Ever the self publicist Kanye West has somehow found new ways to publicise (perhaps inadvertently) the release of his new album, whilst also offending more than a handful of people with a whole heap of social outbursts.
First there was the Twitter announcement of the name of the new album, originally titling it Swish, before changing it to Waves which drew the attention Wiz Khalifa. That turned into Twitter beef with Kanye later admitting he misunderstood Khalifa, yet didn’t apologise for overreacting.
Then there was his latest fashion show at Madisson Square Garden, Yeezy Season 3, which also served as the debut for his sixth LP, the now newly named The Life of Pablo. During this show Kanye took to twitter to express himself in a myriad of ways, courting controversy. And ever since then he hasn’t stopped. There is even a backstage rant at SNL that has found its way into public domain.
But what about the music. What about the album Kanye claimed on to Twitter to be the best ever? Well, let’s run through The Life of Pablo, track by track.
1. Ultralight Beams feat. Chance the Rapper, The-Dream, Kelly Price, and Kirk Franklin
This is a tremendous opening track with a beautiful chord progression and horns that creep in and out. It opens to a young 4-year-old child preaching like a pastor and then introduces Kanye in dawdling fashion – not really sure where it will go next. It sounds as if Kanye is praying “for Paris” and society in uncharacteristic fashion. The-Dream helps him along before the track bursts into life with a heavenly Gospel choir punctuating certain lyrics. Kelly Price slays it with her soulful delivery and then Chance the Rapper takes his chance and owns the song with a well lit verse that totally steals the show and raises the bar. Even Kirk Franklin’s prayer addition works. They took it to church and it’s powerful. 9/10
2. Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 feat. Kid Cudi
Chance the Rapper has only done his stock good after spitting a very popular verse on the opener. He also helped write this song which feature vocals from Kid Cudi – vocal that helps the track. Lyrically this track doesn’t pull up any trees. It also feels rushed with certain chords clashing – it doesn’t feel finished at all. Muddy bass and drums drown the track. Perhaps if it was finished it would be better because there are melodies that definitely work. 5/10
3. Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2 feat. Desiigner & Caroline Shaw
Part 2 steps things up, to the point where Kanye really struggles to keep up and stumbles over his delivery, however it works for the purpose of his message. The southern sound comes through on the second part and mainly features verses from Desiigner, who is pretty much Future 2.0. The song flips at the end into some strange vocal warble by Caroline Shaw. It is refreshing to see Kanye once again looking to rip up the rule book and try something new but it is odd. 6/10
4. Famous feat. Rihanna & Swiss Beats
Controversially Kanye talks about maybe having sex with Taylor Swift because he feels he made her famous. There is a real New Yorker Marcy projects feel about this – it feels hard and underground. Rihanna’s contribution sits separately as she sings a rendition of Nina Simone’s Do What You Gotta Do (the original makes an appearance at the end) but again the mix of sounds odd but perversely fitting. The beat by Swiss Beats is extremely strong. Swiss adds his ad-libs to bring the track to club level and then the track ends with a manipulated sample of Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam. 7/10
The instrumental is a little messy. Vocally Kanye is not saying anything of any worth – there’s a lot of repetition and contradiction in this track. It’s the type of track that emphasises peoples dislike for the artist. Noise wise it’s a nod to his previous album Yeezus, except the rest of this album expands on his previous LP so much better. Very much a nothing track. 3/10
6. Low Lights
This a monologue skit in which Kanye does not appear. It can only be described as a prelude to the next track Highlights. It contains the vocal acapella So Alive by Kings of Tomorrow. Not nearly as deep as it wants to be. 3/10
7. Highlights feat. Young Thug
Too much autotune. Lyrically incredibly shallow and nonsensical – note Kanye talking about putting a GoPro camera on his penis so he could play it back slo mo. In his defence Young Thug is on this so he doesn’t need to exert himself for the art, judging by what his peers are currently creating. The track does have some club value. 3/10
8. Freestyle 4 feat. Desiigner
This is a weird track and pretty much a mess. Of course it is intentional but there is no sonic value for the listener. 2/10
9. I Miss the Old Kanye
Not sure why this happened. Obviously it’s tongue in cheek but….meh. 2/10
10. Waves feat. Chris Brown & Ki Cudi
Finally the album wakes up from its self obsessed coma and attempts to give us a song with the help of Chris Brown. The abrupt use of vocal samples punch through to help that arpeggiated synth hold the track almost single handily. Together with Kanye’s vocal it comes together well, however the song then drifts off and Kanye puts the mic down and walks away, leaving it to Cudi’s humming and Brown’s female pleasing RnB tone. What is left is a song waiting to reach its natural end, slowly but surely. 6/10
11. FML feat. Weeknd
