Kanye West – The Life of Pablo – The STiXXclusive Review

I almost forgot to write about this album. You’d think that’d be damn near impossible, given the fact that I hear it every other day at work, it seems, and the fact that between the memes, tweets, and other eccentric portrayals of Kanye West, you just can’t escape Kanye West. So, that being said, I’m astounded by the fact that I held out this long to write about it. Then again, about 41 published reviews came out within 5 days of its awkward leak/Tidal release, so that’s a whole story on its own. I didn’t want to force myself to write about an album that I may or may not have liked as much initially, because it’s always an event when Kanye drops something, from the brilliant (MBDTF) to the not-so-brilliant (Yeezus), and emotions ride on high. There’s no such thing as a sensible first listen to a Kanye West album (actually any highly anticipated album). You give it a few spins (in my case, I sat with it over the course of a week & change) and then when the time is right, there are words put down to express how I feel about it. So here we are. Words (on Microsoft Word) to express how I feel about a Kanye West album. There really isn’t an artist out right now that isn’t loved or hated more than Kanye West for the most reasons. Regardless of what you may think of him as a person (sensible or irrational, idiotic or passionate), at times it’s hard to defend his erratic behaviour, and then there are times (usually when it comes with music) that you discover why you love the son-of-a-bitch in the first place. It’s a constant love/hate relationship, if that is you actually care that much to have that invested relationship.

One of the most important, if not the most important song on the album is usually the first one. It sets the tone for what the album could potentially sound like, and you want that energy right out of the gate, whether you’re about to delve into a story, or be taken on some sort of mystic journey that is layered up like an onion or a Canadian when it’s minus 20 outside. Either way, there’s some form of depth that is formed from the intro. Kanye West has a very charismatic way of presenting his intros and Ultralight Beam continues that trend that sparked up large debates about which intro was his best (Good Morning for me). The viral video of the little girl praying in the car is the first voice that we hear, and then the spirit begins to arouse you in the best way. I know it’s the first song on the album, but I really don’t know why So Help Me God isn’t the name of this album, because since The College Dropout, religion has been a key asset in his music, whether it’s through using choirs (like he does in this one), or in his lyrics. You hear The-Dream, then out of nowhere, Kelly Price, which helped set the tone, but it’s really when Chance the Rapper hopped on the mic, where it was really go time. If you’re unfamiliar with the rapper, he’s been a game changer in terms of how he’s taken the music world by storm as an independent, performing on primetime television often, and the fact that he hasn’t sold one record speaks a lot to his talent and where he could take leaps & bounds with his music (Acid Rain from his Acid Rap mixtape is one of my favourite songs by him).

“You can feel the lyrics, the spirit coming in braille
Tubman of the underground, come and follow the trail
I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell
I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”

I like how many Kanye references that Chance made within his verse, being that for what Kanye West is to young Chicagoans, that’s what Drake is for Toronto artists. And featuring Chicago talent on his [Kanye] albums is not something foreign, if you look back to him having Lupe Fiasco on Touch The Sky or even collaborations with Common (Get Em High comes to mind). There’s a lineage in that lovely city in Illinois, so to see it flourish and for the independent rappers to continue their surge, it’s great for Hip Hop. Kanye tweeted (amongst many, many other tweets) that this was a Gospel album, and the collective opinion was “ok Kanye.” But then as this being the first song, you have to look around and say, “okay Kanye!” The man seems to have a plan of action every time he drops something, and this is why we’re here to indulge.

Going into Father Stretch My Hands, the Gospel still speaks to you with the soul sample, and then as it builds, the intro heard around the world and within the multiple vines you can’t escape, the beat drop hits you right in the soul and there’s nothing you can do about it. Between the Metro Boomin tag and the Kid CuDi hook, it’s truly the best part of the song. And why I say that it’s the best part of the song is because the rest of Part 1, I don’t necessarily care about in terms of Kanye’s verse. I understand that autotune has played a major role in reshaping his sound from 808s onwards, but sometimes, it’s just annoying to get a grip of. And this is me having listened to the album repetitively since its release, and if I could hear the hook looped over for 4 minutes, it’d be a better song to me than an actual Kanye West verse, that’s just the truth, Ruth. Part 2 picks up the pace, and ultimately serves as troll of the year (which wouldn’t be the only one on the album) when what sounds like Future hops on the track and has a crazy ass flow, except that it’s Desiigner, who (at the time, and probably still is to some degree) an unknown rapper out of Brooklyn, but sounds like he’s straight out of Atlanta. I am certainly not the only person in the world who thought it was Future, but the song that was sampled is his own, Panda (which is super catchy) and that leaves everyone in a moment of confusion. Kanye West tweeted that he cried while writing his verse, which was influenced by his Dad, as he himself has taken on Fatherhood and the growing that comes with being a parent.

