In the space of 72 hours, Kanye revealed the third season of his fashion label at a lavish, sold out Madison Square Garden event, announced a video game, dropped an album, started beef with Taylor Swift, performed on Saturday Night Live, un-dropped an album, and finally released it a few hours prior to me writing this article.
The emotional ride towards The Life of Pablo has certainly been strange. And after all the speculation around the title’s origins, we now know the album’s title is not about Pablo Escobar, Picasso, or Zabaleta. According to his Twitter, it’s about Paul the Apostle, who taught the gospel of Christ to the people. Kanye has moved from proclaiming “I am a God” on Yeezus, to becoming his messenger, through the medium of his music.
“It serves as a love letter to his past, whilst also being a cutting commentary on the culture of the present”
The album itself is an 18 track behemoth. Something you need to sit down and listen to in full with no crossfade from start to finish. The tracks fade into each other seamlessly, and feel like pieces of an elaborate puzzle that by the end, make you feel something. Whether that is confusion or joy will depend on your outlook, but the ride is certainly worth it. It’s an introspective album, controversial due to its subversion of the genre but not as outspoken and abrasive as Yeezus.
Kanye is a sample architect, and some of his choices here are compelling. From Nina Simone to the soundtrack of Street Fighter II, there’s a real range here, and the music is masterfully crafted. The features on this album also contain some huge names, including the likes of Rhianna, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar and Frank Ocean. If anyone was going to get Frank Ocean to make some new music, it was going to be Kanye.
A few choice tracks from the album include the opener ‘Ultra-Light Beams’, which I can only describe as an inspiring experimental blend of gospel and rap. Kanye takes a back seat on this track, singing the hook accompanied by a choir, with Chance the Rapper taking centre stage and Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin delivering a stunning pair of gospel verses to close the track off. It’s sombre and quite moving.
“The album itself is an 18 track behemoth. Something you need to sit down and listen to in full with no crossfade from start to finish.”
This album, as you traverse it will reveal quickly that it’s not an album of floor filling club favourites like Graduation in 2007; it’s about sending a powerful message and subverting the genre. ‘FML’ is another stand-out, with Kanye singing about how he struggles to deal with so much criticism, being truthful to those he’s close to, and his warring emotions. He also mentions his struggles with anti-depressants. It’s a deep track, and The Weeknd’s unique voice compliments the slow flow with an infectious hook.
Kanye shines on numbers like ‘30 Hours’ and ‘Feedback’ where he’s left to his own devices. The album picks up the pace, replicating his fast paced style and genius wordplay that made Late Registration so remarkable almost 11 years ago, even calling back to the famous ‘Wake Up Mr. West’ skit in reference to him getting back on form in the rap scene.
The Life of Pablo is an absorbing experience, and a serious piece of art. It serves as a love letter to his past, whilst also being a cutting commentary on the culture of the present.