This is a cold and minimal track that sees Kanye revealing the “layers to his soul” in believable fashion. It’s tracks like this where Kanye appears more honest, only still revealing his Hollywood lifestyle. The Weeknd’s input is strong. When Abel comes in with the hook and chorus it injects some very much needed light in a sea of darkness. The second half takes a strange turn towards a grunge sound which actually ends up being incredibly interesting and ear catching. 8/10
12. Real Friends feat. Ty Dolla $ign
This is a real banger and finally has Kanye being consistent lyrically through a whole track, never shifting from topic. This is real honest commentary from someone who feels the fame has distanced themselves from family and friends.The drums are sick, sounding like a J-Kwon track Tipsy. Perhaps the instrumental benefits from the fact it was mainly produced by himself as the he works his beat over a never ending loop of a flute-like sounding sample. Kanye shows snippets of his past when he shoots with honesty and depth like this. 9/10
13. Wolves feat. Caroline Shaw & Frank Ocean
This track fits in perfectly after its predecessor in terms of sound but still there is a surprise that this track has been added to the track list at all, considering it came out about the same time as All Day, 4 5 Seconds and Mercy. This is more of an updated version and it’s interesting and different but will definitely polarize hardcore Kanye fans. Oh, and has he actually fixed it? He promised us he would on Twitter. 6/10
14. Silver Surfer Intermission feat. Max B & French Montana
Another skit. This one a tad more enjoyable because Kanye gets Max B on phone from the confines of jail. It’s relevant because he gets permission to use the term “wavy” to quieten Wiz Khalifa who claimed Kanye was misusing the term. Typical Ye. 4/10
15. 30 Hours feat. Andre Benjamin
This is a tune that isn’t fully realised. Kanye’s flow is on point and the understated nature of the track sits very well, making it extremely easy to absorb. The skipping beat really helps this track plod along. There are shades of Last Call from College Dropout in this – Kanye describes it as a bonus track. In fact, the second half is similar in that Kanye breaks character and stops rapping to adlib and talk over the beat instead, at one point receiving a phone call. The issue is nothing is really said when compared to Last Call, which has a monologue looking back at the history of how Kanye came to be. This attempt at a similar thing falls rather flat. Could have been so much more. 7/10
16. No More Parties in LA feat. Kendrick Lamar
Banger. This Madlib beat is fire of the highest degree and Kendrick Lamar is given full reign to add his bit, to which he responds duly. This is real hip hop, the beat is unrelenting filled with four different samples circling each other ready to be attacked. It’s as if Wu Tang have come out to play again. Kanye comes to play lyrically here also in so many strong ways. In one line he admits: “Second class bitches wouldn’t let me on first base.” I like that imagery. There is no real recognised chorus in this track, just non stop bars from two very good rappers. Kanye exceeds himself and again shows flashes of his old skills, almost as if he felt he could be bothered on this one due to the kick ass nature of the instrumental. It sounds so authentic, raw and unpolished, and that’s why it works. It works hard. 9/10
17. Facts (Charlie Heat Version)
Throughout the album you can hear where his last album Yeezus has progressed into a more refined sound. This is one of those moments, and though it may excite the dance floor it doesn’t go anywhere near the track it follows. When Kanye reverts to shallow it falls on deaf ears. 6/10
18. Fade feat. Post Malone & Ty Dolla $ign
This is that kind of ‘get the festival going in the middle of the night’ type of track. The crowd would go nuts to this especially as it has a sample of Hardrive’s house and garage banger Deep Inside. Again it is steeped in autotune but this is definitely a club banger which should spawn more than a few remixes. 7/10
The record starts off so well with Ultralight Beams but then does nothing in the middle. It’s extremely lazy until it decides to pick up in the last third of the album. The album is chaotic with tons of ideas jostling for position throughout, sometimes in one song alone. At the very least no matter what you think of Kanye and his work you cannot accuse him of resting on his laurels as he is prepared to take risks, more instrumentally than lyrically of course.
Perhaps we are starved of good content and for that reason there is hype over this album – there are strong moments on this LP that which appear to have put fans of the Kanye brand into a frenzy. However when the dust settles, overall this album will disappoint and doesn’t go anywhere near the likes of College Dropout or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. If you are having to skip through the majority of a record to get to your bright spots you cannot call it a success. Pandering to the latest hip hop sounds of the South and the overuse of autotune – that he has leant on for far too long now – does not constitute as good music, rather it is dumbing down the art, diminishing the socio-political relevance it used to hold.
FML, Real Friends, No More Parties in LA and Ultralight Beams are excellent pieces of music, unfortunately the LP on the whole is let down by a number of unfinished, rushed or pointless songs. When you consider there are 18 tracks on The Life of Pablo the percentages just don’t add up positively.