Photo from 2dopeboyz.com
By Vinny Ball
Through each stage of his career, Kanye West continues to reinvent himself.
Whether it’s polos and backpacks Kanye or fashion designer Kanye, Yeezy has been able to retain his ear for production, and perhaps more importantly, the bombastic lyrics he’s become synonymous with.
Thanks to Kanye utilizing a variety of genres, “The Life of Pablo” isn’t any different in that respect. Rock & roll, soul, gospel, and trap all have their place throughout the album, in a manner that harkens back to The Beatles’ “White Album.”
Although this integration of genres may seem frivolous, it’s representative of the contradictions that Kanye battles with throughout the album, from his maligned relationship with fame, to finding the right balance between 21st century rock star status and fatherhood.
The first track on the album, “Ultralight Beam” stands as one of the finest moments on the record. The song’s sonic backdrop – a gospel choir over a striking chord progression– creates the perfect atmosphere for Kanye, The-Dream, Kelly Price and Chance the Rapper, allowing for the latter of whom to contribute what will likely go down as 2016’s finest verse, pronouncing that “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail.”
Just as noteworthy is “Wolves.” The lyrics focus on the desolation that Kanye faced prior to his marriage with Kim Kardashian, “Lost out, beat up Dancin’, down there I found you, somewhere out ‘Round ’round there, right right there.”
That same longing for intimacy is heard through the minimalist production, which revolves around a female vocal loop and sub bass. Singing through what sounds like a laptop microphone, Frank Ocean appears on the song’s outro, providing one of the album’s most vulnerable moments when he croons “Life is precious; We found out, We found out.”
If you haven’t been a fan of Kanye before, “The Life of Pablo” won’t turn you into one, yet existing fans will find comfort in knowing that Kanye is aware of their criticisms.
In “I Love Kanye,” Yeezy displays a level of self-awareness that was absent from Yeezus, when he raps from the fan perspective: “That’s all it was Kanye, we still love Kanye, and I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.” It’s no coincidence that Kanye chose to sample soul records more transparently, just as he had done early on in his career.
Kanye is just as introspective on the track “Real Friends,” where he questions the loyalty of those around him, as well as his own through rapping “Real friends, how many of us? How many of us, how many jealous?”
Despite Kanye’s self awareness, he did fail to remove his misogynistic views. On “Famous,” Kanye takes credit for Taylor Swift’s fame stating “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.” Kanye would defend his use of the word bitch through a tweet, but his explanation is suspect.
Kanye’s self-declared ownership of Swift is emblematic of hip-hop’s portrayal of women as second class citizens. While it’s no excuse for Kanye to continue to degrade women throughout his art, there’s no denying such a sentiment is woven throughout the fabric of hip-hop, and in order for it to cease, stars like West will have to lead the way.
It’s unlikely that “The Life of Pablo” will reinvent the rap game like “College Dropout” or “808’s & Heartbreak” did, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive. The record’s greatest achievement is that it accurately captures exactly where Kanye is at this point in his life, warts and all. Because of that honesty and the albums overall sonics, it is certainly capable of remaining a timeless, captivating listen.