It makes sense that Kanye West compare himself to the Apostle Paul, on his new album ‘The Life Of Pablo’. The Apostle Paul was a man who was devoted to spreading the new word of God and is considered one of the most important figures in Christianity. He is also someone who penned multiple lines in the Bible that would NOT by any means stand up in an equal society. Kanye West is a man who firmly believes that he’s making great changes in the world; Kanye West believes that he can be the ‘New Disney’ and with the power, he can change the world for the better, after all, he’s changed the face of Hip-Hop multiple times over his career. Yet the pressures of the very world he’s trying to change have made him a very contradictory person in terms of what he stands for and his morals.
This is a man who’s morals and private life are under scrutiny every time he steps out his front door, he’s a man who’s told us he’s deeply insecure, and explores his clearly fractured masculinity in everything he does. This isn’t always done in the best of ways though, his recent antics on Twitter have cost him a lot of respect even from die hard Kanye fans (like myself) when he tweeted ‘BILL COSBY INNOCENT!’, and went on a tweeting spree against Wiz Khalifa over a misunderstanding, which had him talking about his ex-girlfriend and Wiz’s ex-wife, Amber Rose saying ‘You let a stripper trap you’.
This social media madness has been paired with an immeasurable amount of album changes in terms of title, tracklist and everything that you can think of being out of the ordinary. He’s completely changed the way in which we expect an album to come out. It’s easily been Kanye’s most human and messiest album rollout in his career and this is reflected in the music itself.
‘The Life Of Pablo’ is as sporadic as the creator’s mind is. The album has over 100 people involved, with him jumping stylistically all over the place on the album. It’s also as difficult to love as it is to love Kanye. In many ways it hits the spot in many of its themes, and serves us an interesting insight into one of music’s most divisive and influential people, but at the same time, if you don’t like what you see when you get to this person’s bare bones it can be very uncomfortable listen. This album contains lyrics that will make most wince, including the now infamous Taylor Swift line ‘I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex, why? I made that bitch famous’ on ‘Famous’ and the constant subliminal hits at both ex flames and women he’s slept with in general on songs like ‘Father Stretch My Hands’.
Although these are some of the album’s immediate downfalls and will be enough to completely turn off some, the album can be viewed as a spectacle as the context of the album has become so unbelievably ingrained with the actual music. The way his life is under constant scrutiny has given him the unique opportunity to not only be able to include personal details of his life in his music, but to evoke biblical metaphors from them no matter how loose they may be. Kanye is now at the point that even if some of his lyrics can be completely against my morals, yet I find the whole spectacle of it fascinating. On the song ‘Wolves’ Kanye uses imagery in placing himself in Joseph’s shoes and his wife being Mary, and although it’s farfetched, the imagery of putting his children in lamb’s wool and being surrounded by wolves is striking.
Context plays a great part in understanding the way in which we view an album in this stage in Kanye’s career. Pablo Picasso is another obvious icon to whom Kanye could be referencing in the album’s title and the person most people assumed it was about when it was announced. Kanye has previously perfected the art of creating an aesthetic, and much like Pablo Picasso did, it came in various stages. Whether it be through loneliness and isolation on ‘808s & Heartbreak’, or the grandeur and maximalism of ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ or the abrasive angst that was ‘Yeezus’, there was always a distinct period and sound to him.
Kanye’s career can be split into two trilogies, the first being the building block years (College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation), and his second being his Picasso period. We’re now at a stage where Kanye is in his reflective period, a place where he’s able to create something that doesn’t entirely stand out against the rest of popular music nor does it hint at a new direction for popular music in general. The reflective period also gives Kanye the freedom to do whatever he wants in the name of his art, such as releasing an album before it’s actually finished.
‘The Life Of Pablo’ sounds like the past and present, but never the future. He consistently dives into the current trend of hopping on the Atlanta sound – even getting a Future impersonator, Desiigner, onto two of his tracks – yet he never pushes forward with this sound. He gives Trap a more heavenly sound on songs like ‘Father Stretch My Hands’ and ‘Real Friends’, with the former being able to make you dance like no other Kanye song simply from hearing the words ‘If Young Metro don’t trust you I’m gone shoot you – BEAUTIFUL MORNING’ and the latter sounding so spacey and warm, but it’s not something that hasn’t been done before. He does get the best out of his collaborators though in creating this Gospel-esque sound; Kelly Price and Chance the Rapper simultaneously have two of the best appearances on the whole album on ‘Ultra Light Beam’ which sounds nothing like anything else on the album; and Frank Ocean’s miniature appearance at the end of ‘Wolves’ (where the album ends if you count ’30 Hours’ onwards as bonus tracks) is stripped back and gorgeous. Other guests such as Young Thug, Ty Dollar Sign and The Dream all stand out ferociously without ever being in the songs too much. All of these guests are featured on different songs and unlike previous projects where Kanye ties all these people together on his album, they couldn’t sound more separate. ‘Pablo’ hops around stylistically with not in a care in the world for consistency or coherency.
