If this is the final version of the cover art, I don't even want to see the sketches.
Kanye West. What can you say about this man?
He’s been a prolific musician and celebrity for years now, so much that his actions have almost overshadowed his music. He’s crashed awards ceremonies, made insulting tweets and comments to other celebrities in the business, made hour-long rants in his concerts, and he has shown time and time again that he has a very explosive personality. It’s like every time we forget about him, he does something ridiculous again. And it’s been harder to decipher whether or not he is a genius or a complete moron. While his ideology outside of the business has often been criticized for being too cruel, his previous albums have received critical acclaim. People often don’t give Kanye credit for basically revolutionizing hip hop music with his fantastic debut “The College Dropout”, where Kanye was one of the first ones to rap about stuff other than the fame, the drugs and the women. In this album he raps about religion, family and most of his journey from unknown producer to acclaimed artist. And his follow-up album Late Registration was even better, with him expanding the themes from his debut record, since in 2005 he already had a few more years of experience under his belt. Then he followed with Graduation and 808’s & Heartbreak, the former being a really feel/good album with some of Kanye’s more poppier rap songs, like “Stronger” with Daft Punk or “Homecoming” with Chris Martin from Coldplay; and the latter being a really unique and drastic change of pace for the man, where instead of being straight hip hop, he now experimented with a more gloomy synthpop/R&B sound that worked marvelously, even if it’s still one of the more polarizing records in his discography.
Then, after an infamous blowout with Taylor Swift, that you guys should probably know about already, he took a break to work on his next album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He was very secretive about it: recording it in hotel rooms and not letting any of his featured artists take any pictures or post any tweets while on studio. But all of this paid off because that album is easily his best album he’s ever made and one of my favorites of all time. It was powerful, thought-provoking and had some of the best production I have ever heard, before or since. Every single track is memorable and amazing so no wonder people still regard it as one of the best hip hop albums ever made. Not even a year later, he followed this with Watch the Throne, his collaborative album with rapper and friend Jay Z. This album was hit-or-miss looking back at it. While it has some of the best songs both rappers have ever done (“No Church in the Wild” is probably my favorite song in their entire discography) it also had some lame verses and wonky delivery, mostly coming from Jay Z more than Kanye, although the latter wasn’t free of any faults, seeing how he produced most of these mediocre track. Even then, I was pretty interested to see where he would take this. Then Yeezus happened. Look guys, I know a lot of you will disagree but this is not a very good album and is my least favorite of his discography. Besides Black Skinhead and Blood on the Leaves, none of the songs stand out and some of them feel a bit too overly produced with disturbing synths and unpleasant sounds. And when you try to ignore the mostly asinine production, you’re left with some of the worst lyrics Kanye has ever written.
However, there came back some of the hype when Kanye revealed that a new album was coming out around 2015 titled “So Help Me God,” which later changed to “SWISH” and then changed to “Waves.” Yet as the album was further modified and delayed, Kanye gained even more controversy for interrupting Beck at the 2015 Grammies, throwing a microphone at a concert, creating an awful clothing line, demanding a disabled person to stand up from his wheelchair, making tons of offensive tweets, and announcing his Presidential Candidate Run for 2020 (and considering that Donald Duck just got elected to be the President of the United States, this is somehow a step up). Finally, in February of this year, Kanye’s seventh studio album was released out of nowhere, which was now titled “The Life of Pablo,” which apparently can refer to either famous painter Pablo Picasso, notorious drug dealer Pablo Escobar or biblical figure Saint Paul. Did he make the huge comeback everyone was hoping for or did he disappoint fans while alienating people who don’t enjoy his music? I’m inclined to believe that this outing comes in a middle ground. It has some of his most interesting material but it also contains many inconsistencies and confusing choices. And it's surprising to see that Kanye West failed at making this album hold any sort of cohesive nature whatsoever, especially when you see how his previous records were acclaimed for their cohesion.
Kanye raises his arms higher than he raises the bar with this album
The album starts with “Ultralight Beam”, an ominous, massive-sounding track and a great way to introduce the album, with its captivating choir and slow instrumental, accompanied by the sample of a child joyfully praising God and shouting Hallelujah and a verse by Chance the Rapper, one of my favorite newcomer hip-hop artists of the 2010’s. This song delivers perfectly a message of faith and hope and this is easily the best song from the album.
Following goes the two parts of “Father Stretch My Hands”, and while the first one is slow, calm, subdued and overall a decent track with not a whole wrong with it besides some questionable lyrics (“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”), the second part of the song is…”Panda”. Yeah, I don’t know how many of you follow the mainstream pop charts but there’s this new rapper called Desiigner who landed a #1 hit called Panda last summer and its one of the biggest hits of this year. Kanye saw this and decided “Hey, I can sample that song in my new album” and by sampling, he basically rapped over the original track and it comes off as awkward, especially when you analyze it lyrically. Let me put it this way: Kanye raps about his struggles, including how he relates to his father to the point of even mentioning his 2002 car crash, and then that’s followed by Desiigner talking about how he has “broads in Atlanta” and how he really likes his car. It doesn’t flow really well, doesn’t it? I don’t even get the point of separating it in two parts. Both are really short and come right next to each other so why not put them as a single song?
