Keeping Up With The Pablos

Well, it’s here. Yeezy has, delay after shit-tastic delay, finally released his latest (hopeful) magnum opus; entitled (not) So Help Me God, (not) Swish, (not) Waves…The Life of Pablo. Is it as amazing as Kanye’s Ego would have us believe? If ‘Ye fucks a model with a bleached asshole, and some bleach gets on his t-shirt, will he TRULY feel like an asshole? Shouldn’t he already? Isn’t that line, um, tacky AF? (and the Taylor Swift line…SHEEEESH! /Young Thug voice…hey he’s on this album too!) Like Mos Def and Common famously said, “it’s the questions, (what?), it’s the questions…” 
 And many are answered within Kanye’s multi-layered music manuscript. It’s also scattered, yet similar. Some questions still remain. But Kanye is, if anything, a cultural enigma. This much is true. Everybody knows Kanye West. Well, the general public knows Kanye West’s ego. And it’s generally a hate thing. But to know Kanye West the musician is to love Kanye West the musician. And luckily, Kanye West the musician shows-up countless times on The Life of Pablo. When I first listened to the album earlier this morning (after waking-up to multiple friends’ texts about the album dropping online hours before…and I’m just a music nerd nobody so that just goes to show you that, love or hate, that’s the power of Kanye West) — I thought that it was a mess; and I thought that it wasn’t really that good. And what’s up with the Windows 95 clipart-of-an-album-cover ‘Ye?! I even went ahead and posted as much in a since-deleted (I know, the scandal!) post on Facebook. Such is life. I forgot the first rule of album-listening sessions; which is that marination is key. I’d skipped through all the tracks after about 30-or-so-seconds of each track; none of the music had actually had a chance to get in my ears and under my skin. I definitely hadn’t let the album marinate. FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a bonafide Kanye West dickrider fanatic. But, I also like to think that I have moderate taste in music (humble emoji) and that my fandom hadn’t clouded my opinion. 
 Indeed, the album launch was (kinda) a mess. Yeezy famously went on several Twitter tirades. One of which involved romantic and musical adversary Wiz Khalifa — and I honestly don’t have the time to explain the multi-layered significance of it all. But, Kanye was basically shut-down with a single tweet about liking booty play during sex with Amber Rose by the woman herself. Then Yeezy promised the album would launch around the same time as his Madison Square Garden ‘Yeezy Season 3’ (because Kanye’s so huge, he comes in SEASONS…) fashion show. That went pretty well. Mixed-in there were a couple of “Kanye being Kanye” moments and tirades. Whatever, bro. THAT SHIT IS HERE. 
 And it’s complicated. But it’s also — well, it’s messy. Yes — I still stand behind the position that, like Kanye as of late, it really isn’t that focused. Not like A Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was. This is more like A Dark But Beautifully Twisted Mess. The album starts with ‘Ultralight Beam’ featuring Chance The Rapper. And is that Kirk Franklin? Yes, it’s that gospel singin’ OG from the 90’s. AND MORE! Get used to features everyone, because there’s gonna be a bunch. Not a single one is wasted, though. (Not even the rn one-internet-hit-wonder Post Malone? NOPE, NOT EVEN POST MALONE, MY DUDE). The Life of Pablo start’s with ‘Ultralight Beam’; a stunningly somber track which immediately gives the listener a sense of two subjects soon-to-be repeated heavily throughout the album — family and religion. To put it in US Weekly terms, the Louie Vitton Don now has a Louie Vitton Mom. ‘Ultralight Beam’ opens the album with what sounds like children on the playground playing (and one particular child arguing, I think?), and then Kanye starts crooning (without Auto-Tune no less!) and his signature drum-snare combo kicks in. It’s a solid track. You get the feeling that Kanye is definitely not goonna be throwing a Yeezus-themed party again. At least not this time. Yes, The Life of Pablo still has the potential to be “dark” — but not like BDSM-and-pitbulls-in-a-Tenderloin-alley type of “dark”. It’s more like emotional pain. That muddy-waters-of-Mississippi-delta-gospel-and-blues “dark”. Indeed, there’s a gospel choir eventually later in this very track. It features (relatively) new artist and fellow Chicagoan, Chance the Rapper; who is indeed more of a “soulful” type dude — both in his sound and persona. 
