Some thoughts on The Life of Pablo
“I’M THE GHETTO OPRAH, YOU GET A FUR, YOU GET A FUR
YOU GET A LEATHER JACKET, BIG BOOTY BITCH FOR YOU, WOO”
Kanye’s final words on Feedback, the 4th track on his recently released ‘Life of Pablo’ record are a brief skit. Not like the laid-back and silly skits of the College Dropout Era, but closer to manic surreal screams which fit the post-apocalyptic looping beat. In fact, the “wooo” (which acts the an exclamation point to Ye’s rant) is vaguely mimicked by an electric screech every 4th note, closing out the track. Three loops of computer chatter continue until they are interrupted by a warm piano key, introducing the next guest on the album. An unidentified woman passionately shouts her testimony to the Lord. Her voice is warm and soothing, a welcome adjustment to the anxiety of the previous track. The switch from Feedback to Lowlights is surprising, but not abrupt. It moves like a transition in an exceptionally great DJ set; no one questions the change as it happens, but a minute into the next track finds the listener wondering how the music wandered into such drastically different territory.
TLOP is full of these sonic turns. Although the cover unsubtly asks ‘WHICH/ONE?’, Pablo’s production moves deftly through the two themes of vice versus faith. Thinking back to other showings of duality in rap, such as Danny Brown’s Side A/Side B on ‘Old’ or Eminem’s usage of persona, Kanye is able to much more realistically and fluidly represent the brain of someones struggling with identity. The switch between two sides is often quick and without reason; Kanye crooning about fucking bleached assholes during the beautiful Metro Boomin rework of a gospel anthem.
The use of juxtaposition on The Life of Pablo operates both as shifts (another great example being the joyous outro of Famous) but also by reconciling disparate sounds within the same track. On Fade, the main baseline is infinitely catchy, but also hypnotizing and numbing. My first time listening, I was immediately transported to a sweaty club on a late summer morning; rushed with endorphins, yet still being plagued by a nagging boredom. The usage of the dance track ‘I Get Lifted’ breaks up the monotony through short bursts of a seemingly heavenly choir. It feels like the fleeting moments that make going out worth it: a dance floor kiss or reaching that perfect level of drunk. There’s a belief in Christianity that all hedonistic desires are truly a disguised yearned for God. Under this light, the choirs’ interjections actually sound like pangs of guilt, or a cry to leave the club, only to be droned out by the thumps of the baseline.
It’s become increasingly exhausting to rank or categorize Kanye albums, but I do think that The Life of Pablo is the perfect follow-up to Yeezus. Yeezus was the bender, an indeterminate period of time living out the lives’ most lavish fantasies. Many people anticipated the follow up to be “Happy Kanye”, now that he “got that out of his system”. However, that is an oversimplified summary of moving out of a crazy portion of one’s life. People rarely make life-style changes cold turkey. The re-injection of religion, monogamy or sobriety into one’s life is always messy, awkward, confusing, funny and hectic; all of which are captured on Pablo. The seamless blending of multiple eras and moods of music once again allowed Kanye to give listeners a hyper-specific snapshot into his hyper-specific life.