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Covering the Bronco Nation.

The Rider Online | Legacy HS Student Media

Review: The Life of Pablo

The album cover for The Life of Pablo, which came out Feb. 14, 2016.
Photo by Photo by Peter De Potter & Record Labels GOOD/Def Jam
The album cover for The Life of Pablo, which came out Feb. 14, 2016.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It has been almost three years since Kanye West released “Yeezus”, his introspective protest album to the fashion industry, music labels and pretty much everything else. Since then, the Chicago rapper, producer, fashion designer and overall megalomaniac, has taken his time from defending Bill Cosby, asking Mark Zuckerberg for a billion dollars on Twitter of all places, working on his fashion line, and comparing himself to Walt Disney, to release “The Life of Pablo”, a rushed, DIY album which contains a sound almost as sporadic as the man himself.

But as much as he wants you to think, Kanye West does not compare to Walt Disney. If anything, Kanye West tends to compare to John Lennon, often using as much time shocking the public as much as he spends making great music. While making Beatles comparisons “The Life of Pablo” shows the same amount of scattershot music making found in The Beatles 1968 self-titled classic, also known as “The White Album”. The Life of Pablo does find itself following the same characteristics of “The White Album”.

Starting with “Ultralight Beam”, the best track on the album, West uses his autotune singing, first used by himself in the groundbreaking “808s and Heartbreak”, and combines it with a simple hip-hop beat. Everything around West helps the song become one of his personal bests, with Kanye’s Chicago-native protege, Chance the Rapper, rapping the best verse on the album. The legendary gospel singer, seven-time Grammy Award winner and Fort Worth, Texas-born Kirk Franklin delivers a spoken-word sermon with the help of an incredible choir behind the instrumental.

The religious themes remain nothing new for Kanye. “Jesus Walks”, featured on West’s first album, “The College Dropout”, won Best Rap Song at the 2005 Grammys, his first of 21(!) Grammys. Yeezus, a portmanteau of his nickname, Yeezy, mixed with Jesus Christ, featured the song “I Am A God”, which is exactly how it sounds.

The album immediately drops off with “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 & 2”, tracks that throw as much stuff at the listener as possible in the shortest amount of time. Pt. 1 features a track sounding similar to 2011’s Kanye West and Jay-Z collaboration, Watch The Throne. Frequent producer for Future, Metro Boomin, provides a lush beat aiding more of Kanye’s autotune crooning, and for Kid Cudi to make his fourth straight appearance on a West solo album to sing the hook for the song. Pt. 2 breaks new ground for Kanye, by having him rap over a full-fledge trap beat. The song proves too short to really make its presence known and sounds like it would be more comfortable on a Young Thug mixtape.

The next song, “Famous,” became arguably the most controversial song on the album, with Kanye claiming that he “Made that b—h famous” in reference to his infamous moment with Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards, which indirectly steered his career into what it has become today. The end of the song samples Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” halfway through, providing a thrown together aesthetic that feels very unsatisfying. On “Feedback”, Kanye uses his signature corny lyrics like “Y’all sleeping on me/ Had a good snooze” and that he’s “Steve Jobs mixed with Steve Austin.” The stabbing synths and simple beat make it a great club song, but not something I would go back and casually listen to.

“Highlights” features Atlanta sensation Young Thug, singing the intro with West in his typical hazy, tired voice, while Kanye goes on to rap about how he and his family are “the new Jacksons,” referring to the family of Michael and Janet Jackson, and mentions his brother-in-law, Rob Kardashian, for dating celebrity Blac Chyna. He also mentions Ray J for being with his wife first. Luckily, it doesn’t seem to rub Kanye the wrong way, as he says, “Yeah, he might have hit it first/ Only problem is I’m rich.” Which he’s technically not lying about, since Ray J has a net worth of $6 million, and West has a net worth of $145 million. You win this round, Kanye.

After “Highlights” comes “Freestyle 4”, a hedonistic, eerie song in the same vein as “Hell of a Life” off of his 2010 album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, and “I’m In It” off of “Yeezus”. It’s actually pretty bad. “I Love Kanye” features Kanye talking about people who say “I miss the old Kanye,” and “What if Kanye made a song about Kanye?/Called “I Miss The Old Kanye,” man that would be so Kanye.” Yes, I did say Kanye’s name seven times in two sentences, but then again, he said it 25 times in 44 seconds. If a weird form of Kanye ASMR I’m unaware about exists from him saying his name once every 1.76 seconds, then “I Love Kanye” might be his musical zenith.

Straight after the cerebral experience that “Freestyle 4” and “I Love Kanye” bring, comes “Waves,” a track that was put on the album in part by Chance The Rapper’s filibuster to put the song on “Pablo.” Interestingly enough, the final version of the song doesn’t feature Chance, instead settling for America’s Sweetheart: Chris Brown. Yes, in 2008 I became apart of the camp that believed Chris Brown was the next Michael Jackson, and despite the incidents outside of music, I still think the man has the ability to sing a chorus like none other, which he does on “Waves.”

The next three songs: “FML,” “Real Friends” and “Wolves” all show West’s darker side. “FML” shows Kanye with Canadian heartthrob, The Weeknd, as they both show how their rising stardom amplifies their darker side. Real Friends shows how that same stardom distances him with the ones close around him, saying “I’m a deadbeat cousin, I hate family reunions” and “When was the last time I remembered a birthday?/When was the last time I wasn’t in a hurry?” In Wolves, featuring long quiet R&B singer Frank Ocean, Kanye talks about how his mother, who died in 2007, would disapprove if she saw how he acted today.

And like that, “The Life of Pablo” essentially ends. Another interlude follows, this time featuring a phone conversation with jailed rapper, Max B, and the rest, a mishmash of previously released bonus songs, remixes, and the forgettable final song, “Fade.” “The Life of Pablo” at first glance, has nothing to say. It’s not fighting the fashion industry like “Yeezus,” or mourning the loss of loved ones like “808’s and Heartbreak,” or even taking a victory lap in spite of the haters, like “Graduation.” Maybe “The Life of Pablo” shows Kanye finally finding some sort of inner peace, or lack thereof or maybe I’m overthinking it.

After all, the album at best sounds like a greatest-hits of the rapper’s most potent musical styles, and at worst, sounds like it was thrown together at the last minute. The Beatles “White Album” was always my favorite of their albums, simply because of ambition that pulled through despite the state that the band was in at the time. Quite like “The White Album,” “The Life of Pablo” will have the legacy as an ugly, disorganized album that will no doubt stick out like a sore thumb in the discography of artists who are known for making albums that stick out like sore thumbs. It may not be pretty, but when the album is at its best, “The Life of Pablo” shows why Kanye West will stand the test of time, for better or for worse.

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About the Contributor
Grant Baker
Grant Baker, The Rider Editor-in-Chief
I'm Grant Baker and I write for this website. I love serving God, watching football and listening to 2000s southern hip hop. Maybe not all of those at the same time. I don't know. Okay you know how hard it is to write one of these things? Pretty hard.
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