Kanye West
The Life of Pablo


4.2
excellent

Review

by Will EMERITUS
February 17th, 2016 | 2294 replies


Release Date: 2016 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Excellence loves Kanye like Kanye loves Kanye.

At this point, it’s less a question of “if” than a question of degree: just how much is Kanye West fucking with us? Fans have been completely disoriented by Yeezy’s social media presence at least a half-dozen times in the four or five months before The Life of Pablo’s eventual release on February 14 - the album’s cycling through four names, three within a month of it dropping; the nearly farcical yet absurdly well-attended (in person and online) album stream in Madison Square Garden last week; Kanye’s tweet - seemingly out of nowhere - of “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” which sent fans and writers all across the internet into a frenzy as they tried to work out what that meant; and so much more. The bloggerati have found themselves stuck in largely the same boat as the consumers in terms of their access to album details yet having to produce tens of thousands of words worth of coverage in order to appear to have a handle on things, only to have West tweet his wish that “white publication[s]” not “comment on black music anymore” in response. Even those within the music industry have reeled at the shock of Kanye’s financially disastrous album drop, losing literally millions of dollars as the powers that be bet on Tidal and lost spectacularly when the service failed to provide users with a promised album download upon purchase and fans turned to piracy instead. ‘Ye himself has revealed a $53 million dollar debt he ostensibly holds. In a few words, shit is bananas right now.

And all that is to say nothing of the album itself. The Life of Pablo is an absolute mess, all over the place in a way that makes Yeezus look positively docile. It flies through samples at breakneck pace, going from hi-hat-happy trap to jazz to electronic-inflected modern classical to soul in the span of seconds. It crashes from track to track with almost no buffer built into its segues, abruptly changing mode and mood with no warning whatsoever. It contains some of the vilest lyrics Kanye has ever written (“Now if I fuck this model / And she just bleached her asshole / And I get bleach on my T-shirt / I’mma feel like an asshole” probably wins for best line, but there’s a treasure trove of other similar lyrics here), made even grosser by their bluntness and matter-of-factness. It doesn’t even end “properly” - “Fade” awkwardly and audibly cuts out in the middle of an instrumental loop, leaving the listener befuddled.

The Life of Pablo is a catastrophe of disparate ideas colliding without rhyme or reason and just exploding into color, much like the people chest-bumping into soda in that one unintentionally terrifying Sprite ad from about ten years ago (included in the comments for your viewing pleasure). And yet it somehow ends up coalescing gloriously into everything expected of a Kanye West album in 2016, which is to say that in its utter madness it somehow forms a coherent picture of Yeezy’s unhinged genius. It’s a shitshow, but it’s a shitshow that is quintessentially Kanye. The album sounds like a Jackson Pollock self-portrait might look, in that if you’re willing to take all the near-nonsensical individual elements and assemble them into an overcrowded eighteen-track whole, the final product, in its own twisted way, looks like Kanye West. ‘Ye imprints himself on this album in a way that is uniquely and undeniably himself, and the result is astounding in its nigh-incomprehensible design.

The excellency of The Life of Pablo can primarily be traced to its production. The more traditional beats on the album are far and away some of the best things West has ever produced, melding the hip-hop pedigree he developed on his first three albums with the rawness of Yeezus and some of the best production tricks on 808s and Heartbreak and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. “Feedback” stands out as the best of the bunch, amp distortion pitch-shifted over an industrial-lite beat to create one of the most bumpin’ songs in ‘Ye’s catalogue. The glitching at the end is one of the most sonically pleasing moments on the album, simplistic clap and occasional bass thump working to incredible effect. Similarly outstanding, “Real Friends” would feel right at home on a more morose Graduation, silvery woodwind lead and harp resting tranquilly over a cavernous snare.

The slightly less conventional tracks often rise to the same heights. “Introspective” is the wrong word to describe a track like “FML” - it’s a little too focused on Kim for that - but it’s a stark about-face from the rest of the album’s bravado. Its syrupy guitars, doused in reverb, echo ominously and insistently, unaccompanied aside from Kanye’s Auto-Tune and The Weeknd’s croon for much of the piece. In pulling back, the instrumental reflects Kanye dropping his facade of dominance for a surprisingly intimate revelation of self. The apocalyptic “Wolves” does much the same thing, ‘Ye mulling over his past excesses over blocky bass and an utterly haunting vocal sample. Given the way he’s portrayed himself outside of his music over the past half-decade or so (and, more importantly, the way the mainstream media has portrayed him over that span), it’s almost surprising that he’d worry that he’s “too wild” in the same venue as the “bleached asshole” line.

