The day has finally come! February 14th, 2016 marks the release of rapper Kanye West’s much anticipated seventh full-length solo album. Ever since hearing his 2010 record My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West has been without a doubt my favorite artist of all-time. All six of his albums prior to his most recent has had a completely unique sound and vision, ensuring that every single listen is a revelatory experience:
His debut The College Dropout is a soulful and melodic rap album where a young talent tries to make a name for himself. His followup Late Registration sees a much more “full” sound, incorporating strings, samples, and biting lyrics focused on major social issues. The last album in the college trilogy, Graduation, provides a fresh synthesizer-laden sound, full of booming triumphant anthems. West’s style took a complete turn in 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak, an electronic R&B record taking full advantage of the then brand new Auto-Tune sound, with incredible lyrics detailing the heartache and alienation felt by the controversial artist. In 2010, Kanye West would release what is perhaps his most celebrated and acclaimed work, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Returning back to the realm of hip hop, MBDTF deals with the excesses of being a celebrity, existentialism, and the American dream. Following the success of MBDTF, Kanye took three years to produce 2013’s Yeezus, which has proven to be my all-time favourite album. Yeezus has an angry and aggressive, stripped down sound and deals with West’s furthering of his controversial, outspoken public persona.
I’ve been patiently waiting for his follow up to Yeezus for three years now, and West’s So Help Me God is finally here! Er…SWISH is he-…really? Waves? Okay! Waves is finally…*ahem*, sorry folks…Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo has finally been dropped worldwide through Jay-Z’s Tidal music streaming service. The new album comes after a litany of name changes, tracklist mix-ups, and unexpected and disappointing delays. Luckily for myself and Kanye’s patient and tolerant fans, the new album absolutely doesn’t disappoint on any level. While the album as a whole may not be anywhere as thematically or stylistically consistent as the rest of his discography, anybody trying to find meaning and a prevalent style in The Life of Pablo is going to find it very easily. Kanye ditches much of the anger and disillusionment found in Yeezus, and instead goes for something of a southern gospel-tinged sound. Not every track benefits from the influence of the gospel genre, but it’s undeniably present in a majority of the tracks on Pablo. The album mixes lyrical content of albums like 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Yeezus, and creates one hell of a manic project.
The album begins on an incredibly high note with the breathtakingly beautiful “Ultralight Beam”, featuring a terrific outing from featured artist Chance the Rapper. The moment the intro track finished, I knew that we as Kanye West fans were in for something truly memorable and unique to his discography. The thematic and stylistic changes throughout the album makes it far more interesting in my opinion, sounding more like a greatest hits compilation of never before heard songs. The four track streak following the self-aware skit “I Love Kanye” of “Waves”, “FML”, “Real Friends”, and “Wolves” is one of the biggest emotional roller coaster rides I’ve ever endured as a hip hop fan, and instantly made me regard the album as a success upon my first listen. After somewhere around a dozen listens throughout my day, nearly every track on the album still stands out as being a triumph, and I’m still blown away every time I heard some of these tracks. The Life of Pablo is a revelation for me as a Kanye West fan, and I hope it catches on with those who discredit him as merely being an egomaniacal social media troll. His latest album is truly special, and verges on being a masterpiece in its greatest moments. It deserves a listen from anybody, whether you’re a fan or not. Who knows, it may just change your opinion of the controversial and severely misunderstood artist. Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo gets my absolute highest recommendation.
Below is a breakdown of my brief thoughts on each track:
- Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper & Kirk Franklin) – Indescribably beautiful, and nowhere near the kind of thing that usually makes its way into my ears. The greatest possible way to begin an album, especially one as tonally varied as this. When I pass away, this is a song I want played at my funeral. I’ve listened to it over and over and over, and can’t see myself taking it off repeat anytime soon. The booming bass drops set the pace for the track, and Chance the Rapper comes in midway through and steals the show with his verses. Must be heard.
“Foot on the Devil’s neck ’til they drifted Pangaea/I’m moving all my family from Chatham to Zambia/Treat the demons just like Pam/I mean I fuck with your friends, but damn, Gina/I been this way since Arthur was anteater”
- Father Stretch My Hands Part 1 (feat. Kid Cudi) – While it may come off as crude and immature to some, Kanye’s lyrics on this track are hilarious and a welcome change from Yeezus’ “Eatin’ Asian pussy, all I need was sweet n sour sauce”. Kid Cudi’s feature on it is a welcome addition, and will hopefully lift him from the void he’s been residing in since 2010 or so.
