Album Review: Kanye West—“The Life Of Pablo”

By Adam Piotrowicz

Let me just lay this down right now: I am reviewing a Kanye West album. But there are a lot of questions that come with reviewing a Kanye West album. Am I reviewing a Kanye West album or the full, unadulterated Kanye West experience? What is my personal agenda? Am I hating Kanye West with every ounce of my being; am I declaring him an idiot; do I see the Kardashian-West dynasty as the synthesis of social media and branding into an unstoppable cultural force, for better or for worse? Is he absolutely a genius? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? Keep scrolling through this article to find out more! #WAVES coming soon! jgkfiiiiiiye

Yeezy, Yeezy, Yeezy, Kanye, Kanye, Kanye – do you ever get tired of hearing his name? I mean seriously, dude is obsessed with himself and revels in the attention he receives from pretty much any and every media (and “media”) outlet operating in 2016. And as entertaining as Yeezy’s spotlight persona can be, it is a routine that can get tiresome pretty quickly (did you know Kanye West says unpleasant things to get people’s attention? Hey people, remember that time David Bowie sieg heiled in the seventies? Too soon?). At the risk of being labelled as “that guy,” many of the public antics are effectively crudebuteffective publicity stunts that have, so far, worked beautifully.

However, whether or not his public actions are self-aware is in many ways completely irrelevant. What matters is that he is getting the attention he needs to actually become the greatest living artist (if he has not claimed the position already). Behind all of the outlandish behavior, the relentless publicity-seeking, and the backstage meltdowns sits an uncompromisingly truthful and committed artist. So, in the spirit of not believing the hype and finding a way to address The Life of Pablo for what it is, I am going to try to sidestep the actual man (and the man-as-media-entity) as much as is humanly possible. Besides, I am almost certain everyone-and-my-grandmother has had enough of it already.

 

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Album Cover for The Life Of Pablo

The Life Of Pablo plays very much like the opening paragraph of this review: it is a confused, manic, broken, aggravating, but transcendentally emotive album – a genuine, albeit completely messy, stroke of genius [Editor’s Note: Adam, I laughed and felt much more positively about the world after reading that last sentence: thank you. It is a confused, manic, broken, aggravating, but transcendentally emotive opening paragraph]. It is in no way a perfect album, but it would not be too much of a stretch to say that it shows us most, if not all, of the different Kanyes we have seen through the years. It is, in other words, delivering a (more eclectic and impulsive) representation of one of the most exciting musicians in contemporary culture. I loved Yeezus, particularly because of its careful, compact organization into several well-rounded tracks, but what intrigues me about Pablo is the fact that it is structured so bizarrely. Pablo’s seemingly-careless organization as an album is refreshing in the same way Yeezus’ focused Primalism grabbed you by your “pink-ass polo” and gave you an unexpected thrashing.

Themes on the album range from the gutters to groves and back – sticking mostly to the gutters – as is the case with pretty much everything Kanye does (‘Ye would not be ‘Ye without the signature “Kanye-cringe” that regularly adorns his aesthetic). “Ultralight Beam” – a maximalist (but also somehow minimalist) gospel track dominated by a tender solo spot by Chance the Rapper, but nonetheless showcasing the more familiar, classic side of Kanye West – will hook longtime ‘Ye apostles. “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” is West speaking on his relationship with his father; an unexpected moment of self-reflection in a sea of self-indulgence. Things then briefly segue into the ATL trap via “Feedback,” an insert by powerhouse producer Metro Boomin’ that is, no doubt, a breath of Yeezus – vulgar lyrical simplicity over a simple yet bizarre backing track, complete with a track interruption for a ‘Ye rant (“YOU GET A FUR, YOU GET A JET…”).

There is also stuff for those who fear an entire album of pseudo-avant-experiments that stray away from “real rap” and “lyrical meaning.” Single “No More Parties In LA,” which features an appearance from the golden boy of contemporary lyrical rap music, Kendrick Lamar, is one example. Similarly, “Real Friends” can be considered a “classic” Kanye banger, bringing together some introspection around the familiar modern woe, texting frustration, with equally chilly and sad production.

A lot of the album is not, however, classic Kanye. “FML” is one of the stranger numbers, beginning with a vocal duet by Kanye and Toronto’s The Weeknd before transforming into a track by The Residents, complete with creepy helium-vocalizations and a murky melodic phrase (courtesy of a warped sample from Factory Records’ group Section 25). “30 Hours” sees ‘Ye channeling his inner BasedGod – replete with shout-out tangents and mumbled rants – over top of a mysterious Arthur Brown-sampling backing track, a reminder that the true essence of hip-hop lies in its unfiltered expression. The Charlie Heat remix of “Facts” is a flamboyant conclusion to the album; the blaring soundtrack to King Kanye striding through the fray to reassume his righteous place on the hip-hop throne, his honest-to-life insanity supported by cannons of proportionately godlike, narcissistic bombast. Coda “Fade” finishes off the cataclysm with a trip into house music, a mesmerizing departure from the rest of the album that, well, leaves you breathless.

The Life Of Pablo is a truly acid-damaged portrait of Kanye West, a fragmented collage of an instantly-recognizable celebrity/genius that does not limit itself to a single theme or form. Here, Kanye is perhaps more akin to Alejandro Jodorowsky than Stanley Kubrick, to counter his own words of grandeur: some ideas and motifs are embellished and returned to while others are interrupted before they can fully unwind. Pablo is a weird, discordant trip into the mind of one of the most celebrated and hated contemporary pop culture icons, and must be experienced to be fully understood. Even then, you will waste a lot of time trying to make sense of it: the writing may be on the wall, but so is the rest of mind. That, however, is the beauty of it, no?

 

Cover Photo via Heavy (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty)

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