First things first. Kanye West sold out Madison Square Garden for a CD listening party. So, even if this project turned out to be a piece of shit, he still wins.
I would summarize a speil about Kanye changing the album name four times or the paper from his studio with all the signatures, but chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve already seen and ignored 50 gratuitous Complex articles about just that. Moving along.
As one of the biggest Kanye stans you will ever meet–emblematic tattoo and all–I’ll admit that I was worried leading up to this album. With various Twitter rants, title changes, and broken G.O.O.D. Friday promises, it was easy to get discouraged and frankly, frightened for what would come from of Ye’s latest musical endeavor. And even though they have no justification, the multiple articles written explaining why “this will be the first disappointing Kanye album!” are hard to avoid if you use the internet at all, so it embedded its way into my brain.
The crowning moment of the semi-messy-but-still-pretty-genius album rollout was Yeezy announcing on Saturday Night Live that the album was available on Tidal, only for it to be unfindable for the better part of an hour. Once it finally showed up–and the tracks Tidal messed up got fixed–we all rejoiced and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning listening to and frantically tweeting hot takes about the first new Kanye West album in almost 3 years. It’s a beautiful thing. Now, let’s get to the music:
If you saw the marvelous Saturday Night Live performance leading up to the album’s release, the second “Ultralight Beams” started, you got what Ye was talking about when he said this was a gospel album. This is the only time I think I have ever deemed the opening track on an album as my favorite song. Finally we get to see these two Chicago MC’s on a song together, with Chance the Rapper delivering an equally soulful and quick-witted verse. Though I really wish the choir supported the background vocals during Chance’s verse on the CD version like they did in the performance, this song is beautiful in both incarnations.
One song in and I’m already completely emotionally and physically drained; Then comes “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”–Kid Cudi and Kanye West back together again. Despite Kanye’s verse lacking any actual substance, the perfect sample, a melodic Cudi hook, and a severely catchy bridge (“I JUST WANNA FEEL LIBERATEDAYEAYEYYAYEE) give this some major replay value. “Pt. 2” gives us a more thoughtful verse from West along with a feature from new G.O.O.D. signee Desiigner, who we all know sounds like Future–and after one day, I’m already sick of hearing the comparisons.
I’ll never forget the moment I first heard “Famous.” I went to a movie theater screening of the Madison Square Garden live stream, and the second Kanye uttered, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous,” I heard a roar louder than when Mike Tyson knocked out…umm..I don’t know anything about boxing. My point is, everybody went nuts.
This is probably my favorite beat on the album, not to mention those Swizz Beatz ablibs that have me in my room hype like I just ended world hunger. This song is the epitome of the textbook Kanye West song: beautifully repurposed samples, a soulful hook, some ignorant verses–and all of it coming together in a way you wouldn’t think possible, but it works so very well.
“Feedback” is just okay for me overall, but most notably features the line “name one genius that ain’t crazy,” perfectly encapsulating all that Kanye is. The “Ghetto Oprah” skit at the end is my favorite part of the whole track, reminding us that Ye never takes himself too seriously.
A few tracks later brings us to the best subtweet of all time: “I Miss The Old Kanye” (mistakenly(?) titled “I Love Kanye” on Tidal). I could go on a rant about how music is all about progress, and that if Kanye West was still making the same stuff he did on College Dropout nobody would care, and that everybody who complains about missing the old Kanye just doesn’t understand how well he’s pushing the boundaries of music but…I honestly have that same argument with someone at least once a week. This skit is the holy grail of Ye’s self-awareness and self-validation to match. Walk around any neighborhood in New York City south of 42nd street and when you look around all you’ll see is Kanyes.
“Silver Surfer Intermission” reminds us all just how petty this man is, not even naming the album “Waves” anymore, but reminding us that he could if he wanted to, because you do what you want when you’re Kanye. Max B gave his blessing, making it even funnier that grown men (read: Wiz Khalifa) were getting in their feelings at the thought of someone “stealing” a word.
I am so excited that Andre 3000 was added to the outro of “30 Hours” after the G.O.O.D. Friday version we heard prior. With that being said, every time I listen to it I’m holding out hope for a secret 3 Stacks verse to materialize, which, 30 or 40 listens later, hasn’t happened yet. Slum Village alumni Karriem Riggins’ production on this one makes for an eerie, almost weightless beat that could be the soundtrack of all my daydreams.
The decision to release “No More Parties In LA” before the rest of the album is something I’m extremely thankful for. If I had not already had a good couple of weeks to listen to and obsess over this song, and was just thrown into it blindly as just another track on “The Life Of Pablo,” I probably wouldn’t make it to the rest of the album. With all the proper ingredients for a classic–Madlib, Kanye, and Kendrick–this song is as good in theory as it is in execution.
The album closes with “Fade,” which features a sample from one of Chicago’s earliest house tracks, Fingers Inc’s “Mystery of Love.” This thoroughly concludes the album, combining gospel-like singing with an addictive bassline that makes it literally impossible not to bop your head.
Very quickly, I would like to tell everybody who said “The Life Of Pablo” was better than “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” 40 minutes after it came out to please calm down. I do not think that this album has anywhere near the effect on music that MBDTF had, but I also don’t think that matters. 7 studio albums in, and Mr. West is still making beautiful, difficult, unapologetic music that contributes to the culture.
“The Life Of Pablo” is a culmination of all the facets of Kanye we know and love–he’s lyrical at times and ignorant at others, he gives us crazy samples and incredible production, and we get the comedic, remorseless skits. Overall, it really doesn’t matter where this fits in with the rest of his library and whether it is better or worse than [insert album here]. 12 years (and 3 days) after the release of his first album, Kanye West is nowhere close to running out of ideas or ways to innovate music. There is no better example of an artist who is here to get out his dreams and constantly provide us with material that is unlike what we have ever heard before, and with that you can almost do no wrong. Well, at least Kanye can’t.