These days it is not easy being a Kanye fan (especially when you love TayTay Swift as well!). On this year’s Valentine’s Day after 3 years of anticipated waiting, Kanye West’s seventh studio album The Life of Pablo was finally released. If you want to listen to it you need to subscribe to Tidal, but never mind Kanye, I was actually so relieved about the release that it didn’t really matter to me because I had already lost my belief that the album would actually ever be finished. Originally titled So Help Me God and planned for a 2014 release, only odd tracks, like ‘FourFiveSeconds’ were released rather than an album. Then it was called SWISH, than Waves which lead to the iconic Twitter feud between Kanye and Wiz Khalifa, who accused him of stealing the term ‘wavy’ from rapper Max B, who introduced it to slang vocabulary. Then finally the name was revealed and he unveiled the album cover on Twitter on 11th of February.
So far, so Kanye, but that’s not the ending of The Life of Pablo, because Kanye wouldn’t be Kanye if he wouldn’t stir more confusion and controversy. After its release, he seems still not completely pleased with the outcome, as he announced, he would readjust different tracks, for example “Wolves” which features Frank Ocean and Caroline Shaw after the original guest vocals by Vic Mensa and Sia were removed. The album consist 80% of collaborations with guest vocals by Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, The Weeknd, Chris Brown and more. Describing his album as a fusion of hip hop and gospel, the sound is definitely different from Kanye’s previous albums, making that clear right with the very first song “Ultralight Beam” which features a church choir and a child preaching, supported by Chance The Rapper’s soul voice. “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1 ” will sound more familiar to Kanye fans; the second part in recognizable auto-tune voice includes personal reflection on his life including her mother’s death. The title “Famous” has already circulated widely in the media, featuring the controversial line referring to the incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, when Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. I think it was the most unnecessary line on the album and I wished he would have changed it because other than that, “Famous” is one of the best tracks on The Life of Pablo, featuring Rihanna’s powerful voice in the chorus and an epic background beat, reminding me of his brilliance. “Feedback” is exactly what I expected from the album: strong powerful rap lyrics with an electronic beat that is going to stick in your head for the next two days. If you are not the most spiritual person like me, then just skip “Low Lights” because sadly no beat drops during the 2 minutes of gospel prayer.
“Highlights” starts off with a promising beat and a catchy hook, but in between it gets a bit too chaotic, with approximately 4 different auto-tune voices mixed together and after two minutes turning into a complete different song. “Freestyle 4” feels similar, as I wonder if the track is build out of several sounds and beats that Kanye didn’t use so far and just turned on his microphone while having one of his famous rants. Next we come to “I Love Kanye” which was already featured in an SNL sketch last week. Even though I totally dig the idea of it and love the self- awareness (‘What if Kanye made a song about Kanye’) and humour (‘I love you like Kanye loves Kanye’) in it (supposedly Kanye can actually laugh) I feel like the song would have actually deserved a background track. Having the a cappella track right in the middle of the album takes so much tempo out of it, which is why I think the song like it is now should have been rather placed as an intro or outro, which would have put the album in a complete different light. Continuing with “Waves”, the song reminds me again of Graduation with its pop sound, accompanied by a melancholic but also dreamy beat, a theme that continues itself in a different beat in “FML”, which stands out with its honest sounding lyrics that put me right in a thoughtful and weepy mood for the next song. Amazing. “Real Friends” is probably one of the best songs on the album; I immediately loved the song because of its lyrics in which Kanye thoughtfully reflects on himself being a good friend (shame on his cousin who stole his laptop by the way). In these moments of total honesty, his music turns himself into a human being, the bigger than life media personality seems not visible.
But this short moment disappears right away with “Wolves”, in which Kanye compares himself and his wife Kim Kardashian to Mary and Joseph, brilliantly ridiculous and a truly iconic Kanye moment. The beat is ingeniously minimalistic and dull, mixed into melancholic and rhythmic howling. “Silver Surfer Intermission” is not a song but a phone conversation between Kanye and Max B harking back to his feud with Wiz Khalifa. Max gives Kanye his blessing to be wavy, and therefore lets Khalifa look like a total fool. The music continues with “30 Hours”, which is one of the most consistent tracks on the album because of its repetitive beat and his continues rap, but at the same time it got me quite bored. He only intercuts the continuity of the song by the end when allegedly his phone rings and he answers it. “No More Parties In LA” sounds like a proper 90s hip hop track and features Kendrick Lamar, who’s in no way inferior to Kanye (that incident with his cousin and the laptop must have been a real issue if Kanye mentions it twice). Both of their rap styles are distinctive and different but at the same time complement each other brilliantly, creating a flowing track that won’t be forget soon. Again I feel improvements could have been made to the lyrics on “Fact” as the actual song is extremely powerful with its gritty beats and Kanye’s excessive voice. The Life of Pablo concludes with “Fade”, featuring a dark disco beat and again auto-tune voice. Even though you can hear that the song has been put together by many different elements, it works marvellously in combination, rounding up the album in a meaningful, creative mess.
All in all, I have to admit that this album caused me headaches; it is not an album you can easily listen to on a daily basis. It took me a while until I actually had built an opinion because it constantly balanced between mess and masterpiece. The Life of Pablo varies from highly experimental tracks to truthfully composed songs and powerful lyrics and is as far away from the consistent and constructed Yeezus as you could imagine. Kanye West already built up a legacy and this album and its surrounding controversy will definitely increase his status as one of the most influential musicians of our time. I’m sure that in 40 years, Kanye will reveal his Twitter rants as purely artistic and meaningful, who knows. I would give the album 25 out of 10 because as Einstein said, “organisation is the last refuge of a tired mind”.
Review by Carolin Wolfsdorf