Album Review: The Life Of Pablo - Kanye West
By Benjamin Irons
Nowadays, contemporary rap’s spotlight shines the brightest on the materialistic qualities of life – and the fuck-you’s to ex lovers and haters respectively. Kanye however prides himself on being the tiniest needle in a haystack of mainstream popularity, but the boldest nonetheless. His notoriety in this sense is testimony to his devil-may-care attitude on the everyday politics of his fragile relationship with paparazzi and the unforgiving twitter-sphere, which all contribute to his departure from popular culture. And with this, his seventh studio album, Kanye lays bare the Highlights and Lowlights of being music’s most bravely controversial artist of the modern day rap game.
“Ultralight Beam” is the soulful introductory number that headlines Kanye’s faith in God, financed by an impassioned gospel effort from Kirk Franklin and Kelly Price, with Chance The Rapper and The-Dream also lending their vocals. Daring to fluctuate the dynamics on trap-infused pairing “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2”, Kanye ready’s listeners for the contentious lead single “Famous”, with the 38 year old making a rather treacherous bid for flak as he calls out “that bitch” Taylor Swift, taking credit for her rise to fame – “I made that bitch famous”.
Kanye’s ear for an enticing sample is made evident on the noisy “Feedback”, which makes a conclusive confession to the unjust treatment of black men and women in America – “Hands up we just doing what the cops told us; Hands up, hands up then the cops shot us” - while “Lowlights” takes a dissimilarly peaceful approach with a biblical vocal sample from Kings Of Tomorrow’s “So Alive”, owning each and every second. But the pace is once again chopped and changed on the nightmare-ish “Freestyle 4”, as Kanye is given the experimental reigns to combine eerie violin and whooping synth to open up about an indulgent sexual “freak dream”, which, when coupled, makes for one of the most intimidating hooks on the album.
As a self-obsessed “God”, Kanye couldn’t help but dedicate a poem to the person he holds closer to his heart than his dearest Kim – himself. “I Love Kanye” is a 45-second acapella interlude about his fans’ bitterness toward the shift from the pink-polo, shutter-shade, Graduation Day Kanye to the unapologetic Yeezus of today. But Kanye does what Kanye wants, irrespective of what anybody else tells him, and that’s the method to his madness.
“Real Friends”, the eagerly awaited collaboration between Kanye and Kendrick Lamar, is a confession song about the struggles faced in maintaining friendships, presumably, at the hands of Ye trading his once party lifestyle for a commitment to fatherhood and marriage; the subject matter for “No More Parties In LA”– “The problem is I be textin'; My psychiatrist got kids that I inspired; First song they played for me was 'bout their friend that just died; Textin' and drivin' down Mulholland Drive; That's why I'd rather take the 405; I be worried 'bout my daughter, I be worried 'bout Kim”.
If anything, both of the aforementioned tracks are evidence that in amongst a decade of ugliness and madness surrounding Ye’s ever-changing sense of direction, he is able to stay grounded and finally find himself at his most comfortably raw, honest and unapologetic self, with The Life Of Pablo being the catalyst to channel this transformation into. But whether it’s a nod to Picasso’s status in art or Escobar’s commercial virtuoso, there’s no disputing that Kanye’s own ability to funnel his planetary mental measure of thoughts and influences into a coherent musical script is beyond comparison.