I’ll be the first to say that I don’t think my music reviews are as up to snuff as others out there. I never know whether to talk about individual songs or the album as a whole, etc. I knew I had to write this review, however, and decided that I would write until I had nothing left to say about the album and here we are.
I’ve been waiting almost three years for my favorite rapper/artist to release his long awaited followup to Yeezus (2013). In fact, when Yeezus came out this blog was all but a few days old; and look how far we’ve come! People still like us! Kanye West has been tantalizing and torturing his fans with album title changes and handwritten track lists over the past few years and he even caused a lot of upheaval promising his album to drop on a certain day and flat out not abiding by it then blaming Chance the Rapper for the delay. It was almost too good to be true when
So Help Me God SWISH WAVES The Life Of Pablo finally fell into my hands and I tried as hard as I could to level my expectations – only thing is once again West has delivered a pivotal addition to his discography and it took me about five listens to finally put pen to paper (Or fingers to keyboard?).
Mr. West opens with Ultra Light Beams and I can’t even be surprised by the Gospel themes in it. The drums and baseline echo just as loud as the choir and you feel a sense of comfort the way Kanye feels safe keeping faith. The song is about religion up front but beneath West pleas to come back from his fast paced life and come back to his musical roots. What puts the punctuation mark on this song is Chance the Rapper’s involvement. A young Chicago rapper just like Kanye, Chance has the opportunity to represent the younger Louis Vuitton Don Kanye West and make that parallel between who he is, what he was, and how he remains. Kanye West may have diverged from music and tried to express himself in different mediums; but in the end he has always had the most faith in his music. He can do more with his music. He feels safe in his music. He can fight wars with his music.
FAITH! MORE! SAFE! WAR!
I wasn’t huge on Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 but I know a lot of people calling it one of the best songs on the album. I have listened to it since hearing those people talk and I do like it significantly more upon more listens; but it still isn’t one of my favorites. Kid Cudi and Future make their long-rumored features on the album and they are certainly in there for best contributors on the album as a whole. Part 1 deals with Kanye’s relationships with women and in my opinion I think Part 2 when he talks about his father leaving him and his mother and the difficulties that have come with his fame. All of this can be equated to him wanting liberation from all of it and it’s interesting how West depicts all of these issues as threads to the same web of debt and heartbreak.
At this point I’m pretty sold on the album and Kanye doesn’t need to pull anymore fast ones; but then Rihanna opened Famous and my heart melted a little. It’s both a happy and sad song as Kanye “breaks up” with fame and wishes to leave it behind for a more peaceful lifestyle with him and his family. But as Rihanna states, fame really has loved Kanye more than anyone and it’s never been able to leave him no matter how hard he tries. The “Bam Bam” sampling only adds to the heartbreak of it leaving a small pit in your stomach for a few seconds before the next track.
Leave it to Kanye West to have a song about wanting to leave fame only to flip it on his listeners and give them the first real rapping-Kanye track about his ode to success. It’s moments like these that make me love Kanye. First he’s full of regret, now he’s apologetic. IT SOUNDS CONVOLUTED I KNOW. But it’s what makes him stand out from the rest – how he can get two contradicting points out there and still have both leave you with both strong and opposite impacts.
Low Lights is a great breather before what is my favorite song on the album. Low Lights is a calming graceful appreciation for God, yes; but you’re lying to yourself if you don’t think Kanye West, the self-proclaimed God, isn’t juxtaposing this with himself. Then we head into Highlights and it. Is. Fire. Young Thug and Kanye get together for what would be the fortieth time in their careers – only this is the first time ever that their collaboration has actually seen the light of day. If this is what the fortieth sounds like, I’m really curious about the other thirty-nine. What I love about this song the most is it reminds me of the Graduation (2007) days of Kanye. The Kanye that had just released two influential albums and was now just having fun. That’s my favorite Kanye! It’s upbeat, it’s soulful at times, and I think my favorite part is when Kanye literally loses his breath in the middle of a verse and just keeps going. That, and when he roasts Ray J. A little birdie also put the idea in my head that there should definitely be a mashup of every Kanye West song with the word “Light(s)” in the title. Seeing as this, Low Lights before, and Ultra Light Beam, all have “Light(s)” in them, they should surely be included.
