With the arrival of the Kanye West’s long-awaited project The Life of Pablo, dare fans say that the old Kanye is back and more conflicted than ever? Yes and no. Kanye has always been a creative genius with the ability to musically reinvent himself with each project that he drops, and his latest effort is no exception. Ye brings listeners on a musical journey that is both spiritually uplifting and reflective of the struggles the Chitown artist has been going through these past few years. An unbalanced mix of joy and pain, The Life of Pablo is both a view into the artist’s personal strife and a reminiscence of his former self that will leave listeners equally frustrated and enlightened to the woes of the life of Kanye.
It has been three years since Kanye’s bout in minimalism with the socio-political, yet convoluted, Yeezus project and much has developed. Parting ways with Nike (expressed in his solo track Facts), settling down and becoming married, the birth of his two children, receiving lifetime award and degrees, and launching his fashion empire with the critically acclaimed seasons of Yeezy. Even with all these accolades, Ye publicly still seems less than ecstatic and The Life of Pablo carries the sound of an artist yearning for more.
It almost seems like listeners are getting two different Kanye’s on The Life of Pablo. At first, fans get the spiritual and uplifting Ye with the uplifting, rap-gospel opener Ultralight Beam (ft. Chance the Rapper and powerful vocals from Kelly Price). It seemed that West has been filled with remorse for his recent antics and controversial past with the following Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1. This is the first listeners get a taste of what a humble Ye sounds like and hear a vulnerability in his lyrics.
The revealing nature of his inner turmoil further come to life as he addresses some insecurities during FML. The Metro Boomin co-produced track finds Kanye doing some Weekend-esque soul searching that snowballs into a scattered and trippy closer. Like a drunk confessional that later just becomes a drunken conversation with little coherence, FML is The Life of Pablo‘s self-medicated, lonely cry for help.
Further implementing this feeling of loneliness, Real Friends brings The Life of Pablo back to sobriety and coherence as Ye continues his struggles. The Boi-1da co-produced track is probably one of the stronger tracks and the project and finds West focuses his bars on explaining his recent bouts of depression when there is no one around him that he can trust; not even family. The Frank Ocean-assisted, eerie track Wolves further addresses that nostalgic yearning for something real when surrounded by those that are user-friendly. Considering that Kanye has recently become a family man, this leaves the door open for listeners to question whether or not he is really happy in his recent stint of monogamy.
However the humble Kanye is short lived on The Life of Pablo, he returns to the misogynistic rapper that people love to hate for a majority of the project. The Nina Simone-sampled, Rihanna featured collab Famous brings back the cockiness of the West as one of the opening lines proclaims that Swift still owes him sex because he made her famous. The ongoing feud between the two seems to be a much deeper issue than just a personal dislike, but Swift seems to be West’s latest target. Carrying over from his interruption of her acceptance speech from 2009 MTV’s Video Music Awards, West still seems to hold a grudge against Swift’s continued success for her brand of mediocrity.
Continuing the boasting and confident rhymes, Kanye addresses the naysayers on the Charlie Heat and Goldstein produced Feedback. Calling for snoozing fans and hating bloggers to wake up to his return and genius level artistry. Continuing his unapologetic bars, Kanye goes as far to dismiss his artistry and claim that all geniuses are branded crazy. He even drops a line that lightly compares himself to 2Pac. Not all of Feedback is completely self-loathing, Ye makes a slight reference to the recent homicides of unarmed black youth in America.
Focusing back on Kanye, The Life of Pablo does still have some lights moments and some humor. The 45-second freestyle, I Love Kanye, seems to poke fun at his overbearing ego and is reminiscent of a College Dropout Kanye. The satirical track finds the artist losing up and mentioning his past antics. However, the artist stays true to form and regrets nothing.
What would have been the title track Waves, is the more lighthearted and pop-friendly track of The Life of Pablo. Bringing Chris Brown on the hook, West takes a step back from dropping any bars to let the pulsating production from Metro Boomin, Hudson Mohawke, and others to carry listeners on a trippy journey of sound. Similar in fashion, the closer Fade is another random addition. Previously introduced during the Yeezy season two fashion show, the track carries no real depth lyrical, but holds a catchy dance floor rhythm and hook that just makes listeners want to move. Considering that The Life of Pablo opened with a spiritual, hip-hop gospel, Kanye decided to close it with a disco gospel for listeners to catch their spirit on the dance floor.
The ode to his recent monogamy and boredom with the nightlife comes in the Kendrick Lamar-assisted track No More Parties in LA. The simplistic Madlib and Kanye co-produced track is classic hip-hop and finds the two great emcees trading bars about the vapid and groupie girls that populate many of the clubs. Trading in quick hookups for something more real and substantial.
With The Life of Pablo, Ye continues his minimalistic style from Yeezus but manages to pull back the anger and show more vulnerability. Opening up about his struggles with monogamy, finding hard to trust those around him, and many insecurities, the highlights of the project finds balance in its lighter tracks. There are many moments where samples and hooks take over (Lowlights, Designer sampled Pt. 2) and these moments could have been considered masterpieces had they not felt unfinished.
Considering that the album title The Life of Pablo has Kanye comparing himself to great artists of the past like Pablo Picasso and Pablo Escobar, the unfinished project is far from one of the artist’s masterpieces. At times, it felt rushed, scattered, rickety, and frantic, but considering Kanye’s recent outbursts and sporadic behavior (mostly on Twitter), it seems that life really has imitated art.
Opinion by Tyler Cole
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Top Article and Third Image Courtesy of The Independent by Jamie McCarthy
Featured and Second Image Courtesy of Kanye West Twitter by Peter De Potter