Following arguably the most anxiety-inducing album rollout of all time, Kanye West’s HIGHLY anticipated album premiered at Madison Square Garden on the 11th of February and became available for streaming on February 14.
I’m a huge Kanye West fan. I love Kanye West. Despite his often annoying Twitter antics, hypocritical statements, and massive ego, it’s hard to hate the dude that composed four of my favorite hip hop albums (and admittedly, sometimes his passionate nature is lovable). So in early 2015, when he dropped the single “All Day” and announced his new album would be called So Help Me God, I became excited and anxious to see what classic-level art Kanye was going to bless the world with.
Then he changed the title to SWISH.
That’s a pretty awful title, I thought to myself, but if the songs are anything like “All Day,” I think I’ll be okay.
Then he changed the title to Waves.
Still a terrible title, but again, if the songs were dope then I wouldn’t care too much about the title.
Then there was no title. And then there was a secret title.
Dude, it’s almost the 11th, this is getting crazy! Reveal the title!
Finally, he revealed the title and the album cover.
Uhhhh…are you serious? Kanye, are you okay?
This question was not only my thought after witnessing this absurdity that we have to call the album cover, but pretty much what I and other hip hop sages/Kanye West supporters wondered as we listened to this disjointed “final” product that will easily go down as one of, if not Kanye’s weakest full length project to date.
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this album is “bad”; you’ve got to remember that this is the same artist that composed the masterpieces that are My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation (aka a discography full of classics/potential classics), so calling The Life of Pablo weak in comparison to those albums is hardly a scathing critique. But for an album that Kanye literally quoted as being the “album of the life” (a claim that demands unrealistically high expectations), this album was disappointing.
There were some genuinely excellent moments on this album. Right out the gate on the first song “Ultralight Beam,” we get a gospel-inspired work of art that displays Kanye West production and composition at its peak. The way that all the features, choirs, samples, and production are orchestrated together by Kanye West, the conductor, results in one of the grandest moments on the album, and an impeccable way of starting out a so-called “gospel album.”
On the following song, “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1,” we see the continuation of this gospel theme, except with trap producer Metro Boomin as the added twist, engineering a gospel-trap juxtaposition that sounds fantastic when combined with Kid Cudi’s melody on the chorus.
Perhaps the best songs on the album, “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in LA,” which were released on SoundCloud weeks before the album release, feature some of The Life of Pablo‘s best moments as well. “Real Friends” features some of Kanye’s most introspective lyrics in years. “No More Parties in LA” has Kanye rapping at classic Kanye levels and Kendrick Lamar showing off his unique, impressive flow on a solid guest feature verse over a Madlib beat that’s one of the highlights on an album filled with generally decent production.
There were also some cringe-worthy, mind numbingly ludicrous moments on this album.
Now if I fuck this model,
and she just bleached her asshole,
and I get bleach on my T-shirt,
I’mma feel like an asshole.”
From an overall lyrical standpoint, The Life of Pablo exhibits Kanye at his weakest and most nonchalant. When he isn’t rapping with normal Kanye dexterity and competence like he did on “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in L.A.”, or substituting bars with autotuned singing, then he’s oftentimes discarding lyrical wit and craftiness and saying whatever the hell is on his mind without caring one bit about possible criticism or backlash. Cases in point:
For all my Southside niggas that know me best
I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
Why? I made that bitch famous.”
Sometimes I’m wishing that my dick had GoPro
So I could play that shit back in slo-mo.”
and also this:
I bet me and Ray J would be friends
if we ain’t love the same bitch.
Yeah he might have hit it first,
Only problem is I’m rich.”
From a production standpoint, as I said before, this album is pretty solid (duh, it’s a Kanye album) but is incredibly schizophrenic and chaotic. The songs jump through different sounds, from the gospel influence of “Ultralight Beam” and “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,”to the Yeezus-sounding “Feedback” and “Freestyle 4,” to the poppy, Chris Brown-featured “Waves,” to the groovy dance/house beat of “Fade.” It often seems disorganized, which directly mirrors the disorganized nature of the album’s release and the indecisiveness displayed by Kanye regarding the album title and tracklist.
While The Life of Pablo ultimately is an overall solid project when compared to many other modern hip hop albums, it lacks the certain it-factors that made Kanye’s past albums so great, and while there are amazing moments on this record, there were also just as many cringe-worthy moments that kept it from being great.