After a seemingly endless parade of controversy and indecisiveness, Kanye West’s seventh full length record, The Life of Pablo, is finally here in all it’s lawless glory. The three year long interim period since Yeezus has been fraught with nothing but Kanye theatrics, all signs pointing towards a growing disinterest with his music career. From his marriage to the Kardashian clan media circus, the birth of his daughter, a 2020 presidency bid, and his ever increasing authority in the fashion industry, his next record release seemed like the last thing on his mind. Yet through the thick and thin of being the most polarizing figure in popular culture, the music industry’s biggest megalomaniac has still managed to concoct a career spanning body of inspirational cues from his days as a college dropout to his contemporary boundary pushing god complex. The real question is whether or not hiphop’s so called Messiah can deliver on pent up expectations; or whether The Life of Pablo will stand merely as a convoluted jumbled byproduct of all hype and no substance.
The album opens with what may just be the best introductory track in Kanye’s discography. A booming church choir laced with an off kilter organ and heavy drums that serve to accentuate a career defining verse from Chance The Rapper. Like a spiritual Chicago homecoming, it’s a back and forth between a mentor and mentee, acknowledging the influence he’s had on a generation of South Side Chicagoans and paying homage to the same Kanye that made Jesus Walks.
Every collaboration on the record underscores West’s ability to pick and choose talent, placing names precisely where he needs them to be. Chris Brown croons over a beat jaded Waves, Frank Ocean closes out the previously Sia and Vic Mensa adorned Wolves, Kendrick Lamar delivers a crowning verse on No More Parties in L.A.. New names like Desiigner, Post Malone, and Ty Dolla $ign highlight West’s penchant for putting on up and comers, and it wouldn’t be a contemporary rap release without a verse from none other than hiphop weirdo savant Young Thug. Yet somehow it all manages to collide into a varied splay of artistic interpretations, each guest bringing something new to the table.
On the other end of the spectrum, the production credits read like a sonic dream team. West record stalwarts like the incomparable Mike Dean, mythic Rick Rubin, record mixer Noah Goldstein, legendary Madlib, Yeezus veteran Hudson Mohawke, and the ever present Swizz Beatz, serve to compliment the ever developing sound with the guidance of the old guard. New comers like Metro Boomin, Boi-1da, Southside, and Charlie Heat, ring in the hits with a taste of the Drake and Future aesthetic they’ve become so synonymous with. There’s even a beautiful drum roll on 30 Hours courtesy of Stones Throw’s own Karriem Riggins.
While the album may be discordant stylistically, jumping from one sound to the next, it fits in the sense that Pablo plucks elements from every Kanye project to date. From the irreverent autotune usage of 808s, to the grandeur of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the beats span the Kanye universe in a way that idealizes the fact that West already realizes what he’s mastered sonically. It’s more a victory lap than a desire to innovate, but Kanye’s ferocity for what sounds good leaves the record never sounding dated or unoriginal.
Lyrically the album treads on what is standard Kanye fare; brash, abrasive, unapologetic behavior. Pablo is littered with temperamental adages that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s followed the man’s twitter account. From heralding the broad extent of his spirituality to talking about bleached assholes in the same breath, The Life of Pablo might just be West’s most depraved writing to date. Considering that you can’t extricate the man from the music, Pablo unfolds much like Kanye’s mental state. It’s a cacophonous duel between self aware composure and his ego’s natural inclination to let loose. This is an album that holds tracks like Real Friends and Feedback in the same body of work. Nevertheless, the lyrical mishmash of what sounds like someone loosing their goddamn mind on record never makes for boring listening.
The Life of Pablo isn’t much of an album; it’s disjointed, lacks cohesion, and ditches any type of narrative to give the music any semblance of organization. Yet somehow, West still accomplishes the seemingly impossible. No matter how much the music jerks from one stylistic disposition to another, each and every track commands so much attention that its hard to fault the work as a whole when there’s so much variety. If you have even a shred of interest in the melodrama of Kanye West, then The Life of Pablo is the compelling answer to everything you’ve been waiting for since 2013. It’s a grandiose exercise in the excess of everything that lies in the chaotic mind of a genius. Whether it be Pablo Picasso or Escobar, either would be an apt comparison. It’s essentially an artist at the top of his game flexing his creative ability to do absolutely anything he wants. He’s become his art, consumed by his genuine desire to keep pushing out ideas. He’s not crazy, just self absorbed. Pablo is a retrospective Greatest Hits record with 18 brand new hits, it’s literally the most Kanye West thing Kanye West has ever done.