Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
Review By: Thomas Cottingham
Track 1 – “Ultralight Beam”
Track 3 – “Pt. 2”
Track 12 – “Real Friends”
After three years of waiting, anticipating, and theorizing, Kanye West’s seventh solo album is finally here. “The Life of Pablo” is Kanye’s latest piece of work that is exclusively on the online streaming music service TIDAL for the time being. The album contains 18 songs total. There has been a timeline of events leading up to “Pablo,” including three name changes, multiple track reworks, album cover replacements, and delays after delays. Yeezy made sure to get the word out about his next project, and saying the project will be “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it.”
Just like every other new Kanye West project, you don’t know what to expect. Ye’s six other solo albums have one thing in common, and that is having a central core sound to all of them. The College Dropout is a soul sampling album with deep lyrics while 808s and Heartbreak is an auto-tune grandstand. “Pablo,” however, is not like most Kanye albums. This project seems to be all over the place and not coherent. And you know what? It’s still really good.
The first track off the album, “Ultralight Beam,” sounds like an opening to a dreamy play on Broadway. Kanye gathered a whole bunch of artists to contribute to this piece, including R&B singer The-Dream, Chicago native Chance the Rapper, and even Gospel singer Kirk Franklin. A background chorus is even featured. This song definitely grabs the “gospel album” vibe that West proclaims the album as. With a heavy drum bass and heavenly instrumental, “Ultralight Beam” is covered with religious lyrics and gentle to high pitch singing. Chance the Rapper, however, completely owns this track. His verse is the best in the entire song. From his flow, to his rhymes, and to his tone shows extraordinary talent.
After a triumphant opener to the album, a series of bangers follow along, starting with “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1.” The production of this song almost feels like a vintage Kanye beat until you hear “If Young Metro don’t trust you I’m gon’ shoot you” and the beat drops hard, and in all his glory you hear Kid Cudi singing the hook. “Beautiful morning, you’re the sun in my morning babe.” Refreshing to hear the slightly auto-tuned, singing Cudi over whatever he was doing in his latest album, “Speedin Bullet 2 Heaven” (if you heard one song off this project you’ve probably heard them all). Everything seems to be going good on this track, until Kanye starts rapping with some weak, lackluster lyrics, including a line about a model and a bleached behind. We’ve seen Ye and his questionable lyrics before, especially in his last studio album “Yeezus.” And it’s not stopping here. Other than that, the song sounds amazing. The beat is just way too good.
Now going forward to “Pt. 2,” the beat switches to a faster paced drum thump as Ye starts spitting some heat. Ye’s lyrics in this one discusses his family, especially his father. Then, almost out of nowhere, this Brooklyn-raised rapper named Desiigner jumps in and starts going as hard as Ye. Whoa, he sounds like a combination of Future and 50 Cent. He completely kills it the beat with Kanye interrupting with some trap vocals. As far as bangers go on this tape, “Pt. 2″ is the exceptional standout. The only problem with this track is that it is too short.
Up next is “Famous,” featuring Rihanna and Swizz Beats. This song is the one that has been in the news recently because of a controversial line that has to do with pop star Taylor Swift. Everyone remembers the incident in 2009 when West snatched the mic from Swift at the VMAs and proclaiming that Swift didn’t deserve her award and that Beyoncé should have won. Seven years later, Kanye writes a line saying “For all my Southside n****s that know me best / I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that b***h famous (God damn) / I made that b***h famous.” Bold choice of words for his new song. Anyway, the beat in this song is, once again great. You really can’t expect too many badly produced songs in a Kanye album. Rihanna does her part with the hook, and Swizz Beats is there to supply backup vocals. These backup vocals are just some shouts and ad-libs, like Wake up, Mr West! “Famous” is a solid song, especially at the end where the beat just plays and Swizz does his job with vocals.
“Feedback” is another energizing song that has an electornic, flute-like instrumental. The song stays pretty simple, with repetive use of the refrain (which is really catchy.) Ayy, y’all heard about the good news? Y’all sleeping on me, huh? Had a good snooze? This song, like most of the songs on this album, is really short too at only two and a half minutes. The rest of the lyrics on the song is Kanye saying to not care what others think of him and to not be apologetic for being great.
“Low Lights” is one of the three interludes on the album. This interlude seems to be more like a prayer if anything. It has a woman talking to God, and that “someday, he will open up the door for me and call my name. Some day he will. I don’t know if anybody understands what that feels like.” Kanye said on his official Twitter that he was inspired to make “Low Lights” by thinking about “all the moms driving their kids to school then going to work.”
