‘The Life of Pablo’ Album Review


Picture courtesy of theboombox.com

Kyle Tremblay, Contributor

Kanye West is easily one of the most controversial and interesting pop culture figures of today. Despite his music often being as provocative as he is, West is one of the most critically acclaimed artists of the genre that he has redefined time and time again.

Kanye originally planned on releasing a follow-up to 2013’s Yeezus sometime in late 2014, yet it ended up being pushed back significantly, due in part to his increased commitment to his fashion lines, his desire to innovate on a sonic level, and his duties of fatherhood.

Kanye West’s seventh solo album, The Life of Pablo ended up being released in February, following an unorthodox unveiling at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.

One of the main talking points in the days leading up to the release surrounded which Pablo West is referring to in the album title. Could it be Pablo Picasso, a man to whom Kanye has compared himself? There are certainly many similarities between the two. Could it be Pablo Escobar, who has always had a role in hip-hop culture? However, West proved both speculations wrong when he revealed he was referring to Saint Paul the Apostle.

The Life of Pablo album cover(Picture courtesy of kanyewest.com)

A reference to Saint Paul can be found in the album’s first song, “Ultralight Beam,” when Saint Paul, known as Saul at the time, was blinded by a vision of Jesus that ultimately caused him to cease persecuting Christians and convert to Christianity. “Ultralight Beam” is essentially a twelve years delayed sequel to West’s career defining single “Jesus Walks,” and properly sets the tone for what Kanye himself described as a “gospel album.”

The status of The Life of Pablo being a gospel album is in jeopardy by the time the next song, “Father Stretch My Hands,” rolls around. While Part 1 of the song describes an interaction with a model in a way that only Kanye could, his overall message falls back on the idea of battling his ego and surrendering to God’s will.

Part 2 is less raw but equally powerful as Part 1, taking listeners on a journey through the struggles of Kanye’s personal life: his parents’ divorce, his near-fatal car accident, his workaholic nature, his mother’s death and his depression that followed. Featuring a sample from Desiigner’s hit “Panda,” Kanye makes it clear he desires to not repeat the same mistakes his own father made.

“Famous” is Kanye’s so-called break-up song with fame and the troubles it’s caused him, but not without a line that rekindles the Taylor Swift feud. “Highlights” is a reflection of Kanye’s successes, while continuing on with the symbol of light that has been prevalent in his last few albums.

“I Love Kanye” is undoubtedly one of Kanye’s most comical songs, as he mocks the very criticism that have been laid upon him, a cappella style.

However, comedy has vanished by the time “FML” comes on. A strong hook by the Weeknd separates Kanye’s first verse about staying faithful to his wife and focusing on his mission and his second verse describing a hypomanic episode when he is off his anti-depressant.

“Real Friends” finds Kanye in a very dark place. Lyrically, he expresses himself as a “deadbeat cousin” who is constantly out of touch with his family and friends and is more of a nuisance than anything else.

“Wolves” might just be one of Kanye’s best songs of all time. Themes of depression, suicide, fear, hope, and love are conveyed over eerie background music that is reminiscent of howling wolves. As he’s had with several other songs on the album, Kanye is reflective of his past troubles and desperation, but concludes his final verse with comparing himself to Joseph while wrapping his children in swaddling clothes.

Kanye at The Life of Pablo unveiling at Madison Square Garden(Picture courtesy of the New Yorker)

“No More Parties In L.A.” (featuring Kendrick Lamar) silences any critics who say Kanye can no longer rap with intensity, and in just under one hour The Life Of Pablo closes out with “Fade,” which barely even features Kanye vocally.

Given that Kanye’s music has always been both highly acclaimed and controversial, there have been mixed reviews of The Life of Pablo. Some say that this album sounds unrefined and choppy, while others maintain that Kanye is still at the top of his game.

In all truth, I believe that Kanye is still at his best in The Life of Pablo, even though this is probably not his best album. The College Dropout became an instant classic while My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of the most critically acclaimed albums of all time.

Just like every other Kanye album, The Life of Pablo is vastly different in style than its predecessors. Yet what sets this album apart from his others is the notion that The Life of Pablo is unlikely to inspire a new wave of artists nor redefine the rap genre, unlike his previous six albums.

The messages and themes Kanye explores in this album are similar in many ways to his past music: his deep Christian faith, the void in his life due to his mother’s death, depression, arrogance, and the battle between the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. However, in The Life of Pablo, light triumphs over darkness and the angel is victorious more often than it has been in his past few albums.

Jayson Greene of Pitchfork reveals a biblical verse that Kanye might have hinted at over the course of this album, Corinthians 13:2 (“If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing”). In The Life of Pablo, Kanye seems to have that love for the first time in a long while.