There are distinct highs and lows on this album, with half of the album feeling like he’s taking you to the higher parts of fame and the lifestyle he’s been living; other parts feel like they’re trapping you in this lifestyle and there are moments where he wishes he’d find God. As a result there are consistent dips in quality sometimes within one song, and even if it were deliberate, it makes for a strange listen.
On the song ‘FML’ with The Weeknd, Kanye says something that’s very revealing for the album’s aim, ‘I’ve been thinking ’bout my vision/ Pour out my feelings, revealing the layers to my soul’, and this is what Kanye does on this album, in a way that mirrors how his mind works. He works through so many of the events that have gradually made him the man he is today, and how they influence him. On the song ‘Feedback’ Ye utters lines that date back to his Yeezus era, such as bloated claims of him feeling like Steve Jobs, and the song ‘Freestyle 4’ has some of the sexual tension as well as the sonic qualities of that era too. On the skit ‘I Love You Kanye’, he talks about he ‘looks around and there’s so many Kanyes’ in a way that both is critical of the public and how he is a subject to change. Even some of Ye’s distasteful lines about Amber Rose see the man in a state of reflection, without giving a damn that it’s an immoral thing to do.
Despite this, many of these moments of reflection aren’t all that enjoyable to listen to. Kanye doesn’t actually do the Yeezus sound he once honed much justice, and there are so many unbelievably corny lines that are even intended as serious zingers, or serious self-reflections. ‘You left your fridge open and somebody took a sandwich’, ‘I wish my dick had a go pro’ and the ‘Ghetto Oprah’ skit all have their own genuine intentions but are often too cringe inducing/openly offensive to sit through.
This doesn’t mean that ‘The Life Of Pablo’ is entirely uninteresting when it comes to his self reflection though. If you organise ‘Pablo’s’ track listing into a coherent piece like many people have, you have the story of a man who goes through the highs and lows of fame before deciding to settle down with his family and be at peace with God. But the human brain isn’t as organised as that, and neither is Kanye’s; his brain scrambles his influences and they hit him at the wrong points in life and the album reflects that. ‘FML’, not only reveals the album’s motif, but displays some of Kanye’s insight into his mindset. It’s extremely self deprecating and paranoid; in the verses he is gradually losing it at his partner (including a very unsettling line about Dichotomy), touching upon being on lexapro, and finishing the song by crying ‘They don’t want to see me love you’ in a response to people who call him ‘Kanye Kardashian’. It’s a moment of honesty on this album that’s both unnerving and heartbreaking, to see someone losing themselves to what they love.
‘Pt 2’ is probably the moment that shows Kanye’s conflicted mind the most in terms of song structure. The song is very disjointed and shows Kanye having very contrasting feelings. He spends his time talking about how his father left when he was a child and how that can lead to kids wanting to lead a more lavish lifestyle when they’re older not realising that it’s what causes marriages to fall apart in the first place. He uses a Designer verse sampled off of the song, ‘Panda’ to show off this lavish lifestyle, emphasising the great times there are to ‘Having broads in Atlanta’. But Kanye sweeps the rug at the end of the song as the hard edged beat stops and it cuts to a heavenly vocoder voice asking ‘Where can I find you? Where do I turn to?’, perhaps asking where God is in Kanye’s life.
Despite what people say about his discography and that ‘Yeezus’ is his most polarising work, it’s now untrue. Never has a Kanye album had moments that take you so unbelievably high, while simultaneously having moments that completely turn you off. ‘Pablo’ contains some of Kanye’s best musical moments but when people look back on this album, it will mostly be to do with the context of it; the way he showed us how ridiculous the entire album cycle is, the way he created memes much like Drake does, the way everything was so unpredictable and outrageous; and the way Kanye turned off so many people, as they started to question his mental health. There are too many dips in quality and lyrical spasms on this album for it to be remembered as capturing a moment in time like previous albums. Athough this album can be interesting and highly compelling at times as it details a once-in-a-generation artist’s mindset, it doesn’t hold the weight that it could have had it not been trying so hard to be outrageous in some of the lyrics. It’s a clever piece of work that’s not entirely put across in the most compelling way, and is often tainted by moments of distaste throughout. Kanye has treasures in his mind but can’t open up his own vaults.
Best Tracks: Famous, Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1, FML, Real Friends, Wolves