Over the last decade and a half, rapper and producer Kanye West has proved himself as one of the most poignant and diverse figures in the hip-hop community. From classics such as “The College Dropout,” to the masterpieces that were “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and the polarizing “Yeezus,” West has carved himself a seat atop the throne of artistic diversity and greatness.
The days and weeks leading up to “The Life of Pablo” were very entertaining, to say the least. Filled with various social media kerfuffles involving beef with Wiz Khalifa, claims about Bill Cosby’s innocence, various track-list and title changes and a revival of GOOD Fridays — which only occurred on three weeks, one of which was not a GOOD Friday, rather a GOOD Monday — the hype behind West’s latest album was enormous, up until its release after his highly anticipated SNL performance.
Throughout “The Life of Pablo,” West captures the essence of the chaotic moments before the album’s release, and therein lies the problem. The mess that presented itself throughout Jan. and Feb. has been transcribed from real-life to the album that West produced, through both the lyrics as well as the instrumentals. In many ways, this album is the love child of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “Yeezus,” combining ambitious beauty with braggadocios experimentalism.
“The Life of Pablo” can be both stunningly beautiful and utterly messy and pointless, and here’s where the problems begin. The album is more incoherent than it is beautiful. The first track on the album, “Ultralight Beam,” is absolutely beautiful. A dreamy synth, straightforward instrumental and a stunning gospel choir lead this track in the magnificent direction it takes off in. Add, on top of that, decent singing by West, awe-inspiring vocals from Kelly Price and a stellar verse from Chance The Rapper, and it’s a recipe for greatness. After listening to this opening track, a ray of light seems to shimmer down, telling the listener that maybe “The Life of Pablo” is truly the gospel masterpiece West had been promoting.
There are many high moments on this album. Tracks such as “Famous” and “Feedback” portray a loud and confident Yeezy, one who understands himself and, despite the songs’ flaws, don’t go overboard to the point of utter obnoxiousness. The cockiness in them is, instead, humorous and entertaining. “No More Parties in L.A.” depicts a self-aware West, struggling to manage fame and his personal life, discussing his “writer’s block” and how “some fans thought [he] wouldn’t rap like this again.” The track also features a verse from none other than the genius Kendrick Lamar.
“I Love Kanye” is upbeat and clever. Kanye references how his fans often talk about how they miss the “old Kanye” and how the “new Kanye” is so arrogant, and he turns these critics flat on their faces. “Real Friends” and “FML” deliver a dreamy vibe like “Ultralight Beam,” but it’s more hard-hitting in these songs. As a result, Kanye forces the listener to think rather than merely sit back and enjoy the beauty of these tracks.
Unfortunately, these few good tracks aren’t enough to redeem “The Life of Pablo” from the abundance of awful moments. “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” starts out on a good note, with a soothing sample from the Pastor T.L. Barrett’s “Father I Stretch My Hands,” and has a decent vocal delivery from Kid Cudi — much better than anything off of his most recent project “Speedin’ Bullet to Heaven.” Then, West delivers the verse. Some may find his lines to be funny, while others will think that they are utterly obnoxious. Either way, at this point, the album is delving into an uglier direction. Simply put, it is hard to take the buttocks of a model and Kanye’s t-shirt very seriously.
The cringeworthy lines continue on tracks such as “Wolves,” in which West talks about someone stealing a sandwich out of an open fridge and “what if Mary was in the club she met Joseph around hella thugs?” and “Highlights,” in which Kanye brings up the very pretty picture of his genitalia having GoPro like qualities.
In addition to questionable lyrics, the album also has pointless tracks which say very little and add almost nothing in terms of artistry or meaning, which really isn’t much of a surprise, considering West has said that this would be his first album that was just an album. Tracks like “Freestyle 4” and “Low Lights” are the kinds of tracks that push you to pull your phone out of your pocket and press the skip button.
“Waves” has some enjoyable moments on it but overall, West’s original decision to not release the track might have been the right decision. “30 Hours” is probably one of the saddest moments on “The Life of Pablo,” not because of the West’s description of his life in the past, but because of how the track was ruined with pointless banter in the later half. We have “Fade” which has a nice rhythmic beat to it, but Kanye almost appears to be out of the picture and not really heard. And, of course, we can’t forget “Facts” which depicts a very delusional Kanye with more corny lines and feels like more of an Adidas ad anything else.
This album seems to lack direction and, as a result, we have the mess that sits before us. The album has enjoyable moments, but isn’t an overall enjoyable album. What makes this even worse is the fact that “The Life of Pablo” should have been great. It had all the talent, artistic foundation and the ambition needed to succeed, but it just didn’t. Instead, the album feels rushed and flat out strange. It feels like Kanye didn’t give himself enough time to perfect the album.
If there hadn’t been so much hype surrounding the album, this extremely rough-around-the-edges aesthetic may have been acceptable. Unfortunately, when someone says they’re producing the greatest album of all time, you expect them to deliver. While there may be many strong and great moments on this record, their effects are unfortunately negated by the many weak moments on here as well.