After all this time So Help Me God has finally dropped, oh wait, SWISH has finally landed, no, wait, let’s try this again, Waves has finallly been released, damn, alright, one last time, The Life Of Pablo finally graces us with our presence, there we go! Whatever it’s called, the new Kanye West album has arrived in the most Kanye West fashion ever. Literally arriving in Kanye West fashion after being played at his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show/fever dream and then arriving in a modified, expanded version at midnight after his appearance on Saturday Night Live. Through all this hype and media the album should probably suck, but Kanye bucks all tradition and delivers a multi-layered project that is worthy of its delays and rife for picking apart.
Kanye lyrics aren’t very good, that isn’t any big secret, and especially aren’t inventive when he uses lame and simple metaphors to describe whatever sex thing he feels apt in describing. They’ve obviously never been his strong suit, hence why he’s rumoured to have writers contributing ideas for songs, or just full out having stuff written for him. Lyrical quality is something I’ve never cared about with Kanye, though, and why I can see so easily past it. I never expect Kanye to spit full verses about deep social and political issues like Kendrick Lamar, nor am I expecting technical prowess with word and rhyming schemes or anything of that nature. Kanye is supposed to be fun and dumb and silly and I think that’s where a lot of his charm comes from. That this dude thinks it’s funny or entertaining to rap about putting a GoPro on his nether regions or how unabashedly he calls out Taylor Swift and Ray J makes it all quintessential Kanye.
In this project especially it seems that the lyrics are less of a whole than the production and are often just a means and necessity at a bare minimum to serve the beats. Often times it feels like he barely spits a verse, and an abbreviated one at that, whereas the layers of the production, song and additional vocals often seem to supersede his lyrics. As much as Kanye writes lyrics to be remembered and says crazy, outlandish things to help cement this fact, they still pale in comparison to the sounds and overall production he and others layer into each song on the album. Many songs will feature one predominate beat or sound for the first 3/4 of the song, only to transcend into something similar, but just different enough in the last 1/4 to feel as sort of a connective tissue between songs and help the album feel like a flow of songs one into the other, as opposed to a start and stop nature where these songs seem just plugged in. I think the interludes of “Low Lights,” “I Love Kanye” and the “Silver Silver Intermission” are placed much the same and their placement between certain chunks of songs is no accident and seems to introduce a new act of the album, like Kanye had originally pieced together having the album separated into acts.
While lyrics are never really the focal point of Kanye projects (I mean, they probably are in his mind, but hardly in the consumer’s) when he does excel as a lyricist is when he’s writing about raw emotion and feelings he’s going through whether it be with his relationship with women, his family, being a father, how to deal with changing relationships or his general anxiety that comes with his celebrity. Notably “FML” and “Real Friends” deal with a lot of these themes and un-coincidentally are back-to-back in the tracklist. “FML” features Kanye rapping “You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than this nigga when he off his Lexapro,” and later detailing a manic episode he went through, documenting his struggle with his anxiety disorder. The rest of the song seemingly deals with him expressing his love and dedication to his wife, even while people around him (and the media) continue to speak against the idea of the pairing, “Don’t stop your loving, don’t stop for nothing, no, not for nothing, they don’t wanna see me love you, nah, don’t stop it, they always love it, they always wanna” he raps.
“Real Friends” which I contest already is one of the greatest songs Kanye has ever made sees him pondering about how messed up relationships are, how even the people you thought closest to you (ie, your family) could turn on you and how he finds it hard to judge what a true relationship is nowadays in his current life when people seemingly are always using relationships with him to get something out of him. I always find it kind of funny the more and more that I listen to Kanye the more and more I he says things that I can relate to so perfectly. I mean, sure I can’t relate to the having sex with super models and wearing expensive furs made out of mink type lines, but the types of lyrics where he gets into exploring how finicky relationships are and how his general anxiety keeps him from connecting to people, rich or poor he always has several strings that illustrate the truth no matter the background:
“Real friends, how many of us?