“Drops some stacks pops is good
Momma pass in Hollywood
If you ask, lost my soul
Driving fast, lost control
Off the road, jaw was broke
‘Member we all was broke”

Everyone is in agreement that ever since Kanye West’s mother passed away, Kanye hasn’t been the same person we grew to love, because mentally, and emotionally, it just hasn’t been the same for him. You can feel for him with that regard, because I’ve witnessed how people can mentally lose themselves after someone you’re so attached to exits your life in the physical form. Part 2, I’d definitely take over Part 1 because outside of the hook for 1, there’s nothing to hold me over, but Part 2 has Desiigner to thank for making this entertaining (PandaPandaPandaPanda).

When I think about the fact that no features were listed on the album’s tracklist, it made me think of The Social Experiment’s Surf album (a band featuring Chance the Rapper and Donnie Trumpet) and how the surprise factor of hearing the features brought excitement to it. That surprise is what I felt when I heard Rihanna open up Famous with her ode to Nina Simone, on the song that features the most controversy because of the Taylor Swift line, which I found to be hilarious for the first couple of times that I heard it. The beat (thank you Swizz Beats) is mean, and the hard-to-be-humble-when-you-stuntin-on-the-jumbotron Kanye appeared to talk his shit like he’s known to do. Whichever side of the fence you’re on with regards to if Kanye actually reached out to Taylor Swift or not, I feel like their ‘feud’ thing (if it’s really a thing) needs to subside at this point, but he did go on a rant (one of his many since and prior to this album’s release) about her winning two Album of the Year Grammys (including robbing Kendrick, but we won’t get into that), and Kanye not even being nominated for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Watch the Throne in that same category (although, I probably wouldn’t have put WTT in that conversation). He made some sense on that day, which is why I believe he’ll truly never like her. Much like Yeezus, the production is grand and at times random, because going from the 1st to the 4th song, you would have thought this was a completely different album, but we move forward to see what else Mr. West has brought.

If you didn’t like Yeezus (which I vocally did not), there will be elements in this album that you won’t like, and I’ve realized that through living with his album for a while. Feedback has that techno vibe to it that certainly can own its weight in hype, but it’s not something that I’d find myself wanting to hear more of outside of my own listening pleasures. The one-liner is something that Kanye has seemed to perfect, because has many of those moments in essentially every album where it’s a standout, and this track doesn’t seem to stray far from the truth.

“I’ve been outta my mind a long time
I’ve been saying how I feel at the wrong time
Might not come when you want but I’m on time”

Outside of a few lines, like I said, there’s nothing that grabbed me to hold my attention longer than I’d expected it to, and that disappointed me in a way, especially since it’s been almost 3 years since his last album, but almost 5 since the album I actually cared about. One can at least hope that it’ll get better as it goes along.

One of the best parts of church, for me personally, is hearing the testimonies & dedications from the worshippers, because it’s cool to see people give thanks for the little or not-so-little things in their lives. I’ve said to myself that when I get the chance to, I’d get in front of a congregation to say my piece, but that moment hasn’t come about yet (I would actually have to go to church for that to happen). The testimony that’s given by the woman on Lowlights can speak for a lot of people because of the simple fact of there being an appreciation for God putting things in your life that you can be thankful for. It’s gripping, and emotional at times, and really it spoke to me more than any other song on the album thus far. And at that same time, it confused me because I have no idea which direction his album is going. That’s really the mind-numbing thing to me, the reason why I’m stuck in confusion.

It served as the intro to Highlights, but then that’s where, yet again, I put on my “what the fuck” face as to just what was going on. I’m not a Young Thug fan at all, but I won’t lie like he doesn’t kill some features here and there (Party Favors with Tinashe, for example). Kanye’s verse was dope though, so I can’t be mad at the song as a whole (although the Ray J, & new Jacksons lines could leave). But, like many others, the song just didn’t stick with me. And usually every song that has ‘lights’ in it, whether it’s Streetlights, Flashing Lights, All of the Lights, and Ultra Light Beams, they don’t miss. This one? It’s a miss for me. Damn Kanye, I thought you’d be back at it again with another hit.

The same way I feel about Freestyle 4, is how I felt when I heard That’s My Bitch on WTT or Hell of a Night on MDBTF. You have the most sexually driven lyrics on this song, which is cool for the moment, but it just comes in passing. Future Desiigner rips this beat to shreds, and really I wish that it was his song as a whole instead of just the hook, but recently, Tyler the Creator dropped some serious fire flames over this beat, so that’s where all energy will shift to whenever I want to hear it again. I won’t lie, there wasn’t a lot that I liked about this album leading up to this point, and that saddened me. Hope, right? Right?

I Love Kanye is a hilarious, yet accurate interlude, because he essentially took whatever YouTube comment or Tweet sent his way and formulated it into a poem of sorts. With no beat attached, he just went off on the various things about Kanye that we miss and loved that we know we won’t get back, and should stop looking forward to it happening.

