BY ERIC HILDESTAD | The Statesman After a media storm that only Kanye West could manufacture, the artist’s seventh studio album, “The Life of Pablo” (TLoP) was released on tidal.com and the artist’s website following his performance on Saturday Night Live.
It took several title changes before “TLoP” was released as a metanarrative focusing on Kanye’s life. Full of contrasts, West categorized his latest work as a “gospel album” and included an aux cord aided fashion reveal party at Madison Square Garden—not bad.
“The Life of Pablo” begins strong with a harmonious track titled “Ultralight Beam.” The song is beautiful and Kanye invokes the sense that his album truly is gospel. A choir delivers slashes at Kanye while fellow Chicago-based artist Chance the Rapper lends his smoky-smooth vocals to this track that ends up sounding more like a sermon than a song.
As “Famous” begins Rihanna’s vocals are uplifting and a needed change of pace. Her voice is another example of a female presence keeping Kanye in a creative Zen. The song then begins a sample bonanza with no one off limits. “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy, in particular, filtrates seamlessly into this track leaving all other artists wondering why it hadn’t been done before.
The next song begins with icy, robotic riffs that appear to be straight out of the movie “The Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The lyrics continue to be centered on Kanye’s internal and external self, mostly pumping up his ego. He even refers to himself as the “Ghetto Oprah.” “Feedback” is a typical ego trip that Kanye often sprinkles into his albums.
The next two songs are polar opposites.
“Low Lights” is entirely performed by a female vocalist (Kelly Price, I believe) who pleads for salvation. “Highlights,” however, is a stark contrast and contains no natural instrumentation. The vocals are auto-tune manipulated and instead of discussing the struggle, the track talks about the lavish lifestyle West has accrued.
The contrast of two songs is really the core theme behind “The Life of Pablo.” One moment Kanye can be beating his chest like the King Kong of hip-hop and the following verse he can be confessing his darkest secrets. His vulnerability has never been more apparent while at the same time more convoluted than on “TLoP.”
A minute interlude occurs with Kanye performing a critique of his critics. “What if Kanye made a song about Kanye/Called ‘I miss the old Kanye?’/Man that’d be so Kanye,” he humorously jabs at his critics and gives them a wink with this intermission.
“Waves” is the following song that, in my opinion, was near perfection from a production standpoint. The drumline is simple and catchy and the verses with Kanye are powerful, poignant, and in Ye’ fashion, insightful. Chris Brown’s voice unfortunately seems too loud and boisterous for the soft tone that West utilizes. A good song, preferably less Breezy.
“FML” is the next song that engages in contrasting the previous songs on the record. The song includes lyrics about Kanye giving up the bachelor life to settle down and become a family man. Kanye sounds contrite and The Weeknd’s haunting feature on the track is what makes it one of the best on the album.
“Real Friends” is up next and arguably the best track since “Ultralight Beam,” with its piano centered harmony playing over Kanye questioning his relationships. “Lookin’ for all my real friends/ How many of us? How many of us are real friends/ To real friends, to the real end.” “Real Friends” is a beautiful example of West reflecting on his inner demons.
“Wolves” is the most emotionally chilling track on “TLoP.”
“If your Mama knew how/ You turned out, you too wild/You too wild, you too wild/ You too wild, and I need you now.” This song juggles so many different emotions including depression, addiction, hope and love in a throwback to “My Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
The album continues with a previously released single, “No More Parties in LA.” This track is another example of the vulnerable Kanye trading lyrics with the egotistical Ye’. Kendrick lends his distinctive voice to this track as an ode to his Los Angeles roots, completing the all-star features that only Mr. West could assemble.
“The Life of Pablo” is a great album full of contradictions and metanarratives that give the listener insight into the entertaining life of Kanye West.
Kanye rarely disappoints in either the creative or controversy departments and “TLoP” is absolutely no different. Kanye’s willingness to blend classic instrumentals with his ever-evolving riffs and synths, while recruiting the biggest names in the music industry, is why he can be brash in his personal life and still produce music like no one’s business.