 So yeah, we’re going there. “Old Kanye”-type strings and shit. Indeed, The Life of Pablo is a return-to-form for Kanye in many ways. There’s the already-said “gospel choirs and strings” return to form. Kanye then brings back his 808-and-Heartbreaks-era auto-tune vocals to the album’s second track, ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1’. It features Kid Cudi (who has since departed the G.O.O.D. Music camp). So, once again, a return to another Kanye West era. 808s, basically. It’s all sung over Metro-Boomin’ production; complete with now-famous “If Young Metro don’t trust ya, I’ma shoot you” Future-assisted tagline. ‘Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2’ finds us similarly in Future/Atlanta-trap territory; although with a feature assist from G.O.O.D. Music newcomer? Desiigner instead of Future. But Desiigner and ‘Ye are totally using (what sounds like, anyways) Future/Metro/808-Mafia melodies. Then it turns, like, British grime-ish? Who the fuck is Desiigner, anyways? (Seriously! I’ve looked on Google, bro). Rihanna shows-up on track four — as does Swiss Beatz on the production tip (you can tell the second the drums kick-in, similar to Kanye’s). Swizz basically spends his per usual never-enough-to-just-be-behind-the-boards vocal cameo chanting how Kanye better “talk that shit” which apparently includes the “infamous” (please Kanye, crocodile tears) line about having sex with Taylor Swift and his claim to being solely responsible for her celebrity status. It’s beyond tacky. And very desperate. And clearly an attention-grabbing attempt from an outsider’s perspective, to be frank. But that particular line aside, the song is pretty dope. Honestly, you have to listen to it like five times first. IT WILL GROW ON YOU, I SWEAR. Actually, maybe not. That’s Swizz Beats’ production in a nutshell, tbh, and why he hasn’t become as big as his era-mates like Timbaland. But dude obviously gets along well with his colleagues. Plus, Swizz has the Jay-Z/ROC connection with Yeezy, so it fits that he’s here. It’s followed-up with ‘Low Lights’; which immediately flips-back to the gospel/peaches/cream sounding songs of yesterKanye — but with a mellow-House/EDM-sounding twist. And a Kanye-via-studio-session-R&B-singer love letter to Kanye. And it doesn’t really sound awkward, because it’s Kanye. ‘Low-Lights’ naturally has a track entitled ‘Highlights’ right after it. Like the magazine. Kanye read a bunch while making The Life of Pablo. Ok, not really. But the wordplay is typical Kanye, and so is the sound of the song. Very uptempo. Not fast, but jubilant. Young Thug comes through to chant for a little bit. Then ‘Freestyle 4’ begins, and everything goes Alfred Hitchcock Psycho quick. Desiigner’s back too. And this track kicks. Like, Travis $cott/Rodeo-type kicks. And it’s awesome AF. The Life of Pablo’s halfway-point starts with (of course)’I Love Kanye; which honestly explains itself in those three wittle words; you start to feel all of the recent actions by Yeezy start to sink-in. The shoes, the fashion, the music. The second-half of The Life of Pablo is truly superior to the first. You just get hit with track-after-track of straight-up rap/pop music awesomeness. The Weekend-assisted ‘FML’ has Abel Tesfaye doing his usual mixture of odd-and-haunting type crooning. But it sounds perfect here. Unfortunately, Kanye just can’t leave well-enough alone. He tries to end the album with this weird little sonic-experiment that honestly sounds like Madlib’s Quasimodo character — drunk, stumbling around a garage, playing psychedelic-rock tunes on his wavy-ass guitar. Quasimoto’s hypothetical wife probably then comes in, and yells at him for waking-up the baby and angering the neighbors with his horrible “music”. Like Thugger would say, “YEEEESH!”. It’s followed-up by one of the The Life of Pablo’s strongest tracks, though. With an alley-oop toss by Ty Dolla $ign, Kanye slam-dunks ‘Real Friends’ (one-hundred_emoji). That shit hits you straight in the feelings (gut-wrenching-face_emoji). Then you get a Kanye back-to-back emotional feature with ‘Wolves’, which features Frank Ocean (who’s recently been harder to find than Big Foot, amiright!?) and newcomer? Caroline Shaw. It’s very minimal. Kinda like Kanye’s ‘Yeezy Season 3’ fashion line (probably why they used it in the promotions, ya think?). For some reason, I immediately think fur on everything and ballerinas in tonal colors like grey and brown. And naked Autumn trees with bare branches in the background. And Frannk Ocean? GTFOH. Dude basically provides a 101 class on how to use your 30-second feature on a major artist’s album release to maximum effect. 
