Album Review: Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

So, it’s no big secret that the production of Kanye West’s latest effort, something that West himself touted and paraded as “the best album of all time”, was incredibly unorganized. Many tracklist changes, changes to production and constant delays and setbacks only served as an omen to what could only result in something that music scholars and critics definitely wouldn’t be looking back on, in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time, as a landmark piece in music history. Unfortunately, with no big surprise, Yeezy’s new album is exactly not that. While Kanye’s talent shines through in a few golden nuggets that once again showcase his ability to create strong, belligerent tracks, the majority of the album is a miss with poor, seemingly rushed production and lyricism that is too embedded in ego and pop culture.

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The Life of Pablo, it’s called; a weird, but interesting reference to the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. It clocks in at just under an hour long, and is constructed with eighteen tracks lined up in a haphazardly awkward fashion. There’s a constant, dizzying movement throughout the album, going back and forth between the album’s well-crafted artistic tracks and tracks made specifically for Yeezy to let out his egotistical tirades. Let’s call it for what it is: this isn’t on the level of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Yeezus. On Fantasy, Kanye West uses his ego to front the music’s personal themes and on Yeezus, he uses it to paint his place in society and his feelings towards the outside. Here, it’s trash talk for the sake of trash talk. Yeezy wants us to think that there’s a spiritual theme and motif on the album, connected to religion and views on life. It’s true that on some tracks, such as the album’s glorious opening track, “Ultralight Beam”, this religious overtone shines thoroughly, but on a majority of the tracks, such as “Famous” and “Facts”, it’s just simply not there.

Plus Kimoji just shut down the app store, ah!
And we made a million a minute, we made a million a minute

Tracks like the aforementioned “Facts” are what ruin this album and destroy whatever arcs this album had. In the track, he rants on about Nike, the success of Kimoji and his 2020 presidential election bid. The two-parter “Father Stretch My Hands” has Yeezy opening the track with “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”, for no clear reason but for the shock factor. This shock tactic is something Kanye uses often on this album; on the opening lines of “Famous”, he proclaims that he could still have sex with Taylor Swift because he “made that bitch famous”. It’s concerning to see someone like Kanye, who is usually a master at weaving his own personal life and experiences into his music, has now devolved into flat out trash talk, mostly concerning having sex with women, that does not at all contribute to the album, its sound or feel. Apart from Chance and the legendary Kendrick Lamar, the featured artists on the album either don’t do much to redeem the album, or go as far to make it worse. On the aforementioned “Father Stretch my Hands” recent G.O.O.D. Music signee Desiigner vomits out his ego too: “I got broads in Atlanta / twisting dope, lean, and sipping Fanta / credit cards and the scanners / wake up Versace, shit life Desiigner”. How classy.

While this problem alone would be a sore for the album’s audience, it is made worse, as it seriously conflicts with tracks such as “Ultralight Beam”, decorated with the sounds of a child giving thanks to God, and Chance the Rapper giving his own thanks to Yeezy, making the often-used contrast between Kanye and God. Another track, “Low Lights”, features a woman giving a testimony of her life and her own spiritual connection between her and god. “Wolves” even has lyrics that allude to the birth of Jesus. It seems as if Kanye was trying to tie together a concept album with a strong religious overtone, but gave-up halfway through and filled the missing gaps with disposable diss-track and mixtape material that would be better suited as an upload on SoundCloud, and not being painted onto something such as The Life of Pablo. Unfortunately, this actually seems to be the case; the album was originally supposed to be titled So Help Me God, a nod to the religious motifs of the album’s artistic tracks.

There is an in-between, however, as well: tracks that aren’t as embedded in ego and pop culture, but don’t necessarily follow the album’s continuity of religious and spiritual references, further adding to the disorganization and chaos of the album, but in a lighter way. “30 Hours”, for example, sees Kanye rap about his feelings towards a former, from his now-married perspective. “FML” has him calling out against the people, especially former friends, that opposed his relation to Kim Kardashian. While they both lack in production and overall sound, once again opting the rushed feeling, it’s a neat window into Yezzy’s personal feelings, nonetheless, concerning his marriage to Kim, and his view on his own past. There are also some down-right weird as hell moments on the album, as well. “I Love Kanye”, which is a short rap without instrumentals, has Yeezy voicing his love towards, you guessed it, himself! There’s also “Silver Surfer Intermission”, which is a recording of a phone call with Max B, as he rambles on about waves while giving a shout-out to Kanye. Weird indeed.

Real friends, how many of us?
How many of us, how many jealous?

Among all the noise, discord and anarchy though, there is one track that stands out above all the rest. While it is completely disconnected from the religious motifs, like most of the album, it holds a strong message of it’s own, crafted with Kanye’s own personal experiences with the people in his life. “Real Friends”, which lies dormant midway through the album, is a testimonial that best represents the kind of music Kanye West does best. In the track, he lays out his feelings towards the meaning of friendship on a beat led by a beautiful piano riff. Together with the voice of Ty Dolla $ign, the harmonious back-and-forth momentum of the track is carried by the strong outrage of opinion written into the track’s powerful lyrics. It’s funny, however, that such a track would find its way into an album full of tracks that don’t even get anywhere close to the kind of power and impact that “Real Friends” has; it is essentially the fool-proof evidence to prove that the album’s development and production was, to simply put it, poor.

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There’s many, many things wrong within the basic infrastructure of The Life of Pablo that could’ve easily been fixed, but wasn’t. A baffling, broken and awkward process of production contributed to the creation of an album that goes into one direction, gives up, retreads the direction, gives up, goes in a new direction, and gives up again. No featured artist on the album could save it, no producer working on the album could save it, and despite their otherwise enlightening presence on the track list, no great songs on the album could save it. The Life of Pablo was doomed ever since tracks that were focused more on spitting and choking graceless shock-and-awe, pop culture and ego-embedded noise were added onto the track list. Those tracks competed, and seemingly won against, tracks that were more focused on delivering a thematic experience that explored Kanye and his spiritual connections. Tracks such as “Real Friends” will live on, while this album won’t bear past it’s own annoying buzz.

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