“Almost,” because of course it’s unsurprising that Kanye is not just an arrogant asshole, if he’s even one at all. He’s a human being, with hopes and fears and dreams and regrets, some of which he’d like to express and some of which he’d like to keep to himself. Except he can’t keep them to himself, for the most part, because his position as quite possibly the biggest musician of his day means that he’s subject to an impossible amount of scrutiny and coverage. The man has a largely coherent artistic vision, but that vision is inevitably corrupted by the media ascribing profound meaning to everything both important and insignificant that he does, to the point where he, in a very postmodern turn, no longer fully controls his own narrative - and that could drive a weaker man to the point of absolute insanity.

What seems to keep him afloat, at least judging from the 45-second Borges y yo disciple “I Love Kanye,” is that, despite everything, Kanye still loves Kanye. He’s convinced enough of his own brilliance that he is willing to grit his teeth through all the criticisms of his character and tellings-off from major media organizations and generally racist shit thrown at him from comment sections worldwide and produce something he truly believes is special, something which reflects whatever he can salvage of that vision. At the risk of veering into a zone that’s too navel-gazing for its own good, what makes The Life of Pablo most special is that, despite everything it has running headlong in all different directions, what does end up coming together in its complete form is fundamentally affirming. What’s clear - especially from the heavy doses of Christian praise featured here - is that Yeezy, if he’s not totally at peace with where he is, believes that he will persevere, that he will triumph, that he will be able to live his “God dream” someday.

So, when The Life of Pablo ends up a tremendous mess, it’s a mess in the best sense of the word. Kanye takes all the crap that he’s received, throws it into his computer and microphone, and ends up with stuff splattering all over the place. It’s this unholy amalgam of anger and swagger and self-loathing and - above all - love, all served over some of the best production work the man has ever done. The love is for all those around him (even that cousin who stole his laptop, that dirty motherfucker), but above all that love is for himself. Which is, of course, monumentally narcissistic, but in this case that doesn’t really matter. Kanye, in the media/fan/music-exec frenzy that’s been surrounding him, has all but drowned in other people attributing motives, feelings, and diagnoses to him that are not his own. It’s nice to hear his own voice finally shine through once again.




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user ratings (1285)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Brostep
Emeritus
February 17th 2016


4313 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Sprite ad referenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wdd3dhdcX1g



Borges y yo: https://www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/users/00/pwillen1/lit/borg&i.htm



sorry this review sucks but I blocked hard and can't be assed to edit, enjoy

Brostep
Emeritus
February 17th 2016


4313 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

also if yall find any formatting fuckups please let me know, I think I caught all of them but I may be missing one

klap
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2016


11700 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

glad someone got around to reviewing this and it wasn't me

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2016


30667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

oh sheeeeeit

Spec
February 17th 2016


34732 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I'm kind of scared to comment in here after the hep kat thing tbh.

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2016


30667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

it may be time to go back to using alts dude, at least until its safe again

SBMike
February 17th 2016


40 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

"Tremendous mess" No it's not, it's just a plain mess and unfinished experience with mid highs and really low lows with the exception being Ultralight Beam which is a tremendous track.

Brostep
Emeritus
February 17th 2016


4313 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

Tbh if hep waltzes on in I will treat the man cordially and respectfully



That he'll call this review a travesty is kind of a given esp since it kind of is

joesmoe4000
February 17th 2016


572 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

30 hrs is the jam!

Spec
February 17th 2016


34732 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The review is good d00d



I don't like the album tho

DrGonzo1937
Contributing Reviewer
February 17th 2016


13283 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

God, the lyrics on Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 are truly awful.

Digging: Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2016


30667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yo this review is good bro (step)

Brostep
Emeritus
February 17th 2016


4313 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

ty yall was actually not expecting that :]

Spec
February 17th 2016


34732 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

You should see my garbage ass reviews dayum.



In all seriousness though I've tried to jam Kanye since dark twisted fantasy and I really don't like the music.

brainmelter
February 17th 2016


4204 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

still don't know how I feel about this

Digging: Taeko Ohnuki - Sunshower

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2016


30667 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Tidal shouldn't be characterized as anarbitrary play, though (considering his connection to jay-z)

Arcade
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2016


8408 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

probably going to post a negative review as a counterpoint

Digging: Zola Jesus - Okovi

Arcade
Staff Reviewer
February 17th 2016


8408 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

(really liked the review tho!!!)

dimsim3478
February 17th 2016


7627 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

brah did you lift the jackson pollock thing from needle drop?

Digging: Ging Nang Boyz - ?

Brostep
Emeritus
February 17th 2016


4313 Comments

Album Rating: 4.2

haven't watched tnd in about 3 or 4 years so no



@acad I have no idea what the hell I meant by "arbitrary" so I have changed the word ty for looking out



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