After a tumultuous weekend, Kanye West’s
So Help Me God/ SWISH/ WAVES The Life of Pablo finally became available to the Tidal-subscribing public early on Valentine’s Day morning. The hype surrounding Kanye’s seventh solo project was built-up over nearly three years, and the question of what kind of sound Mr. West would introduce to the rap world was left largely unanswered until the release. A few weeks ago he tweeted “This isn’t album of the year, this is album of THE LIFE” so it was fair to say fans of Kanye’s were already writing this in as the ‘be all, end all’ of artistry. Ultimately, The Life of Pablo is unlike anything in the world of music, but that really didn’t surprise anyone.
The story of The Life of Pablo (TLOP) is a scattered tale that stretches across a time in Kanye’s life that has brought immense change to one of music’s best and strangest masterminds. A marriage to Kim Kardashian, the birth of his first child (North), the very recent birth of his first son (Saint), combined with the task of trying to out master his collection of revolutionary albums, clearly left Kanye scatterbrained. TLOP is somewhat of a greatest hits album, inspiring Kanye’s of old and of new to come out on different tracks. I’ll try to explain.
The album’s track-list, which was constantly rearranged to the fans’ knowledge until literally the day of release, featured four songs (one of which was re-mastered on the album) that Kanye introduced prior to release. Ignoring the redone “Facts”, we had seen “No More Parties in LA” – a more authentic rap featuring Kendrick Lamar that features the type of pure lyricism that Kanye isn’t necessarily known for, “30 Hours” – a slow, soulful, song that features more rapping than other songs on this album but recalls the tone of Kanye’s famous 808’s and Heartbreak, and “Real Friends” – a piece that invokes Kanye’s inner emotions about the problems that come along with maintaining a hyper-celebrity status. These tracks all represent a portion of the better half of TLOP.
If there were a song that defined TLOP, in my opinion it would be “Real Friends” and its mild mannered rap that tells us how Kanye’s life has changed over more than a decade. But this album isn’t something easy to define; TLOP is really the first album of his that doesn’t seem to have a cohesive flow, a noticeable theme of sorts. After a few listens it becomes evident that the album might be telling the story of Kanye’s career: the way his style has changed dramatically from album to album, the way his fame has overtaken everything, the story of a genius pushing himself to new extremes. In a statement of personal reflection Kanye left the words “Which One” on the album cover in reference to whom Pablo is supposed to represent. While his Twitter suggests the album is an ode to St. Paul, there is still speculation that he may also be paying homage to Picasso or even Escobar.
Messy lyrics of raunchy sexual nature find themselves in the middle of emotional hip-hop ballads, and continued references of personal debt are sprinkled throughout the album. Sometimes it seems like Kanye is speaking to himself, other times he is telling the story of his life. In Kanye-like fashion though, the way the stories are told are unique. “Ultra Light Beams”, the albums opener, is a downright beautiful gospel like piece that is one of the best Kanye produced songs I’ve ever heard. The albums next piece, “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” has about a minute of gospel/hip-hop intro before an auto-tuned Kanye starts rhyming about his sexual encounters with a model.
There are elements of the trap-y grunge rap reminiscent of 2013’s Yeezus, and then there are the slower emotional pieces like “Real Friends” and “FML” that elicit the sound of 808s. At one point Kanye brings his famous VMA’s incident back to life when he claims he “made Taylor Swift famous” on the aptly titled “Famous.” Ultimately, this album is indefinable in terms of pure artistic genre. Kanye is telling us a story, about whatever he wants to throughout the album. He is reflecting on one of the greatest, but inarguably one of the most emotional roller coasters like a career in modern music.
To me, TLOP is not on par with Kanye’s legendary My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in terms of pure sound, lyricism, or cohesiveness. It is not as revolutionary as Yeezus, and it is not as gung ho about his greatness as Watch The Throne (or any album really). However, there is something special on Pablo. There is a certain insight to the real Kanye, the feelings that live deep inside a stressed out artistic genius who is moving onto a new point in his life. Like his life recently, TLOP is messy, but in that classic transcendent, revolutionary, Kanye way. “This isn’t album of the year, this is album of THE LIFE”. That phrase, in regards to The Life of Pablo, couldn’t be truer.