The release of
So Help Me God SWISH Waves The Life of Pablo unravelled in a way that was so brilliantly disastrous that Reddit conspiracists now seem like they have the most logical explanations. “Ima fix Wolves,” Kanye West said on Twitter the day following the Tidal release. The never-ending process is still ongoing. But hell, at least something is here. And after three years of anticipation, three title changes, countless pictures of that evolving scribbled-on notepad, an aux-cord passing fashion show that sold out Madison Square Garden, an SNL performance that may have included a backstage meltdown, and a Tidal release that broke their servers and led to over 500,000 pirated rips… We have an album.
And if the result of the shitstorm that ensued isn’t absolutely appropriate, I don’t know what is. The Life Of Pablo is erratic, unpredictable, and incongruent. His self-proclaimed “gospel album” checks out after the first track and morphs into a million different atmospheres before it’s over. Sonically, it’s ebullient, arrogant, sparse, paranoid, but neither ambience can establish itself before it shifts abruptly. Whether it’s from a wildly experimental sample, or seemingly unnecessary interlude, the album spastically bounces around like a bullet fired off in a closed room. It’s something many may have predicted, but the music itself is something nobody could expect.
In June 2015, Pitchfork published an article predicting Kanye was about to drop a brick. Their reasoning was totally logical – Kanye’s focus nowadays is directed towards his fashion, his family, and his video game (as we recently found out). Leading up to the release, it seemed more and more as if this prediction would come true. Kanye became a home renter who kept making excuses to his landlord as to why he didn’t have the money. His tracklist was tinkered with at random by anonymous artists doodling on Ye’s notepad. The whole thing felt so hastily made… I mean, look at the fucking cover art. It’s something so unusual coming from the same guy who RZA praised for his focused energy. The same guy who made 75 mixdowns of “Stronger.” The same guy who made Pusha T rewrite his verse three times for “Runaway.” The perfectionist to music may not have the time to be so, as he spends 45 seconds obnoxiously mocking his former fans on the a capella “I Love Kanye.” Imagine that on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
If the laser-focused To Pimp A Butterfly is on one end of the hip-hop spectrum with its extremely abstract storylines and concepts, The Life Of Pablo is on the other. The opener, “Ultra Light Beam” is about as perfect of a gospel hip-hop record as there’s ever been. The sound oozes “Sunday Candy” and features both Chance The Rapper & Donnie Trumpet. The religious and spiritual vibes are powerful and then before you know it, Kanye chimes in with: “Now if I fuck this model/ And she just bleached her asshole/ And I get bleach on my T-shirt/ Imma feel like an asshole” on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1.” The change from the cathedral setting to the middle-school playground is representative of the whole album. On “Famous” in typical Kanye fashion, he leads off with “I feel like me and Taylor (Swift) might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous.” As controversial as the line is, it’s hard to dwell on it and not get caught up in the utter joy of the “Bam Bam” sample that closes off the song.
“Famous” gives off hints of the care-free nature of Graduation, but the next song, “Feedback”, is the closest thing to Yeezus since… Yeezus. Lines like “I wish my dick had a GoPro,” or “I bet me and Ray J would be friends if we ain’t love the same bitch,” on “Highlights” make it seem like Kanye’s abandoned conscious efforts for braggadocious ones. But then the album closes with the nihilistic “FML”, the introspective “Real Friends”, and the emotional “Wolves”. Pitchfork was right when they guessed “for the first time, there seems to be no animating idea behind his next project, no mission statement.” The Life Of Pablo is an aimless roller coaster of an album.
However, the few things that are consistent about this album keep it from crashing. If there’s anything that has remained from Old Kanye to Now Kanye (there isn’t a lot), it’s that his samples and guest features are killer. Who else would be able to take audio from a 4-year old’s Instagram account and open an album with it? Who else would be able to get something of value from the bat-shit crazy Kid Cudi? Who else can use the exact same drums for two songs (“Famous” and “Real Friends”) on the same album and make them sound completely different? The fact that Kanye was able to pull all this off and put it into one spectacular mess of an album is impressive. Kanye’s the kid who didn’t study for his final and got an A.
No matter the process, Kanye always finds a way to make inventive music. For the Life of Pablo, everything surrounding it gave us reason to believe this run was over. Even the album itself is a constant battle between perfection and indecision. The irony, of course, is that it has no general direction, but will influence the genre for years to come. Whether it deserves that privilege is an asinine discussion. He has done a lot to establish this massive platform, but his artistry remains the most important. Above everything, there’s one trait that has remained consistent with Kanye throughout the years: it’s that he’s excellent at making albums. This is his latest example.