Although Kanye West has always been one of my favorite artists, his material in recent years has left a lot on the table. While some disagree, I found Yeezus to be by far his worst album to date, and his guest appearances on other artists songs have been lyrically underwhelming. I was cautious for his newest album and I got about what I was expecting. Even though it has been out for a few months, the album has been so polarizing that I felt like we had to write something.
For starters, the rollout of Life of Pablo was just horrible. I don’t really want to think back about the constant changes of release dates, album titles, leaked track lists, and the strange album premier at the Yeezy season fashion show. It seems as if Kanye’s creative process is going in a thousand different directions. He originally stated that Pablo would never be released on any service other than Tidal, only for it to come out on Spotify shortly after. He called the album a “living, breathing, changing creative expression,” and after the albums release continued tinkering with and re-releasing songs. All of this, coupled with nonsensical album art and long twitter rants make me sad to see one of my musical idols reach this level of oddity.
The album starts out very strong sonically, with Ultralight Beam, Father Stretch My Hands and Famous all giving off the vibes of the classic Kanye of old. Unfortunately, while his production skills have stayed top notch, his lyricism has fallen off of a cliff. FSMH sounds like one of the songs of the year until the verse starts:
“Now if I fuck this model,
And she just bleached her asshole,
And I get bleach on my tee shirt,
Imma feel like an asshole,”
And the craziest part is, that might not even be the worst lyric on the album.
As much as I’ve just complained about it, Pablo does have some redeeming qualities. Kanye’s production remains among the best in the game, and there are some great guest features. Chance the Rappers verse on Ultralight Beam is one of the best of his career including this gem alluding to a Kanye lyric from his hit, Otis:
“I made Sunday Candy I’m never goin to hell,
I met Kanye West I’m never goin to fail.”
West gets Kid Cudi to provide a great chorus and made a star out of the previously unknown Desiigner. Chris Brown on Waves, Ty Dolla $ign on Real Friends and Kendrick Lamar on No More Parties in LA all have good cameos as well. Because of this, Life of Pablo is an improvement over Yeezus, and gives us some good flashes of old Kanye, but it still comes up short.
This album makes me hope that for his next work, Kanye will embrace his role as a Dr. Dre type producer and personality. Dre’s Compton album from last year can be a blueprint for how he should make music going forward. If he produced an entire album, while letting up and coming artists rap on it, he would be able to make another classic, all while growing his G.O.O.D. Music family.
Key Songs: Ultralight Beam, FSMH, Waves