By Luis Taganas
After a very hectic series of tracklists, title changes, and a huge mess of a release, Kanye West finally dropped his seventh studio album, “The Life of Pablo,” on Feb. 12. Only available for streaming via membership on Tidal, a music streaming website owned by Jay-Z, West has delayed the album’s sale indefinitely in order to lend support to his close friend’s venture.
Kanye West is a titan of today’s music industry. From humble beginnings as a producer for Jay-Z and other artists, he’s pioneered some of the defining sounds of new millennia hip-hop. Never sticking to a single sound for more than one album, his eccentricity makes him a game-changer every time he releases a record.
Being a tabloid goldmine, West is probably most known for his antics as a loudmouthed egotist, going on insane tirades on his Twitter every week.
West debuted “The Life of Pablo” at his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show. Streamed on Tidal, the event took place at a sold-out Madison Square Garden and ended up being a huge listening party for Kanye and all of his friends.
“Pablo” was scheduled to release on the day of the show, but the sale of the album only lasted a few hours before it was taken down. Kanye ended up adding the previously released tracks from SoundCloud. Tidal finally began streaming the full album in its entirety on Valentine’s Day, but the sale was delayed once more indefinitely in order to boost subscriptions for the service.
After all of this hubbub, torrenting sites became littered with pirated copies which purportedly lost West out on hundreds of thousands of dollars on sales.
And finally, we get to the album. Overall, the album has a sound that is much more accessible than his previous record, Yeezus. In fact, the album is more of an amalgamation of his entire discography. West returns to the soul sampling that launched his career, and the large, arena sound of the “Graduation” album. The glitchiness of Yeezus still presents itself, and the star-studded features of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” For an album that potentially may be his last, it’s a great retrospective of his career.
“Ultra Light Beams” opens the album, and it is one of the best songs West has ever been affiliated with. The instrumental is really stripped-down, a mere organ riff; but a choir joins the mix and accentuates it like a church sermon. The lyrics are very gospel-like, praising God and perseverance in dark times. Chance the Rapper pops in for what could probably the best verse he’s ever written in his career. West is pretty absent for most of it, which is a recurring aspect of the album.
“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” feature a lush trap beat with a very nice choir sample. Newest G.O.O.D. Music signee, Desiigner, makes his debut on the track, and is the subject of controversy because of the uncanny resemblance to Future, another well-known rapper, in his delivery and overall vocals. A nice piano track rides the beat and Desiigner’s line: “If Young Metro don’t trust you imma shoot you,” has since become a meme.
“Feedback” sounds like a leftover track from “Yeezus.” The beat is glitchy and sounds like the title suggests, audio feedback. The samples pulse throughout the track, and Kanye’s vocals and lyrics sound like something off of “Yeezus.” Towards the end, he, in his digitized voice, proclaims himself “The ghetto oprah” which is a highlight (or lowlight, whether you liked Yeezus or not).
“Famous” is among the best tracks on “Pablo.” The song features Rihanna on the chorus, and producer Swizz Beatz doing ad-libs over the track. He has a very distinct voice and I can’t help but get hyped from hearing him. The song’s instrumental isn’t stellar, but an incredible reggae sample brings the track to a close.
“Low Lights” is, more or less, a filler track, featuring a long acapella sample of Sandy Rivera’s “So Alive” backed by a piano and bassy synth hits. Among filler, this track is pretty compelling. It’s smooth and the vocal sample is soulful, even if it’s just talking.
Up to the first half of the album, Kanye really doesn’t show any real lyrical prowess. It seems like “Yeezus” wasn’t just a one-time thing, it turned out to be him evolving his style further. Which is disappointing, since the songs he released before the album showed so much in way of lyrical ability. The good thing is, is that he decided to add those songs on the tail end of the album.
“Real Friends” is one of those songs. The song is really somber in tone and Kanye raps about his struggles with fame and how it’s affected his relationships with others. It’s not unfamiliar territory for him, but it’s refreshing to hear him rap about it again. Ty Dolla $ign is featured on this track, and he fits in really well. He has a rasp to his voice that complements the song.
“No More Parties in L.A.” is another great song that showcases Kanye’s rapping ability, released on SoundCloud before “Pablo.” Kendrick Lamar makes an appearance, but surprisingly enough, Kanye steals the show. Out of anyone, one would think Kendrick Lamar would be the lyrical highlight, but West proves he’s still got it, from his quick and witty flows. Legendary producer, Madlib, supplies the instrumental, and the traditional boom-bap instrumentation and the sampling really give the beat some character.
“Wolves,” a track originally revealed at the first Yeezy Season fashion show, is thunderous, a vocal sample mimics a wolf and is played throughout the track, it’s really the most atmospheric Kanye’s ever been. The original featured rapper Vic Mensa and singer Sia, and I’d say that that version was more compelling to listen to, the only real edge that the album version has over the first is an outro featuring the one and only Frank Ocean, who’s been largely M.I.A. for the past three years. It’s worth listening to just hear Frank Ocean on some new material.
The album is a mixed bag of everything Kanye has done, which I absolutely love. For an album that may be his last, it’s a delightful look through his career. I’m a little disappointed that he didn’t really do anything groundbreaking with this album. With all the hype that surrounded the album, I didn’t know what I was hoping for, but I was looking for something surprising.
The album has a lot of low points, but the high points are worth make it worth listening through them. Most of the songs had a brevity to them which actually made the low points a little more bearable. The production is well done as expected and there are a lot of gems to be heard. I especially love the return to sampling.
Kanye is absent for a significant amount of the album; it’s not a lot, but some songs don’t feel like Kanye West songs. “Waves” feels like a Chris Brown song, and if I didn’t know Kanye had something to do with it, I wouldn’t think he was involved at all. And on the songs he was on, he wasn’t really captivating; the shallow lyrics just made him sound childish on most songs, they didn’t fit with the album’s aesthetic like “Yeezus” did.
The album isn’t cohesive, it’s a mess filled with contrasting ideas and filler. It doesn’t feel like an album, it’s more like a compilation sometimes. The fact that the best songs were the SoundCloud releases added at the last minute doesn’t exactly speak to the rest of the album’s merit. It’s not a good sign when bonus tracks outshine the actual album.
The fact is, I don’t love this album, which is really weird to say for a big fan of Kanye West. I feel guilty, like it’s blasphemy or something. I thought it’d get better with more listens, but that process seems to be going slowly, if it’s even happening at all.
But I do like it. Honestly, if he retires like he says he will, I’ll be satisfied. It’s a jumbled mess, but I there’s something about it that I can’t help but like. The flaws are there, but I can overlook them. I don’t love the product, but I love what he’s trying to do. In terms other people, there’s really no telling who will like it and who won’t; but it’s definitely a must-listen for this year just because it’s Kanye.