Kanye West’s ‘The Life of Pablo’
An interactive* music review (from me to you)
Hi! I’m Ally, and this is my review of Kanye’s newest album, The Life of Pablo.
*there are lots of fun links!!!!!!!
This is the life of Pablo, or at least, that is kind of what Kanye mentions throughout. Am I still wondering exactly what he means by that? Yes. Here’s what Genius says about the title: “The title, which was derived from a lyric on ‘No More Parties In LA,’ takes on many personas, referring to Pablo Picasso, an artist, Pablo Escobar, a notorious drug dealer, and Paul the Apostle, whose name is Pablo in Spanish.” And Wikipedia claims this wasn’t actually the original title:
In November 2013, Kanye West began working on his seventh album, titled So Help Me God, initially setting the release date for 2014.
In May 2015, West changed the title of the album into SWISH, but then he clarified that this could still be a subject to change. On January 26, 2016, West posted a supposed finalized tracklisting on his Twitter account, along with the new tentative name to the album, titled Waves, which led to a brief dispute between him and fellow rapper Wiz Khalifa. On February 4, 2016, West called in Big Boy’s Neighborhood radio station to confirmed that he still hadn’t settled on a final title for the album. On February 9, West revealed the official album title’s acronym for T.L.O.P., after offering free tickets to his third season of Yeezy fashion show at Madison Square Garden, along with a pair of the latest Yeezy sneakers to anyone who could decode the acronym. On the following day, West unveiled the full title on Twitter: The Life of Pablo.
So, I guess now we all know a little more about why Kanye could have chosen that title. Either way, it’s a pretty okay title in my opinion, as compared with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but my opinion really doesn’t matter! I just wanted to review this album, though I suppose that means I should go review his past six albums, but y’all are just gonna have to wait till my rap theory book maybe comes out in 2096.
Anyway, I’ve listened to the album through many a time so far on Tidal. I decided to do the free month trial to test out the new Ye and that’s pretty much all I used the streaming service for. So I got an uninterrupted month of listening to the album, not everyday exactly, but almost and I would listen to it multiple times often.
As is common of my own practice, I usually listen to an album a couple times beginning to end until I decide I know it well enough to shuffle it around, or I find my favorites that I play first. When I get to the shuffling stage and still find an album worth listening to and that I indeed have a desire to keep shuffling no matter which song starts and which ends, that’s how I personally know that an album is gold.
The Life of Pablo was quick to get to gold level for me and by the second week of listening I was beginning to crave my next listening even more than originally. This, broadly speaking, is when I know an album has gone platinum for me. Okay, sorry, I know it’s cheesy that I’m using gold and platinum, and maybe even a little cliche, but it’s an easy way to decode my love, which could get a little incoherent.
So, who cares that I love T.L.O.P.? Not you? Well, maybe you will! After I attempt to give you the reasons why I fell in love with this album faster than 808s or My Beautiful Dark.
If you’ve been following Kanye for even just a little while, you will have noticed his almost irreverent approach to his struggle with split identities. Though many people reprimand him for his arrogance or ego (something all rappers, or even performers in general, need to have), if you listen close enough, even just to his production, you will find a tale of confusion. This confusion is often bitter, and so can come off a little brusque. But really, who’s confusion about the Universe ever was purely childlike? And even children get frustrated.
I think that Kanye’s split, and it’s even more apparent on this album than others, is between being a voice, a god, a genius and being a listener, a human, and a normal guy. Many of us have this struggle! But not all of us have the added hamper of fame.
Fame causes the split to go deeper and seems to rend a chasm in Kanye’s psyche — “name one genius who ain’t crazy.” In his songs Famous and Feedback, he delves into the concept of fame for him. Genius says that Famous is “Kayne’s breakup letter with fame,” while Feedback is his “unapologetic ode to success.” By putting this songs back to back, he seems to be juxtaposing the frames of identity that put on both — you can’t have real success without some sort of fame, and vice versa.
What I love about this album is the tension in it! With just a look at two songs on the album, the feelings that are pulling at Kanye and pulling music out of him are already apparent. Besides the tension of fame and success, there’s the crises of loving God and being God, or shunning him.
I am absolutely ecstatic about this theme in The Life of Pablo, as someone who grew up in the Church and is out of it now, but is still enamored with the concept of God and the language of the Bible and with Christians who truly have faith and hope and love. One of my personal qualms with Christianity, and organized religion in general, is with the hypocrisy of human practitioners, and it seems that’s the problem a lot of other people have to, especially in hip-hop culture.
This is a tension that more and more hip-hop artists are actively and vocally exploring, as for a while (maybe even really since P.M. Dawn) the Christian voice of the black male rapper community has been repressed. And this is completely understandable — the values of the Church hardly seem to be able to be applied to the real life of growing up in communities oppressed by systematic racism. With drugs and violence, there is very little room for a loving, yet rather strict God. He wasn’t keeping up with the times, or at least the way elders portrayed him didn’t.
With a shun of the church, rappers seemed to take to the debauchery that fame and fortune whistled at them. As Kanye claims, even this lure of riches and glory came with a “New Slaves” kind of price, and so systemic racism strikes again. But in this album, Kanye boldly brings God and the Church back to his stage. It seems the drift of hopelessness found in 808's and songs like “Appalled” is finally finding some sense of resolution. Kanye is exploring his faith more, or has been and finally is in the public eye and I find this extremely important.
I think this is important because it sheds light on Yeezus’s human side, and the side that is a little more real. Kanye gets it! He always has, but fame has put his ego at the forefront, and you don’t really need to take a poll to see that he has a big ego at that. Though people say his arrogance goes unchecked, I beg to differ, because even in earlier albums we saw Kanye’s spirituality breaking through the masculine rapper facade.
In this album, “Ultralight Beams” is track numero uno, and sets the scene for the theme of “coming home” to truth in the album. Yes, Kanye does know the truth, but so do all of us deep within ourselves; he just seems to really be trying to spit it out in this album. No, we don’t really need to learn the Truth through just Kanye’s music and twitter feed, but as he he does say in one of his tweets, he really just wants to help us find It…
The real difference in this album as compared to his others is that I feel real, unadulterated joy in it. Although each tune still contains that classic Kanye snark, there is more positive than negative lighting up The Life of Pablo. And it is a more simplistic positivity than the usual complications of rap — the super-charged rapper who spends his time and money on women and fancy things, now has a wife and two kids and the light of the Lord apparently shining through.
From the first track on, you will experience a plethora of Kanyes. Each of the songs reflects a part of his personality and makes this album a piece of multidimensional art. It helps that there are some heavy bangers as well as sweet, melo/mellow tunes. Not only did he also have a ton of awesome features (Chance the Rapper’s verse on Ultralight kills it), but other great artists (who are also his friends and collaborators) are already covering his work.
If you listen to this soulful, and yet ultimately very Kanye album, you will not be disappointed.
If you haven’t listened to recent Yeezy, or you are like me and sometimes take a second to settle into a new album, give it a couple more listens and try to do it consciously. I believe you will like the new/old Kanye you find.
And here are some fun and pretty weird tweets from Kanye’s social-media persona that will have you questioning whether he is joking around or is actually an out-of-touch old man: