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It’s been just over two years since this album was released and I remember listening to The Life of Pablo by Kanye West the night it came out. I downloaded it from somewhere because it wasn’t on Spotify yet and settled in for the night. I think I might have even listened to it a few times in the first night. And this is coming from a guy who was very vocal about his disgust for Mr West, especially after the release of Yeezus. I used to be a fan around the time of Graduation and I loved all the singles off Late Registration back in the day. I got caught up in the hype of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and liked that record for a while, but then one day I remember brutally hating it for all the reasons people hate Kanye: the excessiveness, the poor lyrical content and more importantly the ego. I now have a new appreciation for it; I don’t like all of it, but I appreciate the singles and particularly the production. But I digress.
My point here, I’m a strayed Kanye fan, so I listened to The Life of Pablo the night it came out because I wanted to go in before all the reviews and other bullshit media got their posts up online. I wanted to go in blank and see whether I liked it or not. And for the most part, I did. Some of my favourite Kanye songs are on The Life of Pablo, and everyone remembers the first time they heard Ultralight Beam. But the version of the album I listened to doesn’t exist anymore, unless you illegally download it from a dude/chick who still has it. My old iPod classic has it, but that thing is as dead as Ray J’s rap career; I could probably nurse it back, but does anyone really give a shit about iPods/Ray J anymore? The original version of the album isn’t available on streaming platforms anymore, because the egotistical mastermind behind the album scrapped it after its release and uploaded and distributed multiple edits since February 2016, until he came to the final version we now have today. And this is where my division with Kanye plays in. I believe if you upload or begin to distribute an album, that’s it, you’re done. Granted, there’s no physical release of the album, but still, you’re calling it an album, you’ve released the album, you’re done. But not Kanye and his ego. All those Kanye, Yeezy wearing, Kardashian watching lovers can give me some bullshit excuse that he’s just a perfectionist, or give me his excuse that it’s a living, breathing creative expression; I don’t give a fuck. So I haven’t given the album the time of day until now, I reckon at least a year and a half. And I did not go into this the same way I went into it upon release. I wanted to, but I just couldn’t do it.
Starting off The Life of Pablo is Ultralight Beam and it’s still a great opener for the album. It sets the tone for what is to come essentially. I think it’s a bit overplayed by now, much of the magic has faded slightly, but it’s a mature and grand gospel opening; especially for a Kanye West album. Chance the Rapper’s verse was always the highlight of the track for me. It was quirky, and his flow had an amateurish quality to it that really played into his hand. But in 2018, I’m over Chance. He’s over played and overly religious in his tunes, so that’s a bit of a turn off for me. The verse is still good, but once again the magic isn’t quite there anymore.
Moving to the second track, I don’t remember Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1 sounding that good; it’s definitely a different edit to the OG version. It’s ten times better than what I remember, the backing vocals add a rich texture that were lacking in the original cut. The production on the track is incredible, even Kanye’s autotuned vocals during the refrain sound good. The mix from gospel harmonies into a light trap beat is fluid and grand, especially after Ultralight Beam. But it then transitions with a rough cut to Pt 2, which sounds like your standard Kanye track — auto-tune, clapping beats and synth build — until it crescendos into fucking Panda by Desiigner. Holy fucking shit, that caught me off guard; I don’t remember that being in there at all. Probably because I’ve heard Panda more now since Pablo’s release. The cuts between beats are rough though and have me looking to see if the song changed, but nope, it’s still Pt 2. Famous is the Kanye West track. It’s a paint by numbers Yeezy track, his trademark whingy tone playing to full effect here. It has a solid beat, provocative and egotistical lyrics, and a feature from a famous pop star; exactly what you come to expect and love if you’re a West fan.
The album does feel larger than your standard Kanye West album, certainly grander than Yeezus. Tracks like Lowlights and Highlights break up the harder hitting tracks and do not feature Kanye as the main voice which is always nice; it shows restrain. Highlights is a bit of a dud for me, the wailing autotuned vocals are cringe inducing, even if the beat is solid. It’s not until half way that it transitions into a ‘normal’ West song, but then you get 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.” It’s just trivial shit, and people just expect him to say something about the Ray J and Kim situation. Obviously, he’s a bit salty that his wife still has the highest selling sex tape of all time, and shares that honour with a b-grade rapper.