“I miss the old Kanye, straight from the ‘Go Kanye
Chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye
I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye
The always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye”

I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again, it’s hard being a Kanye West fan at times, because you don’t even know what to defend at this point. You could say that “he’s an artist and everything that he touches has layers of depth that you just need to understand” or you could be like “what the fuck is this dude talking about right now?” There’s no in-between. You love him or hate him. It’s annoying trying to battle Kaye stans, when you yourself saw yourself at one point as a stan of his music, but not of his personality. I’m positive that Kanye recognizes that.

The fact that Chance the Rapper had to fight to get Waves on this album, which prolonged its release, it’s one of the best songs to this point, and the main reason for that is the unlikely voice of Chris Brown & the humming of Kid CuDi. This is like the Runaway of Pablo, meaning that it’s a standout that has the most replay value, although for some reason, it feels incomplete like its lack of time. If Chris Brown had given another verse or had Kanye not been on it at all, I’d have elevated its status. I find it interesting that I’m more so captivated by the features rather than by Kanye himself. Speaks some volume to the overall essence of the album.

Abel Tesfaye (you may know him as The Weeknd), from Scarborough, Ontario, Canada (yeah, that’s right) has been on a tear, and with the success from Beauty Behind the Madness and an Oscar nomination with Earned It, it’s been good to be him over the past year and change. With having a Kanye West produced track (Tell Your Friends) on his own album, hopping on FML seemed right, and this too is one of the better tracks on the album. This is the point where I started liking it a little more, although it’s towards the ass end of the album.

“I been living without limits
As far as my business
I’m the only one that’s in control
I been feeling all I’ve given
For my children
I will die for those I love
God, I’m willing
To make this my mission
Give up the women
Before I lose half of what I own”

There’s a struggle that Kanye has been open about when it comes to his marriage, his business ventures, or his continued growth as a parent. The realization that he may be out of control in various aspects in his life and that he needs to slow down shows that he’s aware of what he needs to do to improve his life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to have a dramatic lifestyle change or that he won’t be the same Kanye West that got him to this point. He is who he is, but at least it won’t let that hurt him more than it can.

Before the album was even announced, when Kanye dropped off Real Friends, that’s where the praises of “Kanye’s back” came about, and I was definitely part of that chorus or people saying that. The production that Kanye brings is appreciated, but it’s the lyrics that he possess that make him more appealing to me when they hit with force (i.e. Gorgeous) It’s probably the reason why I haven’t enjoyed this album as much, because there’s not a lot of lyrical greatness to take away from, although he’s not heralded as a lyrical genius. This is a great song that has us question who are the real ones within our circle, the guilt we may experience for being neglectful family members, or even when that same family can hurt you in the worst way, you still have some love for them (which was addressed on Why I Love You on WTT).

“Who your real friends? We all came from the bottom
I’m always blamin’ you, but what’s sad, you not the problem
Damn I forgot to call her, shit I thought it was Thursday
Why you wait a week to call my phone in the first place?
When was the last time I remembered a birthday?
When was the last time I wasn’t in a hurry?”

Facebook not only changed the way people view friendships, but also the way in which we interact within them. Social media has played a large part, for me personally, as to how my original friendships have developed & broken, but also the ability for me to find new ones and thrive with people whom are like-minded in ways I hadn’t experienced as a whole. It’s definitely been a benefit, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t wavering concerns about whether or not you can put your full trust in people, but that’s just a sense of paranoia that’s been built up through past experience. It shouldn’t be to the point where you have to question who’s a real friend to you, but it’ll always be that way when true colours are shown in your direction.

I hate when a nigga text you like, “what’s up, fam, hope you good”
You say, “I’m good” I’m great, the next text they ask you for somethin’
How many?”

Kanye took it to church with the relevance, because listen…it happens more than you think, and I’m not the only person who can attest to this line. It’s crazy how this song hit home for not only myself, but a lot of people.

The most anticipated song on the album is Wolves, and literally everyone was waiting to hear a CD quality version since he premiered it during a Yeezy fashion show & performing on SNL with Vic Mensa & Sia. Surprisingly, not only were Vic & Sia not on the album version, but it was Frank fucking Ocean who makes a surprise appearance and that blew everyone’s minds. However, thank you to the power of the internet, someone mashed both versions together to have the originals and Frank on it, so everyone wins. This song is reminiscent of 808s Kanye, and it’s truly an epic one to say the least. And yet again, the features were the standout that made the song, and the beat itself, chilly, yet vibrant, give the song an eerie atmosphere that is very appreciated.