Up next, logically, is the song “Highlights.” This song, featuring Young Thug and The-Dream, is a heavily auto-tuned track that illustrates the life of Kanye with all of his success. With lines like “21 Grammys, superstar family / We the new Jacksons, I’m all about that action” and backup vocals from Thugger, Kanye wants to make sure everyone knows that he succeeded. And what would Kanye be without more controversy? He spits the line “I bet me and Ray J would be friends / If we ain’t love the same bitch / Yeah, he might have hit it first / Only problem is I’m rich.” This is referring to Ray J, Kim Kardianshian’s ex, and his song “I Hit it First” which was about her.
Shifting gears to the gruesomely wild track Freestyle 4. In this solely Kanye-produced track, the beat is made up of eerie high pitch violins, a bunch of high pitch, robotic woos, deep bass drops, and sexual, deep auto-tuned Kanye lyrics. Oh yeah, and Desiigner is back in this for a few lines. This is definetly a weird song. It feels so out of place and the appeal to the song is so limited. Tyler the Creator loves this song, so you can take that any way you want to. From a musical appreciation standpoint, it is a pretty interesting song with some clever twists.
Going to the next interlude, I Love Kanye is a song about, you guessed it, Kanye. In this a cappella piece, Kanye pokes fun at the way that everybody responds on how he actually loves himself. Every line ends in “Kanye” and the song is all about Kanye. One line even goes “What if Kanye made a song, about Kanye? / Called “I Miss The Old Kanye,” / man that would be so Kanye!” In this piece he also addresses his influence on other musicians, how he grew and changed over time, and how he loves you like Kanye loves Kanye. It is powerful for a 44 second song with no beat.
“Waves” is the summer anthem in this album. Chance the Rapper had to persuade Kanye to keep “Waves” on the album because it was originally going to be cut from the whole project. He enhanced the beat to have a “good vibe” feel. This song also features R&B superstar Chris Brown singing the hook and a bridge. I am usually not that big on C Breezy, but for this song and on this beat he rose to the occasion. The beat is a dreamy, happy-go-lucky that sounds like harmonizing angels. Also, the “Turn me up” sample that is spread in the beginning of the song just strews hype. The only bad thing is the song feels like its missing something. Another verse would make this song one of the best on the album.
The Weeknd makes an appearance on “Pablo” on the song “FML.” Abel does his thing on the hook with his impressive high pitch singing voice. The song starts out slow with Kanye spreading some slow-paced rhymes, but after the first hook the beat picks up and Kanye starts to go off again, “See, before I let you go / One last thing I need to let you know / You ain’t never seen nothing crazier than / This nigga when he off his Lexapro. I found this song to be one of the many gems of this album. Meaning I personally enjoy it and will conitune to enjoy it for a long time. The only thing I do not like about this song is the outro. Kanye uses another eerie/creepy sample to end the song while singing pretty badly intentionally. And, like many of the song, it could’ve been longer.
“Real Friends” came out as a GOOD Friday song on Kanye’s SoundCloud before the album dropped. “GOOD Fridays” are songs that Ye released every Friday during the “My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy” era, and partially during the “Pablo” era. Even though it was released early, it is still one of the best songs on the whole album. The gentle piano beat that intertwines with Kanye’s soft lyrics about relationships with other still strikes as one of Kanye’s best songs. This song is so simple, yet so touching at the same time. In “Real Friends,” Yeezy confesses the anything but perfect relationships he has with his friends and family. He mentions how he doesn’t attend family functions, how he can’t remember people’s birthdays, and how he is really just a dead beat cousin. This song shows a side of Kanye that many don’t see that often, and that side is remorse. Ty Dolla $ign is a perfect complement to Kanye in this song by singing bridges and cooperating with Ye on the hook. This song proved to me that Kanye still has it in him to make incredible music.
The last unofficial song to the album (not including bonus tracks) is “Wolves.” This song came out almost a year before the official release of “Pablo.” Kanye, singer Sia, and rapper Vic Mensa performed “Wolves” on Saturday Night Live in February 2015. Strangely enough, Sia and Vic Mensa have been cut out of the song. Instead, their parts have been replaced with another verse by Kanye and a verse from R&B singer Frank Ocean. The instrumental has a dark, heavy bass drop with enlightening high pitch backup vocals. Kanye’s second verse is pretty good, but I would much rather prefer Vic and Sia’s verses as well. Frank’s verse comes at the end with a more distorted instrumental. As always, Frank delievers with his super talented singing voice. Kanye has said on his Twitter that he will be fixing “Wolves.” This may mean the return of Sia and Vic Mensa to the song is very likely. I hope they do come back to this song because they both did an incredible job.
