West being his most sincere about his struggles with being a faithfully married man for the sake of finally finding his true love and starting his family. The Weekend delivered an epic vocal performance on the chorus and the second verse sounds like a sped up version of a verse on Blame Game from MBTF, definitely a highlight of the album. On Much like how MBTF is widely celebrated as Kanye’s best album, these tracks are widely considered to be the best part of the album, understandably so.
My only two negatives with TLOP, came first in the form of the track Facts. Though the beat is redone, and makes the song a lot more enjoyable, Kanye has a lot of struggle bars and mimics the flow of Drake and Future on What A Time To Be Alive. This is the one moment where we see Kanye do something he has never done before in his entire career, bite someone else’s style. Had Kanye swapped Facts for All Day, the banger we received last year (single of the year 2015, imo) this album would be much more complete. The second downfall was some of the cringe-worthy lines scattered throughout the album, albeit scarcely. Lines like ‘If I fuck this model and she just bleached her asshole, and I get bleach on my T-shirt then imma feel like an asshole” on Pt. 1. or the “you left your fridge open, and they took your sandwich” line on Wolves. It’s moments like these that show us Kanye’s lost his wit just a tad.
In conclusion I think the most important aspect of this album, which conversely is its greatest downfall in some ways, is, that it was meant to feel all over the place sonically. Much like the paintings of Pablo Picasso, the muse after which the title is influenced, it was not put together to feel like a complete, well thought out body of work. Picasso once famously said, “The world does not make sense, so why should I paint pictures that do?”. In a similar vein, Kanye’s world at particular instances made sense in a vacuum, we can tell from the music he gave us as he grew. But mixed up together, his entire world doesn’t make sense, so why should his art (this album) do so as well. Despite the extremely late addition of tracks to this album, I think it was intentional. It was Kanye making a few last minute brush strokes to his abstract piece of art, ones that he felt portrayed a particular emotion. Looking at previously released tracklists show that the album, under it previous names, had a particular theme (the whole Act 1, Act 2 + Act 3 idea), but somewhere along the way Kanye consciously decided to have his Picasso moment. He scrapped those ideas and renamed the album and gave us his entire life thus far as he sees it, The Life of Pablo. Even examining the album cover we see the words, The Life of Pablo scattered all over the cover arbitrarily and a picture of a young Kanye standing with his family juxtaposed to a picture of a model with a voluptuous ass posing seductively, as if to show the dichotomy of what it means to live the life of Kanye West (Pablo), family and love vs fame and lust. Regardless of the fact that it does not feel like the traditional Kanye album, it is the most Kanye, Kanye album we’ve gotten to date. He took a paintbrush and dipped it in the different paint buckets of what we loved about all his albums, and splattered it on a canvas. It may be hard to love but it’s even harder to not love.
My rating: 9/10