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Kanye West: “The Life of Pablo”

February 18, 2016

 

JOHN SADLER 

GOOD Music/Def Jam Recordings

GOOD Music/Def Jam Recordings

Features Editor | jts040@ latech.edu

 

Kanye has always been most comfortable talking about Kanye.

 

From “The College Dropout” to “Yeezus,” all of his albums have touched on a central point of the experience of being Kanye.

 

In his six-disc back catalog, he has been exuberant, arrogant, celebratory, depressive, redemptive and madder than hell.

 

With “The Life of Pablo,” however, he seems to have hit a rut. It’s understandable. It’s hard to keep coming up with new ways to pontificate on basic life experience, and Kanye is not one to look outside of his own life for inspiration.

 

Critically, the album seems to be faring well, but how much of that is from the media’s disbelief that Kanye dropped something subpar: a rushed, exceptionally inconsistent record with impressive highs and embarrassing lows.

 

“Ultralight Beam,” the first track on the album, is one of those highs, both musically and spiritually. With backing chorus from a choir and a feature from gospel musician Kirk Franklin (Kanye did call “Pablo” a gospel album, after all), it starts the album on a heavenly high note.

 

Besides the chorus, and a token mumbled “pray for Paris,” Kanye leaves most of the lyrical content on the song to Chance the Rapper, who creates the song’s centerpiece with his energetic verse.

 

“Father Stretch My Hands, Part 1” follows with a surprise Kid Cudi hook and an opening line from Kanye about bleached nether-regions.

 

One of Kanye’s strengths has always been contrasting social or religious concepts with hyper-sexual innuendo, and following the uber-positive “ULB” with the aforementioned line dethroned “Blood on the Leaves” as his most disconcerting mashup.

 

Part 2 of the song consists of a quickly yelped Kanye verse followed by what is basically the entirety of newly-signed GOOD Music rapper Desiigner’s song “Panda.” Underutilizing Desiigner like this is criminal, and outright lazy on Kanye’s part.

 

People bemoan sampling as representative of lack of talent all the time, and while it’s an untrue statement, throwing a 15-line verse over a previously recorded song is possibly the most egregious use of “sampling” I’ve ever heard. Just go listen to “Panda,” it’s better.

 

“Famous,” and its infamous Taylor Swift line, comes next. I kept hoping the opening line had some more meaning to the song’s context than manufacturing controversy. Alas, there was no such meaning, but Kanye definitely achieved his obvious goal of trending on Twitter.

 

After “Low Lights,” a sermon/skit that goes on for far too long, and “High Lights,” a collaboration with Young Thug that is one of the album’s high points, comes “Freestyle 4,” the most interesting song on “Pablo.”

 

A strong case could be made about “Freestyle 4” not being a rap song.

 

Over strings that sound as if they’ve been ripped out of a Hammer Films horror movie, Kanye eschews traditional rapping for drug-fueled demands for sex on a dinner table and at a vogue party. It’s more id-controlled yelling than anything, and it’s terrifying.

 

If “Freestyle 4” is Kanye’s demand for unregulated sexual gratification, “FML” is his repentance.

 

After a subpar first verse (The line “I’ve been waiting for a minute” is broken up into four lines.), Kanye gets deeply personal, as Kanye is wont to do. He contrasts his desire to be a husband and father with his inability to truly accept his new role.

 

Kanye truly is still the King of Sad Rappers. While The Weeknd will sing about a self-destructive lifestyle, and Drake will air out unrequited romantic feelings at least four hundred times per album, nobody out there would put a line like “You ain’t seen nothing crazier than / this n***a when he’s off his Lexapro” in their song.

 

For however much he pretends to not care, the public is still ultimately Kanye’s confessional.

 

Kanye teased fans early on with a notepad signed by what was presumed to be collaborators, and the album is full of guest features: Kid Cudi, Desiigner, Andre 3000, Ty Dolla $ign, Post Malone, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, etc.

 

They’re almost all underused, however. Cudi gets a three-line hook in “FSMH Part 1,” Frank Ocean was pulled out of whatever mountain cabin he’s holed himself up in to sing a small outro to “Wolves” and Andre 3000, one of the greatest MCs to ever record, is relegated to muttering “30 hours” while Kanye attempts to freestyle for a minute and a half.

 

When I say he freestyles, I mean he mumbles monosyllabically and answers a phone call from a Def Jam employee. It’s embarrassing.

 

This is the first album Kanye has released (besides perhaps “Late Registration”) that won’t permanently change the rap game. It’s rushed, sloppy and lacks cohesion, all things that are inexcusable from the man who marathoned a Hawaii recording session for “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” one of the best albums of this century.

 

There is hope, however. The version released on Tidal is apparently not the finished product (per a company email), and Kanye has tweeted “Ima fix wolves.” Someone needs to help him polish this up, because a good album does lurk inside, but as of now, it’s not up to the standards we should hold Yeezus to.

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