“I was high when I met her/We was down in Tribeca/She get under your skin if you let her”
- Part 2 (feat. Desiigner) – The first track on the album that goes hard, and certainly not the last. Part 2 took me completely by surprise, and Desiigner’s voice perfectly fits the hook here. Everytime it hits I find myself unable to stop moving. This one’s a banger, enough said.
“I got broads in Atlanta/Twisting dope, lean, and the Fanta/Credit cards and the scammers/Hitting off licks in the bando”
- Famous (feat. Rihanna) – The first track I wasn’t sure of on a first listen has very quickly become one of the highlights of an album full of them. While I’ve never been a huge fan of Rihanna, her feature has grown on me more than I ever thought it could. The lyrics referencing Taylor Swift are hilarious and boundary pushing, and is exactly the reason I’m such a massive fan of this man. He doesn’t care about what internet warriors have to say about lines like these, and tells it like it is. The bridge featuring a sample from Sister Nancy is beautiful and completely unexpected, and makes Famous so much more memorable. A great pop tune that I could see getting air time if it weren’t for the Taylor line.
“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 (God damn)/I made that bitch famous”
- Feedback – The second track that feels reminiscent to work found in Yeezus, Feedback is a hell of a lot of fun and features an incredible beat. Not a great deal of substance to be found here, but it’s an absolute blast.
“Ayy, y’all heard about the good news?/Y’all sleeping on me, huh? Had a good snooze?/Wake up, nigga, wake up/We bout to get this paper”
- Low Lights – An intro to Highlights, there’s not a whole lot to say about it because this isn’t as much of a song as it is a synth bass tribute to the Good Lord. It’s absolutely uplifting in the best way, and serves as a great and down to earth intro to what is sure to be one of the album’s singles.
- Highlights (feat. Young Thug) – One of the songs performed (not well) on Saturday Night Live before the release of the album, this was the most nervous I got about any track on the album. Thankfully, the Auto-Tune used on the song fits much better on a studio version than on the live song. Young Thug’s additions to the song are reminiscent to his feature on Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” from this past summer. Highlights is incredibly catchy, and features some terrifically snappy lyrics (especially the line about Ray J). A definite hit, and one I hope catches on in the mainstream.
“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”
- Freestyle 4 (feat. Desiigner) – This thing REALLY bangs, and I love every line here. It’s aggressive, ridiculous, and over the top. Exactly the way I take my Kanye.
“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’?”
- I Love Kanye – A skit. If anybody doubts Kanye West’s level of self-awareness, this is going to be your future point of reference. This man knows exactly what he’s doing in the eye of the public, and gets a great deal of pleasure (and publicity) out of it. Terrific stuff.
- Waves (feat. Chris Brown) – The track that supposedly delayed the release of the album by more than 24 hours, Waves is a more than welcome addition to the album. It’s melodic, it’s joyous, and it’s catchy as hell. The beat seems to come at you in waves of audio, making the experience even more memorable. The start to an incredible spree of perfect songs, I for one am glad that the album was delayed for this addition. An instant classic.
“Step up in this bitch like (turn it up!)/I’m the one your bitch like/Yeah I’m the one your bitch like/And I be talkin’ shit like/I ain’t scared to lose a fistfight/And she grabbin’ on my dick like/She wanna see if it’ll fit right/That’s just the wave”
- FML (feat. The Weeknd) – FML is without a doubt the “Runaway” of The Life of Pablo, meaning it’s going to rip your heart on out every single listen. It begins on a somber note and crescendos with the introduction of The Weeknd, who elevates the song with its incredible and heartbreaking hook. This song already means a great deal to me as a listener, and it’s an incredibly revealing look at what’s going on in the mind of West. An incredible track, and quite possibly the best on the album.
“They wish I would go ahead and fuck my life up/Can’t let them get to me/And even though I always fuck my life up/Only I can mention me”
- Real Friends (feat. Ty Dolla $ign) – A song I liked a great deal when it was released as a GOOD Friday feature, Real Friends works even better within the confines of the album. It serves as a thematically perfect follow-up to FML, while also being an introduction to the proceeding Wolves. The first true single of the album, Real Friends is an emotional roller coaster, and yet constantly maintains a catchy beat. An incredibly emotional and memorable song about growing up, family, trust, personal pressures, and so much more. I’m so glad it made it into TLOP’s final cut.
