It’s been 3 years since Kanye released the polarizing and critically acclaimed Yeezus. Filled with industrial grit, frustration, and unrelenting ego, Yeezus was a picture of a man who was at his wits’ end, but still had more to create. If you keep up with Kanye (or pop culture in general), then you know he got his opportunity to create producing three clothing collections under the Yeezy label. Kanye is married now with two children, and all of this success shows in his new album The Life of Pablo (formerly known as So Help Me God, SWISH, and Waves.)
Be very aware, Kanye wasn’t lying when he described the album as “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it.” The first song “Ultralight Beams” features Kirk Franklin, Kelly Price, The-Dream & Chance the Rapper. The song starts with the audio of this nostalgic (or precarious, depending on your familiarity with Baptist/Pentecostal Church service) video:
“Ultralight Beams” is slow and heavy, yet huge and light at certain points. The song is one of the best on the album and it puts you in the right mindset for the rest of the songs. Immediately after, the album transitions into “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” which starts with a sample of the original song by Pastor T.L Barrett that inspired the title. The sample exclaims, “You’re the only power!” only to be juxtaposed by a slowed down version of Metro Boomin’s current DJ tag. It’s fucking glorious. Something this album loves to do is shift drastically in mood and palette.
Following Pt.1 is Pt.2, which is a Kanye-infused version of Brooklyn rapper Desiigner’s song “Panda.” Kanye essentially added a verse before the regular version of “Panda,” and while it does feel cheap, the addition is fueled with emotion. It’s cut towards the end by a Laurie Anderson-esque vocoder interlude by Caroline Shaw and a soul sample.
“Famous” is a certified banger featuring all the pomp and circumstance of Graduation, all wrapped up in Kanye’s ego. This is the song that features the highly publicized line: “For all my southside ni**as that know me best/ I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why?/ I made that bitch famous.” We’ll talk about that later. “Famous” manages to juxtapose a reggae flip with a Nina Simone flip. It’s an immersive ride that makes you want to listen to it again just to understand what happened.
“Feedback” follows “Famous,” and this is one of the few tracks that feel like a throwback. The energy of Yeezus flows through it with a main sample of what sounds like actual feedback. It oscillates all over the track, and Kanye delivers a very chantable hook of “Ay, y’all heard about the good news?/ Y’all sleeping on a me huh? Had a good snooze?/ Wake up ni**a wake up!/ We bout to get this paper!” My personal favourite line is either “Rich slave in the fabric store picking cotton” or “Driving in the same ERR that they killed Pac in.” While those are the first 5 songs, they all come to embody what this album sounds like. In The Life of Pablo, we find Kanye at his most religious and humble, while also at his most confident— his happiest and also his lowest. Truthfully, this struggle seems to be displayed in the alternate cover of the album:
The words “WHICH / ONE” seem to represent Kanye’s constant back and forth, his switching of moods that is represented both lyrically and sonically. He shows this off in the lovely set of tracks “FML” and “Real Friends.” In “FML,” we find Ye at one of his most honest points lyrically, rapping: “You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than this ni**a when he off his Lexapro/ Remember last time in Mexico/ Remember last time the episode.” “Real Friends” features a reflective Kanye, challenging the people in his life who only seek him to fill specific needs, while realizing at the same time he’s not very much of a real friend.
The album isn’t perfect though. It’s got a few misses on it; “Waves” featuring Chris Brown stands out as my least favourite song. I see the function of it as a very catchy tune, but Chris Brown’s voice does nothing for me and the production can seem claustrophobic at times. “Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission” is a nice shout-out to Max B, but also seems thrown on just to address Kanye’s beef with Wiz Khalifa over the appropriation of the term “wavy.” “Fade” sounds so much better in theory than it actually does.
All these contradictions, juxtapositions, and hypocrisies can somehow exist comfortably in both The Life of Pablo and Kanye West the public figure. As I mentioned earlier, people will note the “Famous” line featuring Taylor Swift. He claims he cleared it with her, her publicist claims he did nothing of the sort and asked instead for her to tweet the song. Whether it’s true or not, this line exists on an album where Kanye objectifies his wife in the song “Highlights,” but goes on to compare her to biblical figure Mary Magdalene in the track “Wolves.” A man who can in 2005 speak on how damaging homophobia is in hip-hop, but also tweet “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” in 2016.
It’d be easy to maintain the argument of separating the artist from the art, but it’s difficult to do that when the art is so personal. It’s that personalness, that realness, bringing people back to Kanye West’s music. It started on his first record and has followed him all the way to LP 7. To all my peeps that feel like they can’t stand Kanye because he’s a bad person, I’d say he can be an ignorant man at times, but he’s truly one of the greatest to ever do it. Very few people have the vision to put Caroline Shaw and Desiigner on the same song, or the duality of being egotistical yet self aware enough to end a rap skit with, “I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.”
Much like the man behind it, The Life of Pablo is an imperfectly perfect album that you need to listen to right now. It’s currently only available on Tidal, but it’s been allegedly pirated off ThePirateBay 500,000 times. Kanye rates it 30/10 and I rate it 8 and a half Yeezys out of 10.
Enoch Ncube, Online Contributor