“If mama knew now
How you turned out, you too wild”

Renegade on the loose running with the wolves with no self-control. That’s what Kanye would essentially describe himself and the theme of being lost in terms of his mind, and still finding that next chapter of his life and surrounding that with his artistry that no longer just focuses on music. It’s what gives the song depth and why it was so very wanted in the first place.

The Silver Surfer Intermission is hilarious because when you look at the Wiz Khalifa shade that was thrown over the Waves title, he and others saw that as a slight towards Max B, and then out of nowhere, Max B shows up to give his blessing from jail. Basically, it’s a big “fuck you Wiz” and Kanye, known to be very petty, shows his ass again.

From Waves on down, I forgot that the first half of the album exists. Had it been 10 songs like it originally was (with this structure, unlike the multiple track changes), it would be hard to argue that it’s his worst one to date, but it’s not Yeezus level bad, but I wouldn’t have cared for it in any capacity. Thankfully we got more songs, and remember where I towards at the beginning of the review about there being another troll on the album, 30 Hours proved to be so. First of all, this is a great song because, again, when Kanye decides that he wants to rap, he really raps and that’s what I care about. Simple beat provided by a plethora of bars that encompass storytelling to the finest, what more could you ask for? Oh wait, an Andre 3000 feature, but wait…he doesn’t actually rap on it. DAMN YOU KANYE! YOU HAD ONE JOB! But I can’t lie like this song actually isn’t great. Him speaking out to one of his exes and the good years they had, it’s a point of reflection that he’s been known to do with Amber Rose (he likes to hold onto things a lot), so this takes another turn with the storytelling ability that he can bring to the table. It’s nostalgic, and even has some Last Call elements towards the end, but not as focused. It doesn’t take away from the song itself, but I still wish Andre 3K had a verse. This was the moment!

When the snippet of No More Parties in LA came about when the original Real Friends was released, the Madlib produced track was all everyone wanted because Kendrick Lamar started to flow all wild and then it was cut short. Kim Kardashian tweeted that Kanye had written 90 bars for the song and that’s where more interest peaked. Really because I don’t think he had a 90 bar verse or anything that long since White Dress. When you’re on a track with Kendrick, you need to bring it, and certainly Kanye did not disappoint.

“I know some fans who thought I wouldn’t rap like this again
But the writer’s block is over, emcees cancel your plans
A 38-year-old 8-year-old with rich nigga problems”

If this song wasn’t released before the album dropped, there wouldn’t have been a high expectation of high quality rap all over, but because there was, the magnitude (for me, at least) was heightened and it fell flat. 6 minutes of straight bars over a Madlib beat is a Hip Hop dream featuring one of the best overall artists in the past decade, and one that has already solidified his greatness with his first two albums (3 if you include Section. 80). We all knew that the two had something cooked up because they went on tour together, but this isn’t what I thought was coming. Especially not from Kanye. Kendrick doesn’t get outshined very often on tracks (the notable ones being Michael Jordan, Spiteful Chant & Cartoons & Cereal) but Kanye certainly took the spotlight as he went on a long winded fury that pointed out to the lifestyle of Los Angeles, his asserted fame, his worries about his family, and overall observations that play a role in his current state of mind. It’s so much to digest between both verses, but all around, it’s Gold. Simple and pure.

Facts. Here’s one. Hated it. Even though the Charlie Heat version saves it a little. But it’s still a no from me. Moving on.

I don’t watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians, but when I heard the snippet of Fade, I was really interested. The House vibe that Chicago created, it caught me, and then hearing the full version, it’s all of the yes. All of it. I didn’t even know that Post Malone was on it until around the 3rd listen. Listening to this song in public is dangerous, because I will definitely be tempted to break out in some crazy leg routines, but for the LGBTQ community, this is great song to Vogue to, I will say that. I certainly got that visual, but it’s a great song all in all, and I’m glad that it made the cut.

Now, my final assessment of this album. If I removed every song before Waves with the exception of Ultralight Beam, this would be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the other songs that I don’t care about that much, are on the album, so that brings down the enjoyment. As a whole, it’s not his best. Certain tracks stood out to me more so than others, and where I do credit Kanye for continuing to push the envelope and create more great music when he does hit, the whole set up of the album felt all over the place with no sense of direction. That’s what separates it from his other albums. They had a collective theme throughout, and this had so many elements that just didn’t fit with each other, so I didn’t understand what was happening. And on top of that, when you have OG & Demo versions that were leaking out left & right, it just adds to the collective “what the fuck” that is all throughout the album. It’s not often that I don’t enjoy a Kanye album in full, but that was definitely the case for Pablo. It’s a reflection of the album cover. Jumbled and essentially put together with a lack of vision. People are going to portray it as a Picasso painting, but through the abstract art that Picasso brought, at least there was consistency. That is what this album lacks. There’s another album coming this summer, so hopefully that’ll be more of the 2nd half of this album, and less of what was slapped together. But, for now, this is my opinion, this is my review

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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