Kanye West is someone that needs no introduction, his impact on the world is immense, and his music has a legacy that will ripple in Hip Hop for decades to come. After album’s that broke new ground and guided Hip Hop into a new sound, Kanye is seemingly retracing his steps.
This album is one of a kind in Kanye’s discography, in that it is just an album. No major ground-breaking innovative sound, no major statements. This album probably won’t inspire a new generation of artists to grow from his sound, and that’s okay. Not every album he produces needs to be ground-breaking.
The lead up to this album has been surrounded in allot of hype, mostly fuelled by the smart marketing by Kanye. He changed the title of the album from So Help Me God, to SWISH, to Waves, and then finally, to The Life Of Pablo. Not only that, but the track list changed three or four times and even the album cover art changed.
This album was already, even before its release, surrounded in controversy because of a line referencing Taylor Swift on Famous: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous”. I personally found the line to be funny, but obviously the internet did not. And I’m happy he didn’t take it off the album. Not just because it is funny, but because this is Hip Hop, not Pop. As DJ Akademiks said: “those who matter knows what was meant and intended”. He also got attention from a Ray J line which I also found to be funny. In Highlights he claims that “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”. He obviously isn’t serious about these lyrics, and is just having a joke.
I have been talking about the context of this album (and I haven’t even covered it all) because it is vitally important to understanding this album. If it sounded like his album rollout was all over the place, then you were not wrong, and the album perfectly mirrors this feeling. The album lacks cohesion, it is all over the place, from highs to lows it has no real theme or sound that flows through the whole album. But the problem with reviewing a Kanye album is that this could be planned. The chaos of the track list could be a part of a bigger message or artistic ideal. As Mike Dean said on twitter “Any distortion u hear on Pablo is intentional. Stop with the clipping this and that. It's nice and edgy. Like @kanyewest”. This just makes this critique hard, because you don’t know if it was intentional or not. But at this moment, the lack of cohesion is jarring, and considering what Youtuber The Third Pew commented, it might not be intentional, you can see what he said and judge for yourself.
This lack of cohesion is also seen in the lyrical content. On a lot of the tracks on this album Kanye just can’t seem to stay on one idea. He goes all over the place and he can’t seem to focus on one idea long enough. When he does it is great, like on FML. These lyrics are deeply emotional, and brutally honest. He admits to using anti-depressants and struggling to stay loyal to his wife Kim Kardashian. This whole song is a great example of what Kanye can achieve when he stays on a topic long enough.
This album feels like an organised mess though, and it mirrors Kanye’s latest twitter rants, he feels like a mess and doesn’t hide it, in fact this album is in celebration of that. Kanye’s lack of lyrical consistency that I criticised above could also be a part of the whole point. Whenever a song comes on with emotional weight, like the anxiety riddled husband on FML, to how fame has affected his friends and family on Real Friends, the next song sees him hiding behind a mask. He gets emotional than retreats into this douchebag as a kind of defence mechanism. He seems worried that the world sees him as an asshole but then openly embraces it on multiple verses in this album; Kanye doesn’t give us a clear picture of himself, and forces us to connect the dots.
Now to just quickly speed through all the tracks on the album, starting from the ones I enjoyed:
Ultralight Beam is honestly beautiful, and it moved me. The great choir vocals, female vocals, and horns near the end of the track. It’s uplifting, and was a great opener to the album. The track Father Stretch My Hands Pt1 and Pt2, I enjoyed a lot, the beats are great (Especially PT2 which has a banger beat). Pt1 was produced by Metro Boomin and featured some great vocals on the catchy hook by Kid Cudi, and features what some call the worst lyrics on the album, but I kind of enjoyed them because of how dumb it was. I won’t ruin it for you, but you will know. Pt.2 features recent G.O.O.D Music artist Desiigner who basically sounds like Future, but that’s cool. Although it is interesting that his lyrics on this song, and flow, are the exact same as his song Panda. Famous features a great beat (although has the same drum pattern as Real Friends), I enjoy Kanye’s flow as well. Feedback is also another great track, great beat and flow from Kanye and is a really hard hitting song, with a catchy hook. I also liked the lyric “Fashion show in Gotham, I need another costume”. Freestyle 4 also came out of nowhere and I love it, it is really aggressive and moody, and the screeching violins are so haunting, and has Kanye going crazy over the track yelling What the fuck right now?/What the fuck right now?/What the, what the fuck right now?/What if we fuck right now?/What if we fucked right in the middle/Of this motherfuckin' dinner table?/What if we just fucked at the Vogue party/Would we be the life of the whole party?/Shut down the whole party/Would everybody start fuckin'?/Would everybody start fuckin'?/Would everybody start fuckin'? They don't want nothing”. Real Friends and No More Parties In La I have reviewed here and here, were both great. I also enjoy the smooth and biographical 30 Hours, although the last minute is filled with Kanye doing some weird adlib, freestyle, answering his phone and putting it on a track thing. The new beat for FACTS by Charlie Heat makes me enjoy the track a whole lot more, but the lyrics are still trashy and I was surprised to see this song on the album. And finally I love the song Fade with a 90s house instrumentals looping under some auto tunned vocals from Kanye, Post Malone, and Ty Dollar $ign. A great bouncy track to finish the album.
However, not every song is great on this album, I didn’t really enjoy Waves, and someone should have replaced Chris Brown. Highlights was alright, although it is always nice to hear Young Thug. I was also disappointed by the new Wolves track, mainly because the original was so much better, and the new lyrics and feature from Frank Ocean just did nothing for me. The intermissions/skits are okay. Lowlights Is a 2minute ode to God, which is nice I guess, Silver Surfer Intermission features a voice call from Max B giving Kanye his blessings for calling his album Waves, and it kinda just seems like a subtle shot and Wiz or something, and doesn’t fit now that his album isn’t called Waves. However the track I Love Kanye is hilarious and featured freestyle from Kanye. It was easily the funniest point in the album by far.
This whole album relies on whether or not you believe that this mess was organised chaos, or just an unorganised mess. If you believe this album is a concept then you will enjoy it, if not, maybe just listen to the songs individually.
Kanye, after years of ground-breaking albums, has decided that his resting flux is mess. This album celebrates the long road Kanye has taken to get to this point, and while it may be messy, it is still amazing.
Written by Rhys Prka
Fav Tracks: Ultralight Beam, Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1,Pt.2, Famous, Feedback, Freestyle 4, I Love Kanye, FML, Real Friends, No More Parties In La, Fade
Least Fav: Waves
Release Date: 14th Feb
Def Jam / G.O.O.D. Music