Kanye West’s ‘The Life of Pablo’: First Thoughts
First impressions on Yeezy’s jumbled collection.
Remember that proverbial glass wall that Kanye West shattered on 2013’s Yeezus? Well, much of those remaining shards are retrieved and pieced together with leftover fragments from other previous LPs to make The Life of Pablo, his latest and most challenging work yet. Originally 10 songs, the since updated 18-track collection is a twisted beautiful mess that is sprinkled with debris from the broken bits and pieces of Kanye’s psyche. One minute you’re in church (“Ultralight Beam”) and the next, as Malik Yusef once noted, you’re in a pair of Timberlands (“Freestyle 4”). Overall, these divergent fragments end up wholly representing the panoply of West’s many personas.
With so many layers to sift through and make sense of, we assembled a few of REVOLT’s finest to pick apart T.L.O.P. and breakdown some of its many standouts.
To open the album, Kanye anoints the proceedings with the words “This is a God dream,” and boy is it. To call the angelic opening number, “Ultralight Beam” just a song would be like calling ‘Ye’s adidas Yeezy Season collection nothing but distressed workout wear. Instead, and like the words that follow “this is a God dream,” the opener is everything. It’s a hymn. It’s an audio soul-cleanser. It’s gospel. It’s liberation through the eardrums. It’s the kind of sound you associate with the opening of Heaven’s Gates. It’s angels moving mountains.
We all need some saving, and on “Beam,” Kanye expresses that note as good as he can by brilliantly assembling an A-Team chorale consisting of Kirk Franklin, Kelly Price, and, arguably the star of the procession, Chance the Rapper. Often times the sounds of gospel sends listeners to a space of inner-peace while creating this desire for spiritual guidance. On “Beam,” that said euphoric feeling is as tangible as a whiff of frankincense. This, without a doubt, is everything. — Ralph Bristout
“I Love Kanye”
Only Kanye could get away with actually putting together an acapella interlude all about opinions of… himself. As I sat inside Madison Square Garden during the live listening session of T.L.O.P., this track brought a special grin across ‘Ye’s face. He, and he only, would have the nerve to actually put together an interstitial filled with all the critiques that we each respectively have of him and own it. This interlude made me fully realize Kanye doesn’t care about what we want. ‘Ye is going to give us whatever HE wants. It’s his vision and as consumers we should respect it for better or worse. I used to sit around all day and think about all these same feelings about ‘Ye and definitely would consider myself to be someone who misses the “Old Kanye.” Thank you for making this perfectly clear ‘Ye, as I will no longer stress it! If you really love yourself the way Kanye loves Kanye, it won’t get to you too much. — Lawrence Jackson
The best thing about this track is Kanye’s vulnerability. For awhile now, ‘Ye’s behavior has been full of controversial stunts and disorganized rants. He’s often times very defensive, which causes him to be irate, but like he says on “Feedback”: “Name one genius that ain’t crazy.” In “FML” he talks about everything that means the most to him such as his lady, business and children. He talks about protecting these things at all costs and in doing so, revealing the layers of his soul — something that the world doesn’t get to see often. The Weeknd then adds to this message with a hook insinuating that he has full control of his life, so if he proceeds to “fuck” his own life up, which isn’t something he wants to do, no one would be able to get the best of him.
The track winds up being probably one of the deepest songs I’ve heard from ‘Ye in a while and one of my favorite tracks off of the album for sure. It really makes me appreciate Kanye not only as an artist but as a person. Everything from the lyrical content to the beat to the overall vibe that the song puts me in is nothing short of amazing. Kanye can annoy me from time to time with his random unnecessary outbursts, but under all of that is a vulnerable, misunderstood human being. If Kanye wants to continue “revealing the layers” to his soul, then dammit I’m here for it. — Amber Mackie
“No More Parties In LA”
I haven’t enjoyed much of Kanye West’s work in the last few years. I can’t explain why, other than the music just doesn’t seem to resonate with me as it does for the legions of his other fans, or did while I was growing up. However, this song, “No More Parties in LA,” restored my faith in what a Kanye West album can be. And I mean it.