 After Frank Ocean punches us in the gut, we’re hit again with ‘Silver Surfer Intermission’. All you proud, card-carrying members of the Max B. Wavy Fan Club, Kanye means that “Silver Surfer”. I originally thought that the whole “’Waves’ controversy” that embroiled West for awhile there was about something unrelated to Max B. I am, admittedly, just a casual fan of the currently-imprisioned and really-talented-but-grimey-AF dude. I still need to give him more of my listening time. And indeed, Max B sends his regards via the prison telephone (with your friendly neighborhood C.O. listening in, I’m 100% sure). It’s a very touching, albeit bittersweet little interlude — kinda like Max B’s life-story itself. And B deserves more words than I plan on giving him here. But it’s after the depressing Max B. treatment that we truly get what makes Kanye worth all of his bullshit. Because honestly, that’s why Kanye fans do it. That’s why people such as myself bear the cross of the blunt, harsh treatment of Kanye from people over everything from Kanye West as a human being, to a father, to a role model/influence, to a personality, to a religious hypocrite; to on, and on, and on. Everything but ‘Ye’s actual music, basically. Because 9 times outta 10, Kanye West is gonna give us something amazing. Something special. And ’30 Hours’ is definitely that special kinda something. It includes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it vocal cameo from Andre 3000, who’s Frank Ocean-type artist seclusion times a MILLION. Still, like a deer sighting in the woods; it’s something quick (and rare!) but beautiful. And the gorgeous sample, the hook — that shit is so soulful. Kinda shit I wanna cry to. Wanna make babies to. Wanna go home and hug my momma. It’s pretty dope. 
 So is ‘No More Parties In LA’, which was one of the first tracks to be released for promotional use for The Life of Pablo. It’s easy to see why — with the Kendrick Lamar feature and (to a certain section of the hip-hop community) the Madlib co-production credit. Kanye West has always floated in-between those two musical circles of the crate-digging backpacker, hip-hop traditionalist sub-community and the casual music fan who’s looking to “get deep” and impress people too. That’s why West is a Grammy darling. Not that any of it is undeserved. My opinion on second-to-last jawn ‘Facts (Charlie Heat Version)’ is that — well the numbers (in terms of sales, significance, influence, etc.) of Adidas and Nike/Jordan just don’t add-up. It’s kinda like some insurgents winning a recent battle against the U.S. Military in whatever third-world-country conflict and bragging that they’ve already won the war. Like, NOPE. Not even close. It’s true that Kanye West has up-ended the sneaker game since his Adidas signing a couple years back with the Yeezy Boost 350 & 750s. They still instantly sell-out on release date and resell for upwards of $1000 per pair, no matter the color scheme. But Nike’s been the big kid on-the-block for decades now, regardless of ‘Ye’s brand-jumping. A few Yeezy Boost 350s selling-out, compared to countless dozens of Nike/Jordan pairs during the same period. Don’t believe the hype. Finally, the album concludes with ‘Fade’. And it’s West at his most EDM-ness. ‘Fade’ samples House music legends Kenny Dope and Little Louie Vega’s aptly named group Masters At Work-production number ‘Beautiful People’, which was used by Barbara Tucker. Tons of echoes. Lots of repeated samples. Very Kanye. If Kanye West went to a rave in the 90’s, dropped some MDMA, and went home and produced a record that same night. Thus, The Life of Pablo concludes. I feel fragmented. A bit confused. That’s it? It was nice, yes. Sonically, The Life of Pablo is to-the-needle-tip level on-point. But so is A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory. You also play that album track-for-track and you begin to FEEL a theme. I didn’t sense one with The Life of Pablo. (DISCLAIMER: I am not trying to compare these two albums, outside of the fact that one has a theme and one kinda-sorta doesn’t). To be completely honest, The Life of Pablo feels like West produced a bunch of stellar, completed tracks that he was hoping to use for maybe like three different future projects. But then homie got sorta-bored with them, and Kanye felt the pressure to deliver a new project, album, anything to his label/the general public. Plus, Kanye didn’t want the tracks to go to waste — so he threw them all together on an album with a last-minute-ditch-effort metaphor/theme combining the two very enigmatic (yet completely opposite) public personas of Pablo Escobar and Picasso and dropped it on the general public. It totally fits. That’s why Kanye kept messing with the project until the last minute. Literally. That’s why it had several last-minute album title and track-listing changes. And that’s why The Life of Pablo will be remembered as a fragmented-but-sonically-beautiful album in Kanye West’s final album discography and legacy, many years from now. By then, who knows where ‘Ye will be in both his personal and public lives. And that’s why we all tune-in to The Kanye West Show; regardless of wether you like his actual music or not, right? All hail Yeez-PABLO.

Originally published at on February 17, 2016.

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