I thought I could distance myself from the hype, as Kanye West’s latest album, The Life of Pablo approached its release date on Feb. 11. As Kanye fumbled between different album titles, “Swish” and then “Waves,” my expectations for the record began to escalate. Kanye adjusted tracklist structures and created different acts for his album, updating his fans through Twitter. The day of his live-streamed Madison Square Garden Yeezy fashion show, I found myself apprehensive or almost fearful that Kanye West wouldn’t be able to deliver. I was wrong.
It’s a struggle being a Kanye fan, having to detach yourself from his larger-than-life persona. His off-the-cuff moments leave you scratching your head or applauding his relentless fight for authenticity. While most pop stars use a team of advisors to curate a perfect image, Kanye simply walks through the life with unrelenting confidence — sometimes with disastrous results.
The Life of Pablo is a combination of all things Kanye: confident, emotional and introspective. Last year, West gave a lecture at Oxford University where he said, “My goal, if I was going to do art, fine art, would have been to become Picasso or greater.”
The same way that Picasso went through artistic periods of experimentation, such as the blue period or cubism. Kanye has continued to transform his sound through each record, the perfectionist and obsessive attention to detail on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was scrapped during his Yeezus era, which incorporated a more aggressive and razor-sharp attitude.
The Life of Pablo is an amalgamation of all the previous eras that culminates to a distorted — sometimes haphazard — album, but it is still a piece of music that is undeniably phenomenal.
“Ultralight Beam,” the first track of the album, could be one of Kanye’s most captivating in recent memory. The first sound on the album is gospel chords that adorn the track beautifully as Kanye West, a choir and featured guest, The Dream, sing “I’m tryna keep my faith/ We on a Ultralight Beam, We on a Ultralight Beam/ This is a God dream/ This is Everything.” Chance the Rapper manages to stand out as a highlight on the album, generating a powerful moment of catharsis during the Saturday Night Live performance of “Ultralight Beam.” Chance raps with a boldness and maturity that lifts the track to another level, “This is my part, nobody else speak/ This is my part, nobody else speak/ This little light of mine/ Glory be to God, yeah.”
Kanye recently described The Life of Pablo as “a gospel album with a lot of cursing on it”; the theme of religion runs deeply throughout the record but it can sometimes be overshadowed by the ridiculousness of some of West’s lyrics. The now notorious line about Taylor Swift on the track, “Famous,” reveals some of the shakier moments on The Life of Pablo. “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ Why? I made that bitch famous,” West raps. The line is both tasteless and a sign of West’s classic bravado.
Despite some lyrical setbacks, Kanye still has the ability to craft an engaging body of work. West casts his albums like an auteur film director, combining budding artists and producers along with legendary artists to create an enhanced musical experience. The album credit of The Life of Pablo features countless names, some of whom are never heard on the record. The song “30 Hours” features writing credits to Drake and Pharrell. Chance the Rapper also receives credit on five tracks. Kanye’s greatest strength may be his ability to seek out talented individuals and allow them to add their talents to his own vision.
The Life of Pablo may feel incomplete to some listeners. The overall sound of this record is much more difficult to describe or even comprehend. The record bounces around ideas like a game of pong.
“Real Friends,” a track that features Ty Dolla $ign and that was previously released as a GOOD Friday track, sounds like an old cut from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the same could be said for “No More Parties in LA,” a track that features Kendrick Lamar. Feedback is another track that could have easily blended in nicely with Yeezus. “Fade,” a track that was premiered a year ago along with the Yeezy Season 2 fashion show feels disconnected compared to the rest of the album. The Life of Pablo is both bizarre and wonderful all at the same time: It solidifies West’s legacy as one of the most creative hip-hop artists of our generation.