Freestyle 4 has a very interesting and experimental beat and production style. You can hear the influence it has had on Brockhampton’s production style, most notably in their Junky. I Love Kanye is a funny little interlude, but also shows that there’s much more going on in this album. Underneath the superficial bars and well-oiled production, there’s a writer who’s letting his insecurities shine through for the first time. It’s no longer ‘I am a God’ or ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ or ‘I wanna fuck you hard on the sink, after that, give you somethin’ to drink, step back, can’t get spunk on the mink’. Now we’ve got a Kanye who has put his feelings on the line in the track FML, with lyrics like ‘I been waiting for a minute for my lady, so I can’t jeopardize that for one of these hoes’ or ‘I been feeling all I’ve given for my children, I will die for those I love. God I’m willing to make this my mission.’ It’s deep shit, even if he did call someone a hoe. Hey, we can’t always get it right.
Kanye’s emotional struggles continues on Real Friends and No More Parties in LA, both my favourite Kanye songs. Real Friends deals with some heavy content, while still having those classic Kanye lines we come to expect. For example, ‘You wanna ask some questions ‘bout some real shit? Like I ain’t got enough pressure to deal with. Please don’t pressure me with that bill shit. Cause everybody got ’em, that ain’t children’ and ‘I had a cousin that stole my laptop that I was fuckin’ bitches on. Paid that nigga 250 thousand just to get it from him. Real friends’. Ha, classic. The beat to Real Friends is simple but infectious and compliments the sad melody. It’s very minimal for a Kanye song and allows his lyrics to stand by their own. For once, his lyrics feel real and aren’t over shadowed by loud and chaotic production.
In saying that, it’s the chaotic production of No More Parties in LA that makes this track shine. I do have my gripes about the song’s sample (shake that body, party that bod-) being played over Kendrick Lamar’s verse to the point that you can barely hear his lyrics. It’s played over Kanye’s verse too, but Kayne’s voice is stronger so it’s not as noticeable. And Kanye’s verses are the best out of the two, maybe that’s due to the production. But here we get another inside into his insecurities. He pleads, ‘No more parties in LA’ as he admits to being over the lifestyle that he’s created and bought into; he’s a father and a husband now.
Mulholland Drive, need to put up some goddamn barricades
I be paranoid every time
The pressure, the problem ain’t I be drivin’
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.
It’s some real upper-class, rich Hollywood shit. It’s still excessive, but human nonetheless.
I’m not a fan of Wolves, and I wasn’t back in 2016. I hate the wailing melody that carries through the song, and the verses are pretty substandard for a single with some top-notch artists credited. Sia sounds like she’s doing her best Creed impression. 30 Hours is a better track, it’s raw drum beat and vocal performance take it back to Kanye’s early days before he fell in love with autotune.
The second last song on the album, Fade, is a banger and was a banger on the original cut too. Closing track, Saint Pablo, is a sweet closer made better by Sampha’s verse. Kanye’s performance is heartfelt and genuine, which adds a nice closing touch to what seems to be his most personal album.
The title of the album suggests that Kanye relates his talents and methods to that of Pablo Picasso. He even states it in No More Parties in LA, ‘I feel like Pablo when I’m workin’ on my shoes. I feel like Pablo when I see me on the news. I feel like Pablo when I’m workin’ on my house.’ It’s a stretch to compare yourself to one of the most famous abstract and modern artists of all time, but in saying that, Kanye is one of the most famous rappers of all time whether you love him or not. I just find it uncomfortable that he labels himself as that, at least wait until someone else calls you Pablo. The album’s themes are evident and consistent throughout: family, religion and fame, and they help paint the narrative of a confident celebrity whose insecurities are taking hold of his art. The key word is consistency, and it’s what Kanye does well. He’s consistent with his massive ego, he’s constantly exorbitant, as well as consistency pushing against the boundaries of both rap, production, and the idea of an album as a service.
Like I said, my two favourite Kanye songs are on The Life of Pablo, and I’ve found a new appreciation for Father Stretch My Hands but was it worth the massive hype? Well yes, of course it was, it’s a fucking Kanye West album. It will always be worth the hype regardless if it’s a piece of shit or if it’s the greatest thing since Jam (Turn It Up) by Kim Kardashian herself. Kanye’s issue, aside from his ego, are his fans. The music isn’t just rap anymore, it’s a window into a celebrity’s lifestyle; a lifestyle of fast cars, big money and a just-as-infamous celebrity wife. People want to buy into that lifestyle, his albums are events now, and Kanye has helped create that.
I like The Life of Pablo, but it’s not something I listen to from start to finish and that’s probably because of my love/hate relationship with Kanye over time. After a few beers I’ll rap the entirety of Bound 2, but if I’m dead sober I think I’d rather listen to something else. And it’ll probably stay that way for a while.
Prologue: I really could have gone on for another thousand words, but I’m already pushing two and thought I better stop myself before I start calling myself Pablo.
After the Hype is a weekly series where I listen to an album after the hype dies down and give my general thoughts, sometimes a little whinge. It’s ok to disagree.