Words by TJ Kliebhan
The Kanye monolith cannot be stopped. The rollout for his most recent album, The Life of Pablo, displayed that no matter how botched his releases can be due to delays, Tidal errors, or offensive tweets, these seemingly miscalculated (or calculated, depending on who you ask) steps ultimately work to feed the machine.
If The Life of Pablo is anything, it is modern – and it features glimpses of every phase of Kanye’s solo career that we have seen so far. From the smiling college dropout who expertly weaved 70s soul samples to the hand behind the scenes guiding the deliberate rise of Travis Scott. Much like Kanye’s public persona, The Life of Pablo features music that, at its best is deeply personal or vibrant and colorful. At its worst, the songs can seem like a poorly executed experiment that Kanye refused to let go, or a bad joke we just don’t seem to get. Kanye gives us various degrees of both on his latest effort.
The Life of Pablo is Kanye’s most seemingly disjointed record by far. Numerous interludes, oddball joke lyrics, and the back and forth between several overarching themes hurt this record as a complete project. “Silver Surfer Intermission” features a voicemail from Max B. approving Kanye’s use of the “waves” word. Unnecessary valid approval is something I never thought I would see Kanye feeling the need to prove. “Low Lights” is another interlude that features a profession of faith, but Kanye delivers the same message in more powerful lines throughout the rest of the album. The instrumental is not all that memorable either, and this track really disrupts the strong momentum this record builds with its excellent first five tracks. The only real strong interlude on this record is “I Love Kanye” which takes a strong jab at his fans who say they miss the “old Kanye” and wish he never progressed as an artist or evolved his sound. This joke track is lighthearted, relatable to anyone who has enjoyed his music in the last five years, and serves its purpose appropriately even if it seems like that purpose is outside the greater context of the album itself.
The only semblance of cohesion is in West’s production and religious lyrical themes. This is one of Kanye’s most well produced collection of tracks ever. The beats are at times lively, somber, lush, layered, and bombastic. The samples range from well-known to obscure and are implemented brilliantly. The beats even do a better job of conveying the wide range of emotions Kanye explores than the words he speaks. The production is so fantastic that it saves a great album from being a mediocre one.
Lyrically, when Kanye is not making some joke about an ex, he’s being as introspective as ever and loosely connecting himself to Paul the Apostle. Kanye seems to have accepted that his arrogance and troubles with women have led to sin, and that he struggles to change certain aspects of himself. “Ultralight Beam” is the ultimate gospel hip-hop song and already a classic in the Kanye cannon. “Wolves” seems to be Kanye turning to God as the only resource that truly can fulfill him. Tracks like “Real Friends” and “FML” feature some of Kanye’s best lyrics, where he reflects on his own success and what it has both provided and taken away from him.
On prior records, Kanye has placed one side of himself on display and closely explored that aspect of his personality. Never has Kanye West been as fascinatingly multidimensional as on The Life of Pablo. We get Kanye the misogynist. We get Kanye the brash asshole. We get Kanye the introspective loner. The picture is clearer than it ever has been before, with every imperfection and sin on display.
During the lead up to The Life of Pablo we expected a Picasso, and after Saturday Night Live we expected a Rembrandt, yet the final product is more like a Pollock. The Life of Pablo portrays a Kanye West that is a larger than life maximalist and still remains unfulfilled. Family, love, and God are now what Kanye West trusts to guide his life and lead him to victory over his weaknesses. Paul the Apostle was also a powerful man whose sins led him to his first feelings of vulnerability. After his conversion, God assured Paul that his weaknesses are what makes him a perfect instrument of the Lord. God assures Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My power is greatest when you are weak.” It seems Kanye is just discovering a new source of steam to power his dreams.
TheWaster.com | #TLOP