The mainstream attitude approaching the release of Kanye West’s seventh studio album will almost certainly be perplexing in years to come and the question of whether or not this attitude is natural or in some way shaped by West himself is sure to join a catalogue of unanswered questions regarding the most discussed, most hated and most enamoured artist of the 21st Century. Looking solely at music it would be impossible to understand how public perception following album’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus and more recently tracks like Only One, FourFiveSeconds and All Day could be anything but wholly positive with almost all music released by West in this time being hugely critically acclaimed and commercially successful. To look only at the music surrounding this release however is almost as naïve as not looking at the music at all. The culture surrounding The Life Of Pablo and its many aliases is fraught with controversy, some the product of ever excreting new media sensationalism and others the product of downright stupidity by West and his team. In the months which veered into over a year of waiting for this album things like album name changes, West’s insistence on his main focus being the fashion world, weekly private listening sessions with various famous faces, the release of Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece To Pimp A Butterfly all led many to believe that West had been usurped with the troubled release leading to a collective expectation that West would drop his first substandard album.
With The Life Of Pablo now more widely available on Spotify and available for purchase on his website it can now be seen that the album (in a way mirroring its troubled release) does not conform to what might have been expected of it. It is by no means some horrible, unforgivably bad album and it also by no means a troubled brilliant opus (as some West fans optimistically dreamed of) instead contenting itself with being yet another excellent Kanye West album that has some of the best sampling, the worst lyrics and perhaps the most interesting discussion of his career.
Ultralight Beam with its strong gospel elements harkens back to The College Dropout and in it West respectively takes a back seat to allow Chance the Rapper to continue his exceptional rise with one of the best verses on the entire album showing in just a few verses an incisive catchy edge than in many ways West is missing throughout this record
Parts 1 and 2 of Father, Stretch My Hands show a return to the jagged, eclectic brilliance of Yeezus, especially the Caroline Shaw bridge which closes this record. This element settles the range of complexities regarding religion and his parenthood in a way which allows the listener to contemplate fully the various traumas he reflects on throughout these two tracks. The Desiigner sample however was a poor choice, is the worst on the record and with the quality of sampling being so high throughout I would expect something more interesting from West.
There can be a real argument that Famous is the most frustrating and most typical “Kanye” song of his entire career. If it was lyrically superior there would be far less reason to feel the need to asterisk the song’s brilliance with buts and compromises. The Swift referencing line despite the controversy over the line’s permission or significance is all in all just not very good. If it were worded with more intelligence there could be more cause to feel the need to defend West from the obvious criticism which would come with writing such charged lyrics but they simply comes off as brutish and lacking the self-awareness that is expected of West at this point in his career. This leads to frustration in truly complimenting the absolute delight that is the music and sampling present here. In particular the sample of Sister Nancy which glides into the song and is an instant burst of utter bliss that is a testament to sampling as an art form and is my clear highlight of the entire album.
The next few songs on this album are one of the major reasons the album does feel bloated. It seems extremely surprising that The Life Of Pablo actually clocks in at over ten minutes shorter than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with tracks like Lowlights, Highlights, Freestyle 4 and Facts not impressing greatly. A shorter more direct approach would have complimented the sound of the album to a greater extent and left the project feeling far more cohesive.
I Love Kanye does deserve a mention with its inclusion being an interesting pastiche of self-reference that we have yet to see explored by Kanye West and although being no more than what is basically a skit would be interesting to see in a fully-fledged song.
The four songs following on from this all share a minimalist feel and feature some of the best features and rapping from West himself in the entire album. West’s second verse on Waves is excellent and Chris Brown sounds as good as he has since his early, Jackson-esque roots. On FML The Weeknd sounds almost unrecognisable to the sound which has deservedly seen him rise to fame and West’s verses rise in pace, in anger and in merit. On Real Friends and Wolves West reflects on his struggles in hopelessness and his relationship with his family and friends. Its openness is not unusual for West and on Wolves the Vic Mensa, Sia and Frank Ocean features are all among the best on the album.
The final few tracks on the album impress in various ways, 30 hours sampling and the story associated with the song are truly captivating , with Wests most competitive lyrics coming in No More Parties in LA facing the almost undisputed best current rapper Kendrick Lamar. He certainly does not trounce Lamar as some may have suggested but he does firmly hold his own and rather than focus on competing it is a better idea to sit back and enjoy two of the greatest creators of our generation at the top of their games.
West concludes the album with a masterclass in sampling, Fade sonically sounds excellent however the lyrics all around from Ty Dolla $ign, Post Malone and West himself don’t hold up in comparison to the sampling something which is unfortunately is a theme throughout this album.
This album will likely grow on many as it finally enters the public eye in a bigger way. Once given enough opportunity the genius which is present all over this album will rise to notoriety. Unfortunately the genius on this record is not ever present. There is a fair few times where we can see West at his absolute weakest with chunks of the album feeling tacked on and many of the lyrics not keeping up with the standards expected of the best in modern hip-hop. This album leaves West at an interesting crossroads with West at the most efficient we have seen him in many years yet also public expectation of his work could be seen to be at its lowest.
Throughout this album there is enough material to fit two sides of vinyl that would be easily amongst the best of his career, however I can only recommend you get a hard copy of this in its current state (If one is ever released.)