“I couldn’t tell you how old your daughter was/Couldn’t tell you how old your son is/I got my own Jr. on the way, dawg/Plus I already got one kid/Couldn’t tell you much about the fam though/I just showed up for the yams though”
- Wolves (feat. Frank Ocean & Caroline Shaw) – WOLVES CDQ! This track surfaced nearly a year ago, and has had fans clamoring for a studio quality version ever since. The final product doesn’t disappoint one bit, even if it lost some incredibly memorable features from Sia and Vic Mensa. The new outro from Frank Ocean is a welcome addition because the man is really, really inconsistent in his release dates. The track is hauntingly beautiful from a stylistic, with some incredibly introspective lyrics about Kanye’s behaviour since the tragic passing of his mother. Wolves would have been my personal choice to end the album on the highest note possible.
“You gotta let me know if I could be your Joseph/Only tell you real shit, that’s the tea, no sip/Don’t trip, don’t trip, that pussy slippery, no whip/We ain’t trippin’ on shit, we just sippin’ on this/Just forget the whole shit, we could laugh about nothin’”
- Silver Surfer Intermission – Essentially just a skit in the form of a phone call from Max B. Takes some hilarious shots at Wiz Khalifa, which I’m always game for. Also serves as a perfect intermission between the “real album” that preceeds it, and the “bonus tracks” that follow.
- 30 Hours – YES! 30 Hours dropped as a GOOD Friday release immediately before the release of the album, and I was really gutted when it didn’t seem like it was going to make the final cut. The hook to this song is insanely catchy, and the lyrics see Kanye looking back on the early days of his career, the newfound luxuries of celebrity, and the lengths he would go for the loves in his life. I wish that Andre 3000 would have provided new material for the song, but we can’t win ‘em all right? 30 Hours is incredible, and one of the few songs I’ve been humming whenever my earbuds aren’t in.
“I remember rapping for Jay and Cam/Young producer just trying to get his flows off/I remember being nervous to do Victoria Secret/’Til I pictured everybody with they clothes off”
- No More Parties in LA (feat. Kendrick Lamar) – Something of a throwback to the ghost of Kanye’s past, No More Parties in LA is an absolute treat for rap fans. The southern-tinged intro sets you up for the knockout, and the sampling that follows hits you with the winning right hook. Kanye and Kendrick Lamar trading verses is an incredible thing to hear, as it’s two of the industry’s very best at the top of their game. The track famously put a permanent kibosh on parties in the city of Los Angeles. But not really.
“She said she came out here to find an A-list rapper/I said baby, spin that round and say the alphabet backwards/You’re dealing with malpractice, don’t kill a good nigga’s confidence/Just cause he a nerd and you don’t know what a condom is/The head still good though, the head still good though”
- Facts (Charlie Heat Version) – Just when you thought you had all the answers, Kanye’s new mix of Facts changes the questions out from under your feet. This new version of the GOOD Friday release improves on the original in every single way, and becomes a loud and dirty trap banger. Its new energy is undeniably infectious, and shows that Kanye isn’t afraid to mix it up in order to better suit a project. So thankful for this new cut.
“Herzog and Adidas, man you know they love it/If Nike ain’t have Drizzy, man they wouldn’t have nothin’, woo!/If Nike ain’t have Don C, man they wouldn’t have nothin’, ooh!/But I’m all for the family, tell ’em, “Get your money””
- Fade (feat. Post Malone & Ty Dolla $ign) – The runway music sounding outro to the album is probably my least favorite feature on The Life of Pablo. That being said, I still think it’s still a very good track. It just doesn’t suit the project in any way, shape, or form. It feels like a song from two decades ago, in the best way possible. Still sleeping on this track, and I know I’m going to come around to it eventually. Weird way to end the album, but if Kanye likes it, I’m cool with it too. “You don’t even know/I’ve been so far gone/I feel it/I’ve been so led on/I’ve been runnin’ ’round/I feel it/I’ve been on my shit/Whole world on my dick/I feel it/I just need to know/I can feel it”