Album Review: #2: Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo
by Sarah Muhammad
For every year in music, typically one area or city comes out on top and for the year of 2016, I can confidently say that Chicago takes the crown in a flawless victory. Surrounding many of the rookies is the shadow and influence of the vets. Despite the never ending turmoil that surrounds his life and career, it felt like we welcomed Kanye West home as a vet this year with the release of his latest album, The Life of Pablo. In many ways, the album felt like West was getting back to basics, even with the several last minute changes to the name and continuous lyrical and production changes following the album's release. However, the rapper still took several signature style detours, in true Kanye fashion, to create the sonic boom that would keep the project in the ears of his fans nonstop. The theme of religion and spirituality in hip hop has made its way fiercely this year as we have seen with the release of Chance The Rapper’s latest project and therefore, it was only right to enlist the budding rapper, along with The-Dream, Kirk Franklin and Kelly Price for the album’s first song, “Ultralight Beam”. “Ultralight Beam” is a declaration that encases the theme of the entire project in redemption and a plea for acceptance in spite of one’s imperfections and sins. The lyrics “We on a ultralight beam/This is a God dream” represents Kanye’s relationship with God and acceptance of religion in his life. In a soulful verse from Kelly Price, we get a taste of holy inspiration in worship while Chance comes directly under and delivers the single-handedly best written verse of 2016 (“Foot on the Devil's neck 'til it drifted Pangaea/I'm moving all my family from Chatham to Zambia...I made Sunday Candy, I'm never going to hell/I met Kanye West, I'm never going to fail”). Ending with an encouraging prayer from Kirk Franklin, the song set the tone for grandiosity that is to follow. In “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”, we get chilling opening sample of Pastor T.L. Barrett’s “Father Stretch My Hands”, with a monumental beat drop straight into a glimmering opening hook from Kid Cudi “Beautiful morning, you're the sun in my morning babe/Nothing unwanted” followed by the signature hook by Kanye saying “I just wanna feel liberated, I, I, I”, creating a light and joyous feeling of freedom with production from Metro Boomin. The short song swiftly goes into an interpolation of Desiigner’s “Panda” on “Pt. 2”, where the tempo picks up quickly over Kanye delivering rapid fire bars. The composition and transition from part 1 to 2 make the combo perhaps the most exciting on the album and appeal strongly to a younger, more vibrant audience. On the controversial song “Famous”, West recruits Rihanna to sing the opener as he delivers cold, hard shots at singer and long time feuder, Taylor Swift (“For all my Southside niggas that know me best/I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous”, controversial lines that kept him under fire for months. Under the production of Swizz Beatz, the song abruptly breaks off into a sample loop of dancehall legend Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam”, in an attempt to even out the crassness of the songs content. Kanye takes a deeply introspective turn on songs “FML” and “Real Friends”. On “FML” featuring The Weeknd, West delivers a profession of his mistakes and failures over a lo-fi instrumentation to broaden the effect of his seriousness (“I been thinking/About my vision/ Pour out my feelings/Revealing the layers to my soul/My soul”), as he unpacks his thoughts and fears about his relationship with his wife, and responsibilities to his family. The chorus sung by The Weeknd (“They wish I would go ahead and fuck my life up/Can't let them get to me/ And even though I always fuck my life up/Only I can mention me”), represents a cling on to ownership and responsibility for one’s own failures, in spite of other’s attempts to affect them. The song breaks of into a sample of Section 25’s “Hit” at the end where Kanye sings in a half cry about holding on to his relationship in spite of others wishes for its failure. In an equally solemn “Real Friends”, Kanye reflects on failing relationships with family and old friends and those who use him, but also confesses his share in the blame for how it got this way (“I guess I get what I deserve, don’t I?/Word on the street is they ain’t heard from ‘em”). The production on this song has been noted to resemble a lot of Kanye’s old production from College Dropout and Late Registration, giving it a nostalgic feel. Other productorial standouts on the album, as well as features include “Wolves”/”Frank’s Track” featuring Sia, Vic Mensa and Frank Ocean, “Waves” featuring Chris Brown, “30 Hours” featuring Andre 3000, and “No More Parties in L.A.” featuring Kendrick Lamar. The last song on the non-deluxe album, “Fade”, features an intoxicating baseline sampled from a Chicago house track titled "Mystery of Love (Club Mix)“ by Larry Heard, Chicago house innovator, making the song an irresistible dance/rave track. The track also features vocals from Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign, adding versatility. At a total of 20 tracks on the deluxe version of the album, nothing about it is in fact long at all. Each track had its own place, meaning and flowed seamlessly into the next to create another masterpiece in the books of Kanye West, as his catalog continues to grow. In spite of clouding doubt that the rapper had changed so much that he could no longer make relatable hip hop music, his talent and vulnerability continue to shine through endlessly on his project and proves why he is in fact the example to draw from.
Best Tracks: “Ultralight Beam”/“Father, Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1”/“FML”
Best Production: “Waves”/“Fade”