Three years ago, Kanye West proclaimed that he was a God on Yeezus, a polarizing album hammered into life through Ye’s excessive frustration of being placed in a box and considered as not qualified enough to transcend the world of fashion as he did with music. Refreshingly bold and audacious to some and a nightmare to others, Kanye loyalists have waited several years for new revelations from their savior. Never one to repeat the stylistics of his previous work, Kanye placed millions of spectators onto a shaky roller coaster ride over the past year, renaming his album title multiple times and more recently, implementing a chaotic roll-out scrutinized for its inconsistencies and wide array of controversial Tweets. But as planned (masterfully or unintentionally depending on your opinion of Mr. West’s marketing savvy and the current state of his mental health), the world gawked and awed at the spectacle Kanye generated for himself, and the hip-hop culture found itself fixated on Yeezy Season 3 at Madison Square Garden, which also served as a globally covered listening session of Ye’s latest opus The Life Of Pablo. Taking thrilling twists and turns at a moment’s notice, The Life Of Pablo is scattered with landmark influences from Kanye’s robust discography and also provides a present-day representation of a wildly confident, self-aware, ambitious, yet also unbalanced artist who possesses a rare, larger-than-life perspective, resulting in a fascinating listen for those who have rightfully remained faithful in Ye’s ability to construct critique-worthy art.
If there were any doubts about the soulful side of Kanye being long gone, those qualms were restored once pressing play on The Life Of Pablo. Being greeted by such an awe-inspiring, opening up the gates of heaven intro “Ultralight Beam” is a blessing. The song is beautifully curated as Kanye fights against his egotistical nature by tapping into his faith and expressing positivity in the purest form alongside majestic vocals from The Dream, Kelly Price, a powerful gospel choir, and the legendary Kirk Franklin on the outro. The song also marks a spiritual, passing of the torch moment with Chance The Rapper delivering an astounding guest verse, completing the record as a dream team collaboration remarkably coming into fruition.
After sitting back in amazement to such a breathtaking track, The Life Of Pablo speeds along in short energetic bursts and can be interpreted as a splattered painting with many shapes and forms. Conflicted emotions with religious undertones run rampant throughout the album as the sudden switches in production and lyrical context invite us into the unsteady psyche of Kanye, capable of delivering personal, heartfelt struggles of parental history/maintaining current relationships or letting loose unfiltered lines which are simultaneously entertaining and disrespectful. But whatever wavelength Kanye finds himself on, The Life Of Pablo holds your undivided attention because it constantly evokes excitement and anticipation, even if you have no idea what to expect from one song to the next, playing similarly to a DJ set list or mixtape.
The intricate, pronounced sonic drops set off fireworks for collaborators such as Kid Cudi and Desiigner (“Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1/Pt 2”) while captivating minimalism proves to be an ideal fit for singers such as Ty Dolla $ign (“Real Friends”, a definitive standout on the LP) and The Weeknd (“FML”). The latter is a particularly refreshing of display of introspective for Kanye, who explains the trials and tribulations he faces in order to sustain a healthy marriage and have self-control in a celebrity existence filled with gossip and distractions. Alongside the Canadian crooner (who is no stranger to a destructive lifestyle), Kanye is effectively able to fully flesh out the idea and while so many people view him as an anti-hero and would enjoy a downfall from the hateable throne he sits upon, it is an internal choice whether to wield his influence to live out his admirable visions (at least in his eyes) or fall victim to the relentless demons/vices on his shoulder.
The Life Of Pablo accurately presents Kanye as a man of many identities and while it is fair to criticize the album for being sporadic and lacking cohesion, one would be hard pressed to find an album so invigorating sound like it’s still a work in progress. Utilizing a long list of prominent samples ranging from Nina Simone to Sister Nancy (something Kanye has always had an affinity for), Ye flows effortlessly on a bravado-driven bangers “Famous” (ft. Rihanna) and “Feedback” while posing debatable, self-proclaiming questions (‘Name one genius that ain’t crazy’) and honest statements regarding his flaws (‘I’ve been outta my mind a long time, I’ve been saying how I fell at the wrong time’). The Chicago southsider may appear as maniacal on the surface (especially when the instrumentals veer off in Yeezus territory), but the self-awareness could not be more clear when Kanye name drops the likes of Taylor Swift and Ray J, fully knowing it will stir up the press and garner attention amongst the folks who won’t put in the effort to dissect the calculation behind his actions. Placing “I Love Kanye” as a skit on the album is further proof of Ye’s pulse on pop culture and by poking fun at his reputation, it only promotes the idea that The Life Of Pablo was birthed (at least in its late stages) in a fun atmosphere with enthusiastic, uncompromising vigor.
As with every Kanye West album release, there has been an overwhelming amount of evaluation around the album and whether it lives up to the high standards Ye has set for himself throughout his career. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Kanye chose to takes pieces of his past and still create a fresh soundscape on The Life Of Pablo with the help of countless producers. By no means is it completely polished and perfect, but immortality isn’t the goal on this project, but rather embracing one’s flaws and coming out of the mess with a true sense of purpose. No, Kanye’s pen game isn’t spectacular, but amidst the cringeworthy lines we have lyrical onslaughts such as “No More Parties In L.A.” From authentic reflections on the life of the ‘old Kanye’ (“30 Hours”) to raw displays of emotion which are conceptually deep in biblical imagery (“Wolves”), the accomplished musicality of its creators turn out to be more present on The Life Of Pablo than shortcomings, which arise when dissecting its erratic sequencing and questionable tracklist length.
As the sounds of Chicago house music blare through your headphones on “Fade”, one would expect this type of pulsating, club-bouncing record would lead to something else with even more vitality. With an announcement of another album coming this summer and more unreleased songs which bring out a boastful yet thoughtful Kanye, it will be interesting to see how the next few months transpires and if The Life Of Pablo evolves into something different than how it exists as of now. Ultimately, the takeaways from this album depend on your stake in Kanye’s artistry and unfortunately, there will be many who ignore the detailed subtleties of the production and themes revolving around Paul The Apostle in favor of the gossipy headlines Kanye causes on his own accord.
Nevertheless, any person who has worked tirelessly to create something of significance for the betterment of society and the people closest to you should be able to relate to the rocky journey illustrated on The Life Of Pablo. We all face obstacles and commonly fight wars with ourselves when meeting fears/uncertainty head on with the resilience of your own backbone. You may consider The Life Of Pablo as Kanye’s best work since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, you may think it’s further proof that he is shell of his former self. But the most important lesson to gain from The Life Of Pablo is that regardless of your personal opinion on Kanye as a person and whether we should consider his work as a ‘God’s dream’, artistic freedom should never have boundaries and limitations only exist when you place them upon yourself.
Repeatable: “Ultralight Beam”, “No More Parties In L.A.”, “Real Friends”