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There’s a thin line between genius and madness, yet, which side you stand on depends largely on who you’re talking to. And if you ask most rap fans, the madness that surrounds and defines Kanye West’s music, career, and overall lifestyle is a direct byproduct of his genius, which was captured throughout the process of liberating his seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo.
Released on February 14, 2016; the album was synonymous with spectacle, as Yeezy pulled out all of the stops to build anticipation around it including playing it at his own Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden. Initially titling the album SWISH, and then Waves before settling on The Life of Pablo, Kanye gave various updates throughout the recording process while alluding to various artists and cultural tastemakers being involved in helping with the creation and curation of the project. When all was said and done, the LP became the first album to debut atop the Billboard 200 solely through streaming and was yet another feather in the cap of Mr. West, who continued his tradition of cohesive, yet wildly entertaining projects.
Treating the album like a canvas, the final version boasted guest appearances by Chance the Rapper, Kid Cudi, Desiigner, Rihanna, The Weeknd, Ty Dolla Sign, Post Malone, Kendrick Lamar, Sia, Vic Mensa, Chris Brown and Young Thug, as well as productions by various A-listers including executive producers Rick Rubin and Noah Goldstein. Certified double-platinum, The Life of Pablo earned five Grammy award nominations, and was among the most critically acclaimed releases of 2016.
With five years having passed since its release, we unearthed nine interesting facts about The Life of Pablo that may catch you by surprise. Peep them below.
1. “30 Hours” Was Inspired By One of Kanye’s Ex-Girlfriends
Having displayed a penchant for weaving testimonials drawn from his personal life into his music, it’s no surprise that references to various past experiences are sprinkled throughout The Life of Pablo. Many of these recollections may be overt, but one that may have flown over listeners’ heads is “30 Hours,” Yeezy’s ode to his ex-girlfriend Sumeke Rainey, who he dated during his rise to fame. Tidbits of the inner-workings of their relationship, as well as its eventual end, can be heard on classic Kanye cuts like “Never Let Me Down” and “Touch the Sky,” but is rehashed on “30 Hours” with tell-tale references including the estimated 30 hours it takes to drive between Los Angeles, where Kanye was working at the time, and his and Rainey’s hometown of Chicago. While Rainey’s name isn’t mentioned, all of the embedded clues point to Ye’s former beau being a source of inspiration for this track.
2. The Origin of the Prayer on “Ultralight Beam” Revealed
Kanye West may be the headliner, however, the first voices you hear on The Life of Pablo belong to Samoria and Natalie Green, two South Carolina residents who gained attention after an Instagram clip of a then 4-year-old Natalie delivering an impassioned prayer went viral. “We don’t want no devils in the house, God,” she shouts, as Samoria ad-libs. “We want the Lord, and that’s it.” The video, which was recorded prior to a family road trip, popped up on Kanye’s radar, who then reached out to the Green family to ask permission to use the clip on his album, which they obliged. While a lawsuit, filed by Natalie Green’s biological parents against West, disputes the validity of that agreement, regardless of the outcome, Natalie’s contribution to The Life of Pablo is quintessential and her words and voice will forever be etched in our heads.
3. Chance The Rapper Was Supposed To Appear On More Songs
When Chance the Rapper began turning heads as a teenager in Chicago’s burgeoning rap scene, comparisons between him and Kanye were rampant, which created anticipation for the moment the two would cross paths musically. Fans’ prayers were answered in 2015 when Chance locked in the studio with Ye to record sessions that resulted in his appearance on “Ultralight Beam.” However, despite casual fans and the general public being familiar with Chance’s contributions to the Grammy-nominated cut, many are unaware of the extent of his involvement with the album, as he originally was slated to appear on numerous tracks, most notably “Famous” and “Waves,” the latter of which was co-written by Chance himself.
4. The Truth About Travis Scott’s Lost Vocals From “FML”
One track that was a product of multiple variations is “FML,” which initially was slated to feature Travis Scott in addition to The Weeknd. In the end, Travis’ vocals would be axed, but if you listen to The Life of Pablo demo “Fall Out Of Heaven,” the similarities between those leaks and the final version connect the dots to the various iterations of “FML.”
5. The Origin of “No More Parties In L.A.” Revealed
Hip hop is all about what’s fresh, but in terms of the mechanics behind the actual making of the music, many of our favorite songs went through an aging process that brought out their best qualities. This is the case with “No More Parties in L.A.,” one of the first tracks from the album to be unveiled as part of Ye’s revamped G.O.O.D. Friday series. Featuring Kendrick Lamar, the song is credited as a Madlib production, but what the liner notes don’t reveal is the fact that the beat for the track was a holdover from years earlier from Ye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sessions. One of five beats Madlib left in Yeezy’s hands, the appeal of “No More Parties in L.A.” has as much to do with its gritty sound as his and K. Dot’s verses, making it an oldie but goodie sonically and literally.
6. “Famous” Was Recorded Following A Concert Overseas
“Niggas in Paris” is Kanye and JAY-Z’s ode to their lavish experiences during visits to the world-renowned destination, which Kanye gleaned inspiration from for “Famous.” Recorded in Paris following a Yeezy live performance at the Louvre, the song, with its frantic backdrop and artsy, yet unbridled accompanying clip, certainly mirrors the vibe of the city.
7. Here’s Yo Gotti’s Connection To “Saint Pablo”
Collaborating on a pair of songs, “Champions” and “Castro,” in 2016 set the stage for Kanye and Yo Gotti to solidify a kinship. One show of solidarity between the two was Yeezy’s attendance at the listening party for Gotti’s The Art of Hustle album at 1OAK in L.A. shortly after the release of The Life of Pablo. There, the rapper premiered “Saint Pablo,” an unreleased song that would be leaked online and ultimately added as a bonus track months later on June 15, coinciding with Ye’s announcement of the “Saint Pablo Tour.”
8. “Fade” Was Recorded In Rick Rubin’s Studio
Kanye West’s proficiency in blending genres has left him tagged as a musical genius and is evidenced by his studio sessions, which often includes several artists and producers with varying styles. One instance that’s a product of these sonic clashes is “Fade,” which features guest vocals by Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign with additional production by DJDS, Charlie Handsome, Noah Goldstein, Benji B, MIKE DEAN, and Anthony Kilhoffer. And being that the song was created at Shangri-La, famed producer Rick Rubin’s studio in Malibu, California; its status as a universal dance-floor jam is undeniable.
9. Madonna Recorded Vocals To “Highlights”
With plentiful forays into pop under his belt, Kanye has always been willing to step outside the box and collaborate with numerous sirens in the genre, Madonna included. First joining forces in 2008 for her track “Beat Goes On,” and doubling back to work on her 2015 track, “Illuminati,” unbeknownst to many, the Material Girl repaid the favor with her appearance on an early demo of “Highlights” that surfaced shortly after Kanye’s release.