Then comes the prolific and controversial “Famous”, which became notorious for the line where he says that Kanye made “that bitch” (referring to Taylor Swift, who has a very interesting history with the rapper) famous and that there’s still a chance where both might still have sex. But that’s nothing compared to the controversy generated by the extremely NSFW music video which depicts various celebrities sleeping naked (suggesting they participated in sexual intercourse prior) including West, Swift, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna (who actually has a guest verse in the song), Ray J, Caitlyn Jenner, Donald Trump, George W. Bush and Bill Cosby, just to name a few. They are obviously mannequins or wax figures but that still doesn’t excuse how sleazy and uncomfortable this video is. The message of fame in this video is really obvious, depicting a bunch of controversial celebrities sleeping together. However, did we really needed to see that for 9 MINUTES??? Ignoring that, "Famous" is still one of the best in the album, mainly because of Rihanna and Swizz Beatz’s contributions, the “Bam Bam” sample near the end and the admittedly catchy production.
Tasteful as always, Kanye
“Feedback” has mostly tolerable and OK-ish lyrics (excluding the outro where Kanye pretends he is a “ghetto Oprah”) but falls apart thanks to the boring production, which includes what sounds like a broken recorder and irritating synths that make the song even duller and agonizing than some of the intentionally slow ballads in the album.
“Highlights” is ironically one of the more forgettable songs in The Life of Pablo. Kanye doesn’t really sound like himself, the production is very generic and the lyrics are average at best, only standing out a couple of lines where he disses Ray J, and yet another horrible line mentioning his privates (“Sometimes I'm wishin' that my dick had GoPro. So I could play that sh*t back in slow-mo.”). How tasteful.
One of the most “joyful” tracks in the record is followed by “Freestyle 4”, probably the darkest sounding of the whole album, with a production that might as well fit in a Dracula movie, an intro where Kanye pretends he is a tiger for a minute or something, a guest verse by the aforementioned Desiigner, and an outro that almost sounds like your speakers stopped working right. And overall, this song doesn’t work at all. It’s slow, disgusting and it doesn’t even sound the least bit appealing. This is terrible and easily the worst track out of the entire album.
“Waves” is easily one of the best songs featuring Chris Brown of all time, which isn’t saying much honestly considering that it’s Chris Brown we're talking about. It has a very simplistic and repetitive, yet joyful production and Brown has probably his best performance ever with a beautiful hook. It’s one of the more upbeat songs in The Life of Pablo and a welcome addition to Kanye’s discography.
And again, this is followed by another extremely somber song with “FML”, which is an acronym usually used for “F*ck My Life” although it’s not used in the exact context here. While he uses the acronym in the correct sense, Kanye’s definition in this song is “For My Lady”, which is a clever way to put it. This song features The Weeknd, who I once described as “Chris Brown if he was singing Marilyn Manson songs”. You know, The Weeknd has grown on me a lot this year. On one hand he is extremely talented and I can’t deny that some of his songs are fantastic ("Can’t Feel My Face", "Tell Your Friends", "In The Night" and most recently "Starboy"); on the other hand he is not very interesting and his voice can be grating sometimes. Sadly this is the case in FML. Even though Kanye is overall good in this song, “FML” is just a lesser version of “Wolves” (another track in this album) and I’m not a huge fan of it.
“Real Friends” is another somber song but instead of addressing family issues like the previous track, this one, as the title suggests, is about the value of friendship and not once does it come out as corny. With the help of Ty Dolla Sign, Kanye talks about how many people can claim to be friends with you only to take advantage of you. Lyrically, it’s one of the best in the album.
“Wolves” is such a weird song but I can’t deny that it grew on me big time. I used to think that it was way too dark and slow for it to get its point across, but now I adore it. I’ve never seen a love ballad this unique, weird and deep. Kanye compares himself with Joseph and his wife Kim Kardashian with Mary (as in the catholic figures) and he condemns her for being “too wild” throughout the entire song. Sia and Vic Mensa are featured in this song and they couldn’t have been more fitting; their performances are fantastic. The atmosphere is amazing; the autotuned wolf howling mixed with the drums and guitars make this incredible production. This would be the best song on the album if the last third verse with Kanye was written better, since he basically repeats a couple of awkward lines and spouts other idiotic lyrics along the lines of “Let’s have a baby without having sex” or “You opened a fridge, someone took your sandwich”. This could’ve been a stronger song as well if they included a rejected Frank Ocean verse, which is ironically in this album as “Frank’s Track” anyways, so I don’t know why they didn’t bother including it on “Wolves.”
Kanye's reaction when he reads this review.
