- In the days leading up to the release of The Life of Pablo – which were an agonizing bout of stops and starts for any proud Kanye stan – I was reading The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final novel. It was released posthumously and unfinished, patched together by his friend Edmund Wilson, a critic and writer. It’s a quick read and it passed the time well enough between checking my phone every five minutes to see if the album had dropped. When The Life of Pablo finally released (and Tidal finally broke my will) and I consumed it in one sitting, I noted a (more, but I’ll spare you) parallel to Fitzgerald’s novel: this is a messy, unfinished work that, in its shambolic state, only highlights the brilliance of a once-in-a-generation artist.
- But whereas Fitzgerald is dead and The Last Tycoon will remain unfinished, The Life of Pablo is a uniquely living and breathing work. Kanye West had been tweaking the album seemingly right up until its release (note the incredibly current Blac Chyna/Rob Kardashian reference in “Highlights”) and, in a surreal twist, beyond, with his Twitter proclamation that he would re-work “Wolves.” Kanye has forged many a trend and perhaps 2016’s shutter shades (shudder if you owned them – yikes) will be continuing to work on your album even after its release.
- Props if you’ve made it past my nauseating comparisons to a dead, white author – here’s what I think about The Life of Pablo: it’s really fucking good. Every Kanye album is my favorite Kanye album and TLOP is no exception.
- “Ultralight Beam” is a gospel song. It’s an interesting intro track in that it barely features Kanye amidst an imposing lineup of The-Dream, Kelly Price, Chance the Rapper and Kirk Franklin. (Full-disclosure: I have never liked anything by Chance the Rapper, but he absolutely bodies this track to the point where my opinion might be changing.)
- I first heard “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” during the Yeezy Season 3 Tidal stream and when I heard Metro Boomin’s drop I nearly ran through a brick wall. I’ve probably listened to this track over thirty times now and the first minute or so are up there with my favorite things Kanye has ever created. When the beat drops and Yeezy starts talking about bleached assholes there’s an affecting sonic euphoria that’s rare to find.
- While the first four songs of the album seem to harken back to ‘Ye’s more soulful era, production-wise, “Feedback” recalls that Yeezus-era shit that sounds like a sonic distillation of visuals from Richard Stanley’s HARDWARE (1990) and it’s absolutely brilliant, of course.
- To levy a criticism for the sake of some semblance of objectivity (LOL), Young Thug is not featured enough on “Highlights.” Thugger floats over the first half of the track like an auto-tuned, ethereal wraith and I’d like to hear more. (Yeezy says he has forty songs with Young Thug, FYI; So blessed.) But this song is great and hearing The-Dream repeat “I need every bad bitch up in Equinox” makes me OK with knowing that many insufferable people will be shouting that line well through August.
- Desiigner sounds a lot like Future.
- Kanye made an acapella track that perfectly encapsulates the I-prefer-the-old-shit types who didn’t understand anything released after Graduation, while also touching on the fact that they all still pay attention. All in forty-four seconds.
- “Waves” delayed the release of TLOP by a couple of days because Chance the Rapper fought for it to be on the album (he wrote and arranged the song). That proved a noble fight because this is one of Kanye’s best songs in years. “Waves” succinctly displays one of the more prevalent themes throughout TLOP: success without love or family is not really success. The boasting heard at the beginning of the track: “Walk up in this bitch like / I’m the one your bitch like” seems hollow after the resigned lamentation that comes later: “Even when somebody go away / The feelings don’t really go away / That’s just the wave.”
- You can see through the veil,
And forget all your cares,
Throw them away
Ooh life’s a feeling yeah
Ooh the body’s a feeling yeah
Emotions come and go
Even strike you a blow
But life, life’s a feeling yeah
Ooh life’s a feeling yeah
-Section 25. “Hit.”
- The above are lyrics heard in a sample on the track “FML.” This is one of the darker offerings on TLOP in which we find Kanye recognizing that he is a man with something to lose (a wife, specifically) and, in turn, is seeking morality and strength in the face of temptation. The lyrics by Section 25 (a pretty obscure English post-punk band that should pique the attention of the most ardent Factory Records completists), are sampled in a haunting, dislocated drone and offer a nihilist polar that hangs over a man desperately pleading for love. It’s a well-executed and subtle juxtaposition that serves to the inner conflict heard throughout the album.
- About a year ago, Kanye performed a new song called “Wolves” on SNL and the whole fandom lost their shit and began immediately pining for a CDQ version. Months wore on and there was legitimate concern that this track would end up in the annals of cryptozoological myth-like releases with Dr. Dre’s Detox and that Zach De La Rocha solo record, so when it popped up on the tracklist for The Life of Pablo there was a collective sigh of relief. The version that ended up on the album, however, was absent Vic Mensa and Sia, both of whom featured on the original version, and the new incarnation is just…different. Frank Ocean (speaking of cryptozoological myth-like releases) does appear on the album version and there’s a new Kanye verse, both of which are decent consolations, but when the original CDQ version leaked this past week it was a fortuitous stroke of divinty – praise Yeezus.
- If the Wave God Max B speaks on a record it’s technically a classic based off that alone.
- Drake co-wrote “30 Hours” and it’s really apparent in the second verse: “Expedition was Eddie Bauer edition / I’m drivin’ with no winter tires in December / Skrrt skrrt skrrt like a private school for women” – those are 100 percent Drake bars.
- When you put a diss track about Nike on your album you are fully logged on to www dot not playin dot com. This song initially came out in December and seemed to have one-off, will-rot-on-soundcloud-in-perpetuity written all over it. I mean it wasn’t bad – it was produced by Metro Boomin so it technically can’t be – but it was…a diss track about Nike. Somehow, though, Charlie Heat remixed the track and made the beat even better (???). While this may have seemed out of place at first blush, it’s three-plus minutes of Puffy-spitting-Cristal bars and really, it makes sense.
- I, like most, assumed it was a wrap for Post Malone when that vine of him saying the n-word hit the internet, but here he is on “Fade.”
- The Life of Pablo is a messy masterpiece that’s – remarkably – still evolving in an era of never-before-seen creative transparency from the artist. In a time where we’re all broadcasting every banal life occurrence to the world (omg Starbuck’s misspelled my name), Yeezy tweeting through his album release seems to wrangle the ol’ zeitgeist pretty well, while also making our own moves seem pretty inconsequential. Bravo, Kanye.