Everything after “Wolves” are considered bonus tracks. The first bonus track and last interlude is titled “Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission” is simply a phone call among rappers Kanye West, French Montana, and Max B. This was recorded when the album was going to be called “WAVES.” They talk on the phone about how everybody is “wavy.” Not a huge part of the album, but pretty cool I guess.
Next up is another GOOD Friday song: “30 Hours.” The beat to this song is just so addicting. From the boom clap boom boom clap, the “hey hey heys”, to Andre 3000 saying “30 hours,” and Kanye’s rambling lyrics make this song so complex yet so simple at the same time. This song just works for me. The beat is so smooth and Kanye’s raps is just doused with swagger. The only thing I wish this song had was a verse Three Stacks instead of him just “thirty hours.”
“No More Parties In LA” is another GOOD Friday song that was released before the album, but this song has the most bars in the whole album. Kanye collabs with Compton-born rapper Kendrick Lamar in this Madlib-produced rhyme fest. Kendrick, who is very high in the today’s rap regarding quality content, does he thing like everyone expected. With lines like “ Make me say “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” / Make a n***a say big words and act lyrical / Make me get spiritual / Make me believe in miracles, Buddhist monks and Cap’n Crunch cereal” along with his very specific flow, Kendrick does his job and does it well. What people didn’t expect was for Kanye to snap on this beat. And man, did he ever go off. I haven’t heard Ye rap like this since 2010. He even says in the song that he can spit heat, “I know some fans who thought I wouldn’t rap like this again / But the writer’s block is over, emcees cancel your plans” Throughout his large verse he cracks some funny lines about Nori dressing like Cam and how he isn’t worried about his son (because it’s HIS song, a reincarnation of himself.) The beat also sound like some old school Kanye.
Next up is yet another GOOD Friday track titled “Facts (Charlie Heat Version.)” The version at the end of the song title is important because I think the original Facts that came out on Kanye’s SoundCloud was not very good at all. Again, Kanye is at it again with some cringe worthy lyrics in this Nike diss track, but the rework of the beat made this song actually listenable. Kanye fires shots at Nike in a similar flow to Drake and Future’s song “Jumpan” off “What a Time to Be Alive.” He also has some wise cracking lines that relate to recent pop culture, including “Do anybody feel bad for Bill Cosby? / Did he forget the names just like Steve Harvey? (Yo!)” The reason this song is decent is because of Charlie Heat’s beat that was replaced from the original. The beat switches up multiple times, going harder each switch. Still not one of my favorites on the album, but it is fun to listen to once in a while.
The final song of the album, “Fade,” originally made its debut during the first show of the Yeezy Season 2 fashion show. This song is all about the beat because it is more of a dance song than a traditional rap song. The beat is extremely heavy. The vocals are also auto-tuned too. In this song Kanye brings out Ty Dolla once again and “White Iverson” sensation, rapper Post Malone. This song is okay to me. I would much rather prefer more bars into this beat, but it definitely passes as a decent song. The phrases “Your love is fading” and “I feel it” are scattered throughout the song with the catchy verses from the three rappers. It is a good song to end with.
For my final thoughts on this album, I think it is an acceptional album. It is not like Kanye’s previous albums in terms of coherent flow, but most of the songs on this album are good to great. I did not really like the album on the first listen. After about two or three more playthroughs, I just fell in love with it. I promise you that it gets better after every listen. Standout tracks that I think are worthy of praise are “Ultralight Beam,” “Real Friends,” “No More Parties in LA,” and “Pt. 2.” The only problem I had with this album is that it seemed too short for a Kanye album. Most of the songs are only two to three minutes long. Some of the songs even can feel like that they are unfinished. The album itself can feel like it was a little rushed at times too. I wouldn’t put “Pablo” up there with “Dark Fantasy” or “The College Dropout”, but I think it is a well-produced album that deserves some credit. It is nowhere near the bottom of Kanye’s discography, but it is also not on the top. It was just a fun, enjoyable album with some great, catchy songs.
“Pablo” will definitely hold the Kanye fan base over while waiting for his next album that is said to release this summer.