Increasingly being more recognised for his self-indulgent and egotistical behaviour, than the artist who produced one of Hip-Hop’s classic albums, The College Dropout, more than ten years ago. Kanye West, however, is a considerable distance away from replicating the brilliance of his debut on his seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo. The album, which has gone through multiple name changes and track alteration, continues Kanye’s desperation for constant musical reinvention. Though not a bad thing, it is to such an extent on this album, that it becomes very difficult to tolerate his ridiculously inflated ego.
West compiles numerous ideas all into one album, which is disorderly and erratic, but seems to have been done on purpose, considering the album’s initial, exclusive release on Tidal streaming service, was a working progress. The album is not without some great entries though. It will leave you questioning why Kanye West cannot produce a more consistent body of work.
In some ways, The Life of Pablo, is a combination of Kanye’s previous albums, Yeezus, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare, in terms of emotion and style, but just without their cohesiveness. Although impressive production-wise, with a number of different producers at the helm of this record, including that of Rick Rubin and Metro Boomin, it is a struggle to understand what Kanye West aims to achieve on this album, as it has little substance, but definitely not lacking in character and abrasiveness. Despite this, the album actually begins fairly engagingly, with the first two tracks, “Ultralight Beam” and “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1”, which very much ignited my hopes of The Life of Pablo exceeding expectations. “Ultralight Beam” is a leisurely, gospel-induced track, and Kanye elaborates on his relationship with faith and God. It is an unusual sound, but it manages to be quite a gripping and somewhat relaxing song. It features Chance The Rapper, who dazzles us with a powerful verse, continuing the themes of religion and God. Almost contrastingly, “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt 1”, is all about the infectious beat, and the song is absent of any eloquent lyricism, but Kanye continues his proficiency for subversive production.
Although it is difficult to deny Kanye’s creativity and ambition, but after such a good opening, the album seems to divert chaotically downhill, as he progresses into lyrical ramblings. He tries so hard to be controversial that his attempts ultimately stagnate the end product, because it is just so blatantly intentional, lacking any subtlety. On “Famous”, beginning with vocals from Rihanna over a sedated beat, it quickly progresses into Kanye West, rapping in reference to when he interrupted Taylor Swift’s speech at the VMA awards ceremony in 2009. Whatever your opinion is on Taylor Swift, the lyrics are unnecessary and generally unpleasant. However, the song’s shift into a distorted reggae sample of Sister Nancy’s, Bam Bam, is actually brilliantly executed and provides an annoyingly catchy end to the song. Furthermore, Kanye West enters self-indulgent territory on “Feedback”, supplemented by a somewhat irritating beat, as he raps on the first verse, ‘Money never made me / Make me do something? Nah, Can’t make me.‘ For the majority of the album, Kanye West seems devoid of any lyrical substance, and this continues onto “Highlights”, whilst further embracing the repetitive use of auto tune.
Just when I thought The Life of Pablo was getting progressively worse upon the eleventh track, “I Love Kanye”, in which he acknowledges his critics, referring to himself in third person, the album suddenly undertakes a rebirth. On “Real Friends”, Kanye takes an introspective look at friendships, questioning the sincerity of social relationships. The song’s delicate beat is coupled with Kanye’s sensitive outlook, spinning the album on its head. Quite comfortably though, ‘No More Parties in LA’, is the best song on the album. With the assistance of Kendrick Lamar, it is an explosive track with fiery lyrics throughout. Kanye provides us with an enticing flow, a great hook and once again, fantastic production.
Though the album does not conclusively disclose which Pablo the title refers to, perhaps either Escobar or Piccasso, the album ultimately juggles Kanye’s various identities. I am not quite sure who Kanye West wants to be on this album. Perhaps that is the whole point. The Life of Pablo remains an obscure, absurdly erratic and just down-right infuriating album, but it does have its moments of excellence. However, these moments are overshadowed by the rest of the album’s trivial nature and unnecessary profanity. It is still worth a listen regardless, just because of how musically challenging it is. I cannot criticise Kanye West’s ability as a producer, as he is clearly exceptionally talented, but his need to constantly reinvent his music in strange and quite frankly, narcissistic ways, continues.
Previously only being available on Tidal, The Life of Pablo can now be streamed on Apple Music and Spotify.