Kanye West and The Life of Pablo

Following the controversy and speculation, guest writer Ben Weil dives into Kanye West’s latest work: The Life of Pablo.

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“Name one genius who ain’t crazy,” Kanye raps on The Life of Pablo, his newest album that definitively proves that he is both of these things. The line stands as an excuse for all the controversial things Kanye has done, and I’m buying it. If the twitter rants, distasteful lyrics and strange fashion shows are what it takes to get one of Kanye’s albums, I will gladly live through it.

 Samples glide in and out with seemingly no relation to each other, but each adds a little bit to the greater whole that Kanye is creating.

Part of the hype leading up to the album’s release was centered around the Pablo in the title. Would the album be about the life of Pablo Escobar? Or Pablo Picasso? Or St. Paul of Tarsus, as Kanye tweeted the day before the release? The answer was a combination of all three, mixed and matched throughout the album. Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord, shows his face in some of Kanye’s most aggressively unconventional lines to date, such as “Some times I’m wishing that my d**k had GoPro/So I could play that sh*t back in slo-mo”. Following in the footsteps of Yeezus, this album is full of controversial and shocking lyrics. Picasso is evident in the production style, which mirrors cubism or cubist collage with its mix of unrelated sounds that combine to create a greater meaning. This is an album that starts with Ultra Light Beams, a gospel song complete with a full choir, and two songs later is in full trap mode, with help from Metro Boomin and Future sound-alike Desiigner. Samples glide in and out with seemingly no relation to each other, but each adds a little bit to the greater whole that Kanye is creating. As for St. Paul, Kanye genuinely believes that he is the twenty-first century equivalent of the man who spread Christianity around the world. Much of the album is inspired by gospel music, and Kanye uses it to preach his truth to the world.

In addition to the tension between the three Pablos, there is also a tension between the old and new versions of Kanye. Both are present on this album, as the auto tune of 808s and the industrial synths of Yeezus clash with the soul samples and skits of College Dropout and Late Registration. Kanye even includes an a capella verse called I Love Kanye where he discusses this very issue, rapping about who he is, who he was, and who fans want him to be. The album feels like a culmination of all that has come before it, using snippets from the vocabularies of all his previous albums. In this way, it also feels like a culmination, as Kanye focuses more and more on fashion.

While The Life of Pablo is very much a Kanye album, it does not feature much Kanye himself. West is a fantastic producer, and one of his greatest talents is making other artists sound their best on his albums. On The Life of Pablo, more than any other of his previous works, he is content to sit back and simply orchestrate, letting other artists have their time in the spotlight. Chance the Rapper delivers one of the best verses on the album, setting the bar high on Ultra Light Beams. The Weeknd delivers a beautiful hook on FML, one of the best songs on the album. Most songs have multiple features, and each of them feels purposeful and adds to the album.

Chance the Rapper delivers one of the best verses on the album, setting the bar high on Ultra Light Beams.

My biggest complaint with The Life of Pablo is the lack of cohesion towards the end of the album. The first thirteen songs through Wolves are great and fit thematically within the album. However, everything after this point feels tacked on, almost like five bonus tracks that were added as an afterthought. 30 Hours is my favorite song from the album, and No More Parties in LA features great three-minute verses from Kanye and Kendrick Lamar, but these additions feel like just that – additions. While for most other artists this would not be a problem, Kanye is known for making cohesive albums focused around a single message, and in my opinion these songs detract from that feeling.

I loved The Life of Pablo ,and it deservedly takes its place among Kanye’s great albums. While it did not feel as cohesive as most of Kanye’s other works, cohesion seems to not have been his goal this time around. The Life of Pablo’s schizophrenic sound is a new step for Kanye, but each of his albums is always a new step. A day after the release of the album, Kanye tweeted that his definition of an artist was someone who is “able to see the truth and then express it”. Whether you agree with the truth Kanye advances on The Life of Pablo or not, he has always been able to express what’s on his mind in a way that makes people want to listen–and more importantly, keep listening.

Ben Weil is a guest writer for the Review, studying International Studies with a religion minor through the Honors Program.  He can be reached at beweil@umich.edu

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