The Life of Pablo (2016) by Kanye West

Massimo Aufiero and Pablo di Benedetto

Kanye West’s newly released The Life of Pablo is, overall, a great, innovative album, and, though not necessarily his best work, it will certainly be remembered as a highlight of his career.

Kanye manages to artfully combine various assets of his previous albums into this masterpiece. It incorporates the passionate emotions of The College Dropout, the positive, audacious attitude of Graduation, the minimalism and emphasized beats of 808s & Heartbreak and Yeezus, as well as a plethora of features, as on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

In order to correctly evaluate TLOP, one must look at this album, not as a rap album, but just another album released by an artist. Unlike the norm for a hip-hop album, Kanye focuses most on the overall scheme of production, which includes the creating the 808s and managing the samples and features into perfectly fitting roles, as opposed to the conventional idea of rap being limited to just the lyrics and beats.

On TLOP, Kanye shows his genius ability in production despite the fact that he was working on it until the last minute. He did not follow any sort of structure, much like Picasso’s unstructured style of painting. There were no restrictions for him on the album, like most of his previous work. In some songs, there was no hard-hitting drum or snare, which is impressive as these instruments are often seen as essential in rap and hip-hop. In other songs, he lets loose and has fun, as seen in “I Love Kanye” and “Ultralight Beam.” Kanye is an innovator and was not influenced by mainstream rap and pop in making the album. Instead he “shifted the paradigm” and made the album for himself with songs that sounded correct to him. 808s & Heartbreak was neither loved nor well received at the time of its release, but, looking back, musicians and critics realize that this album was ahead of its time and set forth a new wave of pop, rap, and R&B artists such as Drake, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and Bon Iver. Similarly, The Life of Pablo will need time to fully be appreciated until we fully learn the extent of its impact in the world of music, if it has one.

The Life of Pablo boasts 24 features including artists and producers currently at the forefront of the music industry and others who are beginning their rise to fame. These artists include the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Rihanna, , The Weeknd, Kid Cudi, Metro Boomin, Chris Brown, The Dream, Kirk Franklin, Post Malone, Ty Dolla $ign, Rick Rubin, and a brief return from Frank Ocean, who has not released any music for the past 3 years. Perhaps the two most notable guests on the album were Chance The Rapper and Desiigner, who was featured on “Ultralight Beam,” “Father Stretch My Hands Part 2,” and “Freestyle 4.”

While Chance the Rapper has already reached a certain level of fame, his decision to not have his music sold on iTunes limits his popularity to those fans who search the internet for his music and listen via websites such as SoundCloud. However, his verse on “Ultralight Beam” can be compared to that of Nicki Minaj’s on “Monster” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as her feature boosted her popularity in the world of hip-hop. Now a wider audience has been introduced to Chance the Rapper who might have to consider selling his upcoming third mixtape in order to “snatch the Grammy”.

Brooklyn-born rapper Desiigner provided the modern trap sound on two tracks, “Freestyle 4” and “Father Stretch My Hands Part 2” with his own verse and a sample from his popular and only song to date, “Panda,” which took him one and a half years to complete. With an almost identical voice to the well-known rapper Future, 18-year old Desiigner recently signed to G.O.O.D Music, a record label founded by Kanye West. With a mixtape expected to release in the coming months, Desiigner
can thank Kanye West for his support and for helping him spread his name in the world of hip-hop.

It is necessary to first take a step back and realize how Kanye has changed as a person before it is possible to interpret how he has evolved as an artist. It has been 3 years since Kanye released his last album, Yeezus, and in that time he has switched allegiances from Nike to Adidas, married Kim Kardashian, and fathered two children, North and Saint. TLOP takes listeners on an emotional rollercoaster while transcending various musical genres, which works to his advantage. The opener, “Ultralight Beam,” is a gospel sounding track where he explains how he attempts to maintain his faith in God as he manages the struggles of balancing his life. Tracks 2-8 focus on the materialistic pleasures of fame, wealth, and superstardom that defined the ‘old Kanye.’ “I Love Kanye” (the ninth track out of 18) serves not only as a reminder of Ye’s conceited opinion of himself, as it appears at first, but also a bridge between the old and new Kanye. The following songs, 10-18,  revolve around his family, faith, and business. The theme of the songs shifts from that of the liberty and insouciance of the bachelor life to one of anxiety and fear concerning his commitment to his wife and children and the management of his debt and many lines of business.

Specifically, in “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” (track 2), “Famous” (4), and “Freestyle 4” (8), he raps about having affairs with various women and his public stunts, whereas in “FML” (11) he declares his firm commitment to his wife, stating he is willing “To give up the women//Before I lose half of what I own,” meanwhile having a dark, confused, and paranoid outlook of marriage and a life with limits and responsibilities. In “Wolves” (13), he sings about his fears of parenthood as he and Kim Kardashian are controversial figures in pop culture, and their kids, North and Saint, will be the target of the “Wolves” in the media.

If you are not and never have been a Kanye West fan, then you will most likely not enjoy this album. Unfortunately, people who know very little about Kanye West and his music tend to be very strong in their opinion as they fail to separate Kanye the person and Kanye the musician; however, if you do consider yourself a fan and have enjoyed his past work, we highly recommend that you give The Life of Pablo a listen, and you will fall in love with it from the first sound of the drums on “Ultralight Beam.”

There is no more old Kanye, chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye. Kanye has evolved, and in order to fully appreciate his work and correctly evaluate The Life Of Pablo, we as listeners must do the same.

Story Page