How many of us, how many jealous?
Real friends It’s not many of us, we smile at each other
But how many honest? Trust issues”
Coming in to the project it felt like the album was going to be a mishmash and amalgamation of sounds and something that maybe wouldn’t feel like a cohesive album or sound, but more of just a collection of songs. After listening to the album countless times, I really don’t think that’s the case at all. Even knowing that this album wasn’t scripted like this from the beginning, with us all being aware of the changing of the tracklist and mixing up of the ordering, it works a lot like this was meant to be. “Ultralight Beam” kicks the album off into this gospel stratosphere reaching at this large orchestral sound, moving into both parts of “Father Stretch My Hands” maintaining an underpinning of this gospel-y sounds with some more upbeat modern trap sounds. With the exceptions of “Feedback” and “Freestyle 4” which maintain that Yeezus sound of dark, staticky production with boisterous raps the songs up to “I Love Kanye” retain that soulful, airy quality that meshes hip-hop, pop and soul that seems reminiscent in some parts to ‘The College Dropout.’ The four song stretch (which I think is the best on the album) from “Waves” to “Wolves” seems like a descent into introspection, examining his self and his worth and relationship to others. The sounds transgress into a darker more moody atmosphere apt for contemplation and highlighting the feelings he’s expressing.
In the original tracklists that Kanye workshopped on his Twitter they were only about 11 or so songs, with many seemingly making the cut only to be swapped out later, and him eventually throwing all the songs on here to make eighteen tracks (minus the interludes) is a misstep as the album seems very tight and formed ending around “Wolves” in length, where the addition of the last three songs of “No More Parties In LA,” “Facts” and “Fade” just seem to unnecessarily extend the album and bring it out of a conclusion that the album had already sought. I don’t think those tracks are necessarily bad per se (I mean, “Facts” was terrible, but the beat change he did at least makes it better here) it’s just that they prolong what didn’t need to be extended. 30 Hours as is on the album seems like the perfect ender, and Kanye even mentions it as much being an outro on the song itself, so in a way it feels like those last three songs are a kind of tacked on, unofficial bonus tracks, which is the best way to deal with it if Kanye absolutely wanted those songs on in this iteration of the album. In fact it almost seems like he was finished with the album and had those leftovers that didn’t make this cut for whatever reason and was just like, “ahhh, hell, just tack ‘em on the end!’
It’s funny hearing immediate reaction to this album, because it seems like people either love it or hate it, which makes sense because that’s pretty par for the course with everything concerning Kanye. You could put 100 people in a room and ask them to rank Kanye’s albums and you’d get 100 different answers. I think a lot of this stems from Kanye going all out with every song and every record and with each subsequent sound and that’s why you can easily love and hate a bunch of songs off the same Kanye album. Or that’s why people who love the auto-tuned Kanye going through a bunch of pain hold 808s & Heartbreak as one of the best Kanye albums while others rank it as one of their least favourites, or why some people love the brash, industrial sounds of Yeezus while others can’t stand it.
I think in the end The Life Of Pablo is at least more palatable to a general audience (and general audience of Kanye fans) as it has a multitude of different sounds and Kanye’s on it, feeding into that idea that it’s just a loose collection of songs, but still maintains several sound signifiers of hip-hop tinged with gospel, soul and later a dark bass that reflects the changing tone of the album. It’s still a prototypical Kanye album through and through, dense and focused production laid under the curated sounds Kanye melds together combined with his recipe of braggadocios and often comical lyrics. The Life Of Pablo ends as maybe one of the most interesting insights into the psyche of Kanye West, not only through the content of the album, but through the rollout on Twitter, the constant changes live changes to the album, to the fashion show that premiered a different album that would be “released” strictly on Tidal a few days later. This is all quintessential Kanye and for better or worse The Life Of Pablo is a living, breathing portrait of the man.
Favourite songs: “Ultralight Beam,” “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” “Feedback,” “Waves,” “FML,” “Real Friends,” “Wolves.”