Breaking down the song, using the web, I was able to find the song’s core sample, Junie Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy,” as well Ghostface Killah’s “Mighty Healthy,” and it was bittersweet. It made me realize just how much I missed the old Kanye. Yes, pun very much intended. What drove this home for me is the line in Kanye’s verse, “I know some fans who thought I wouldn’t rap like this again, but the writer’s block is over, MC’s cancel your plans.” In a verse that covers a range of topics from texting and driving, his wife and children, and being a wild boy in the city of Los Angeles, that line was the realest of them all, because ‘Ye semi-admits that some of his more recent work wasn’t completely top notch.
With production handled by both West and Madlib, it’s a one-two punch for hip-hop enthusiasts, not to mention the uppercut that is Kendrick Lamar. What makes the collaboration between West and Lamar so much more interesting is not only the complexity of their styles, but the difference between them as men. And interestingly, I feel as though Kendrick pulled back on the intensity of his verse and chose a more playful tone, allowing fans to appreciate the returning, spitter that Kanye West used to be. On a final note, I do believe “No More Parties in LA” is the best song on the album, as far as emceeing is concerned. It’s the only track of its kind on The Life of Pablo. — Robert Hansen
“Lowlights” & “High Lights”
These two records represent the genius that’s in this project but also the maddening path you have to weed through to get there. “Low Lights” hews closer to the gospel album that ‘Ye identified T.L.O.P. to be, with it’s moving testimony. The production is incredibly restrained — maybe too much so — as the synchs bounce, yet never drop. As it segues into “High Lights” things quickly go awry: a Ray J shout-out, a boast about Brandy’s brother’s friendship followed by bragging about bank accounts, Kardashians as The Jacksons and Blacc Chyna’s missionary work with brother-in-law Rob. ‘Ye has always been tongue-in-cheek with his humor, however, this is more crude than comedy. It’s manic and a mess. The orchestration, at times, is gorgeous, and themes of repentance emerge, often during the chorus while Kanye sins in his verses. Much like elsewhere on the album, though, ‘Ye disappears and puts other players in place to sound good, if not their greatest selves; here, an uncredited El Debarge appearance. It leaves me asking, Where are you, Yeezy? — Jayson Rodriguez
Equipped with an unrelentingly rapid flow, an abstract yet simplistic soul sample, a hard snare, bass heavy kick and a hi-hat that almost doubles as the tick tock of a clock, “30 Hours” is reminiscent of the Late Registration-era Kanye. To that end, one of the freestyles lines on the outro of track, “It was my idea to have an open relationship, now a niggaa mad/ Now I’m ’bout to drive 90 miles like Matt Barnes, just to whip a nigga’s ass” sums up everything we love to hate about ‘Ye: the hilarious hypocrisy.
What this song also represents, I think, is the turn in ‘Ye’s career. Almost symbolic of the entire album, “30 Hours” is unapologetically imperfect. With impromptu bars, scattered thoughts such as “3 Stacks help me out”, “this the bonus track” (despite it NOT being the bonus track or near the end of the album) and him picking up the phone and having a conversation with “Gabe,” this is a glimpse at the first time we see ‘Ye leave his usually meticulous creative process at the door.
I don’t know if Kanye’s Good Ass Job will ever see the light of day, but if it ever does/did, “30 Hours” would make for a great album cut. — Brandon Delesline
“Famous” is great… and it’s in no large part due to what ‘Ye is saying. Let’s be clear, on The Life of Pablo‘s fourth track, West is on his “I made y’all who you are…” mode aka god mode aka THROWBACK TO MY DAMN CROISSANTS’ Kanye (one of my favorite versions of Kanye tbh). But here’s the best part of it all… while Kanye is going full ham on what’s assumed to be his “leaving fame behind” moment, he turns to Taylor and the girls he’s bedded and the ones he’s helping with car payments.Oh Kanye, you’re so generous(sarcasm). While Mr. God Dream takes to expressing how potentially non-reprehensible he actually ends up before the song finds completion … the actual best / nicest part of “Famous?” The ladies who get their 15 minutes (nay, seconds…) of #fame on the track, that is… treasured singer and civil rights activist, Nina Simone (vocal outro); the first female dancehall DJ, Sister Nancy (‘Bam Bam’ sample on the bridge); and the based princess of no phucks allowed, Rihanna (interpolating Simone’s ‘Do What You Gotta Do’ on the intro and hook). While Kanye may’ve gone for a humbling page turn, this one’s all about the #grrrrlpower and I am here for it.— Hannah Rad