The Life Of Pablo Album Review
GOOD / Def Jam
Released February 14, 2016
Genre: Hip Hop, Experimental Hip Hop, Trap, Pop Rap
Kanye West is riding a thin line; ever since the polarizing yet enthralling Yeezus, Kanye fans have been divided into two groups: those who still see him as an unpredictable and brilliant genius, and those who are utterly confused with his creative process. After a tumultuous, confusing, and messy release procedure that included a fashion show, inconsistently leaked tracks, and album leaks, West’s
So Help Me God SWISH Waves The Life Of Pablo is here; and boy is it a f**king chaotic mess. Not that any of West’s past works haven’t been messy, there was just always a prevalent logic laced through tracks (Yeezus’ self indulgent noise hop, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s self-aware culmination of years of success and sudden introspection). Here, West experiments with different styles and tastes, hoping to find that middle ground between ambition and nomadic inspiration. While he succeeds on some tracks the ones where he fails, he fails terribly.
Messy albums are always a risky move, but if done right they can yield great results. The go-to “messy” album leads straight to The Beatles’ White Album, where the Fab Four go ape shit on their music. While the songs are spatially different from one another, they nonetheless clash in an enthralling way, complementing each others’ different styles while simultaneously shedding light on a new side of The Beatles’ music. The Life Of Pablo is Kanye at his most incoherent yet; he flows through acid house to experimental rock to trap to pop rap like draino, and no, the songs do not support each other. It’s Kanye’s clunkiest album to date, and that’s saying something considering his past six records have single handedly reinvented West’s music each time. That isn’t to discredit the great moments on this record, for there are some.
The Vine sensation of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” is an absolute banger; the track is an odd middle ground between restrained and maximalist production, with razor sharp high hats muted to a pulsing beat at Kid Cudi’s enthralling vocals. The Taylor Swift line that EVERYONE freaked out about on “Famous” is, in my opinion, one of the funniest moments on the album (more on why later). Around the 1:49 mark West gives my personal favorite moment on the record as he lays out a zany and out of nowhere sample that is, for lack of a better word, just f**king great. If West’s discography was looked back (which it will be let’s be honest), this is one of his brightest moments of brilliance and true artistry.
“Feedback” has a more polished take on some Yeezus-inspired beats which clashes with West’s brash and gaudy lyrics. Young Thug brings an effervescent vibe to “Highlights” which is complemented to West’s absolutely hilarious Ray J line. However, West’s absolutely terrible lyric (hint: Go-Pro) keeps the track from being a standout; regardless, it still goes hard. Arguably the best track on here, “Real Friends”, is Kanye at his most open, vulnerable, honest, and real on TLOP. With a dreamy atmospheric beat, West perfectly channels that middle ground lyricism that both sheds light on his pros and cons in the best way.
What makes a lot of Kanye’s lyrics hilarious here, rather than offensive, is his ability to convey them as self-aware. West is obviously aware of his narcissistic nature (“I Love Kanye”) so it thus renders anything that may come off as offensive (the Taylor Swift line) moot. Biblical analogies are made (Pablo represents Paul [aka Saul], the historic Biblical figure); Kim K and Kanye as Mary and Joseph, respectively, on “Wolves”
(this version being worse for the lack of Vic Mensa and Sia and the addition of an unnecessary Frank Ocean feature and a new West verse) Update: With Kanye’s recent album update, Sia & Mensa have been restored onto the original track. so we get his indulgence, but with some premeditated intelligence and class – some nuance for the fans. Kanye attempts a ridiculous take on “Jumpman” (“FACTS”); lyrically West is all over the place here – honest, provocative, audacious, silly, gaudy, vulgar, and personal. Yet, none of these lyrical approaches connect in an explicitly logical, or coherent, way – they’re just there. The track listing carries some thematic significance, with a debatable “Act” breakdown; but even so, the lyrics and musical styles on TLOP are simply chaotic and incoherent.
At its worst moments, West does a pretty good job at screwing up the trajectory of his experimentalism. “Ultralight Beam” is the cheesiest song that he has ever put out, hands down. The gospel features feel contrived, and the Chance feature is incredibly misplaced, the musical equivalent of kid playing basketball in 7th grade trying to keep up with in an NBA game. Not to discredit Chance’s talent, but his particular vibe does not mesh with West’s vibe at all. The Weeknd’s high pitched vocals offer practically nothing to the track other than sheer annoyance and irritation. What saves “FML” is the experimental art rock final minute that reminded me of some moments from Radiohead’s classic Kid A, with its scattered and filtered vocals flying in the air (yes, I know TheNeedleDrop said this. And to be honest, he’s right. It sounds a lot like Kid A. Listen closely.) “Waves”, with its maximal and absolute emphatic instrumentation has the best use of Chris Brown in the last five years.
The Life Of Pablo disappoints mainly due to the lack of one thing: coherence. These songs are plastered and mashed next to each other arbitrarily, and it’s not even enthralling experimentally. It’s befuddling, irritating, and confusing to say the least. A wise friend once told me that Kanye West needed a “NO” man: someone to tell him “No, don’t add another track!” or “No, don’t say that!” or “No, that interlude is a waste of time!”. West has steadily built himself up on a throne of royalty that he’s, for most of the journey, earned. He’s reinvented himself on nearly every record, going from old school hip hop to baroque rap to noise hop in the steadiest of progressions, none of which have been this grand of a smorgasbord as The Life Of Pablo.
With all of West’s records, there was always a mystifying allure that beckoned more and more listens. There were songs that grew on many, and of course songs that stick in your head for years, or forever. With TLOP, West really needs to look around and see what he is creating here – an album that is honestly too chaotic for its own good. The only purpose The Life Of Pablo serves is to show that Kanye West has brilliant ideas. If he can flesh out these ideas, trim the fat, and think about what he’s doing, then we may have a true Kanye West record (this summer maybe?) – one that prides itself on its brilliance, ingenuity, and audacity to reinvent.
FAV TRACKS: Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 (featuring Kid Cudi), Famous (featuring Rihanna), Feedback, Highlights (featuring Young Thug), I Love Kanye, Waves (featuring Chris Brown), *only the last minute of* FML (feat. The Weeknd), Real Friends (feat. Ty Dolla $ign), Wolves (feat. Sia & Vic Mensa), No More Parties In LA (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Ultralight Beam (ft. Chance the Rapper and Kirk Franklin),