“30 Hours” is another forgettable song, but also one of the longest in the record too (and no, it’s not 30 hours long if you’re wondering, that would be ridiculous). Half of the song is Kanye talking about a relationship he had way back in 2004, which makes it no longer relevant to make a song about. And the second half is an overly long outro featuring André 3000, of all people, doing nothing but repeating “30 hours” over and over. As someone who really likes Outkast, this is very disappointing. I just don’t really get the point of this song, you might as well skip it.
And then we go to another one of my favorites, “No More Parties in LA”, which is so good that it might be the only time we’ll witness Kanye West outclassing Kendrick Lamar, and that’s no insult to Kendrick, who has a very fun and enjoyable guest verse; and considering that he currently has a Top 10 hit song with Maroon freaking 5, those are somewhat rare from him. But Kanye just blows him out of the water. For a song that is basically about first world problems and such, this one is incredible. The lyrics are very complex and the production is so old school, it might as well be from Late Registration. If you check out only one song from The Life of Pablo, this is the one you should get to first.
“Facts (Charlie Heat Version)” is arguably not a very good song but wow, does it leave a huge impression. It blatantly rips off the structure of “Jumpman”, a crossover hit by Drake and Future, samples sound effects from the video game Street Fighter 2 and talks about Kanye’s loyalty to Adidas. And it’s stupid, it’s very very stupid. Yet it’s a fun, kind of stupid, I guess. It has a decent production, Kanye is over-the-top enough to be funny but not too over-the-top to be annoying, and some of the lyrics are actually very creative. I’ll let this slide for now, until it inevitably wears off someday.
“Fade”, originally being the closing track, was a very weird way to end the album. Not that it’s a bad song, on the contrary; it is a very impressive dance jam with an infectious beat and some over-the-top vocals courtesy of Post Malone. But at the same time, do I really want to see Kanye making basic club background music? Isn’t he much much better than this? Overall, this is enjoyable but if you’re looking for an intelligent, emotional track, this is definitely not the one.
A woman dancing around in a room? Wow, that is actually a normal concept for a video. I'm surprised Kanye didn't include some weird-
Of course, now the role of the album closer belongs to “Saint Pablo”, an extra track that came out after the album’s original release date and it is a much better way to close the record. Ignoring a very annoying whistle sound that loops over and over, this song is very interesting. It talks about Kanye’s many insecurities and struggles, it features Sampha, who has a very captivating voice and it’s a great way to give some closure.
I guess I have to mention the few intermissions like “Low Lights”, an interlude to “Highlights” which samples a speech by Sandy Rivera, “I Love Kanye” an acapella verse where Kanye parodies in a really funny manner the impression he has on other people that he is a huge narcissist that loves himself more than anyone else; and “Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission”, a recorded phone call between Max B and French Montana that does nothing but wastes a couple of minutes from the album. The phone call depicts Max B, who is currently serving 20 years in jail, giving Kanye permission to call the latter’s album “Waves”, in honor of the former’s mixtapes. But I don’t get it: Kanye ended up changing the album’s name again so what’s the point of leaving this here?
Overall this is not a very cohesive album. There is not a certain thematic between each song, most of them being somber and dark but some of them being either ridiculous or extremely upbeat. The abundant amount of features and samples is overwhelming and some of them work but often overshadow Kanye himself, with many of the tracks not even including him at all. I know that he also produces or co-produces all of the tracks from the album, but he really needed to have more bars in this one.
Production-wise this album is lackluster. The instrumentation and beats of most of the tracks range from unmemorable to downright annoying. Lyrically, it’s not so fantastic either. In Pablo, Kanye talks about various important subjects, like fame, family and fortune, and while the way some of them are presented is very interesting and even new for Kanye, like in “No More Parties in LA” or “Real Friends”, others feel extremely repetitive and nothing out of the ordinary. Also, on a lyrical standpoint, this album is incredibly hit-or-miss. A lot of the lines, are very wince-worthy and ridiculous. I think there are more terrible lines in this album alone than all of his other previous albums combined and that’s saying something.
I’m probably being more forgiving than I should be because I’ve been a huge fan of him and I am convinced that he was saving some stronger material for his upcoming album “Turbographx 16” to be released somewhere soon in the future. While “The Life of Pablo” is overall an improvement over “Yeezus”, it’s most likely going to be nominated for many Grammies and the good songs mostly overshadow the bad songs, which are mostly only mediocre and forgettable at worst, Kanye West’s seventh album is mostly an intentional but inconsistent mess and it takes a lot of effort to get into it but if you can, good for you, because I’d recommend it, albeit mildly. But if you want a cohesive and mind-blowing album in the same fashion as "The College Dropout" or "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy", I’m sorry but you’ll have to seek out somewhere else. So, would I say that I do miss the old Kanye? Maybe...
Favorite songs: “Ultralight Beam” ft. Chance the Rapper and The-Dream, “Real Friends” ft. Ty Dolla Sign, "Wolves” ft. Vic Mensa and Sia, “No More Parties in LA” ft. Kendrick Lamar
Least favorite songs: “Feedback”, “Highlights” ft. Young Thug, “Freestyle 4” ft. Desiigner