I’ve tried to find out if Freestyle 4 is actually a freestyle and I honestly have found nothing. It sounds like it could be; but I wouldn’t put it past West to just call a non-freestyle a freestyle… And put a number at the end of it. It’s a very dark song as it describes a booze-fueled Kanye and the beautiful dark twisted fantasies (¯\_(ツ)_/¯) that stem from his mind. It’s great commentary that’s followed by Kanye making fun of himself and how much he loves Kanye… With a song literally titled I Love Kanye. It’s appropriate for him and he plays the self-awareness very well as if he’s on Tumblr seeing the, “I love you as much as Kanye West loves Kanye West,” Valentine memes. His laugh at the end of it is the best part and it’s good to see that even through thick and thin he still has a sense of humor.
A lot of people say that Waves was overhyped and I respectfully disagree. Do I think it makes the album what is it? No; but I can’t deny it’s a very well produced song from Chance the Rapper and Chris Brown surprising me in the hook was a strike in my book. Kanye made fun of the whole situation because Chance was all in all responsible for the delay of the album release but I’m completely alright with someone like Chance, a rapper whose work I’m a huge fan of, fighting for a song of his to be on the album. It speaks volumes about Chance’s integrity and the song’s overall positive reactions that it’s gotten will certainly help forward Chance’s career.
I’m conflicted by FML because while I love The Weeknd’s feature and the words spoken in the song, I’m just not a huge fan of the beat of the music to say the least. Having said that, FML reflects the same issues as Freestyle 4 as West contemplates unfaithfulness but in the end cannot justify it because of it life for Kim. Yet sometimes he wonders if he ended it once and for all if it would be worth it. It’s very in West’s fashion to be open about his emotions and his relationships, it’s been something that he has always accepted about himself and hoping that others would be accepting as well. I can’t imagine how Kim felt when she listened to the track but I’ll be remise if I didn’t speculate that it went right over her head.
To me, Real Friends and Wolves are essentially two parts of one greater song – Like Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003, 2004). Real Friends is a sad song but one of the best Kanye songs in recent memory. Like the nerd from high school who finally became one of the cool kids, Kanye is openly struggling to maintain relationships with his friends and family and it’s taking its toll on him. I can really relate to this song not because I’m cool – absolutely not – but because one thing my father has always told me is that it’ll get to a point in my life where I’ll be able to count my closest friends on one hand. To this day I still believe that and this song only helped reinforce that.
We then have the coolest transition in the album from Real Friends to Wolves as an eerie and almost haunting howl that peels back a gamut of emotions ranging from depression and suicide to faith and love. Wolves was already an incredibly well written song a year ago when Kanye showcased it at his first fashion show, Yeezy Season 1 in NYC (Which my good friend may or may not have had an audition for it but was too tall for it (humble brag)). Sia and Vic Mensa were originally on it, however Kanye decided to redo the song and trade them in for Frank Ocean – a great trade if you ask me. HOWEVER, today he just released a “finished” version of the track which now features all three. I haven’t listened to it yet but I am very interested. Anytime Frank Ocean collaborates with Kanye West, more often than not it’s one of if not the best song on that album.
Before 30 Hours opens the third act of the album, Kanye decided to poke a little fun at Wiz Khalifa after the whole Max B debate over Twitter a month ago. It’s harmless if you ask me, especially since Kanye got the audio from a phone call of Max B approving of Kanye’s use of the album title WAVES… Before Kanye went and changed it for what would be the third time.
30 Hours may, objectively, be the best song on this record. This and Wolves were also the only two songs to make it all the way from West’s initial seventh album attempt, So Help Me God, onto this album. West reflects on his earlier days when he was recording The College Dropout (2007) and commuting from LA to Chicago for a whopping 30 hour drive to maintain a relationship. The song is not only a reflection of another one of West’s relationships before his fame; but a reflection of who he was as a person before his fame. It depicts a young and shy Kanye West who didn’t know how to handle himself alone in the world of music and pop culture.
Young producer just trying to get his flows off // I remember being nervous to do Victoria Secret // ‘Til I pictured everybody with their clothes off
It also depicts a Kanye West that would risk the 30 hour drive through sleet and hail only to be with the ones he loves. People forget that behind this ego-maniac and self righteous rapper is a man who loves his family and to this day does anything for them to make them happy. Then to have Kanye just let the beat ride out for three additional minutes while he rambles and his phone even goes off is the most Kanye West thing about this whole album.
One of the most memorable things that will come out of this album is No More Parties in LA; and with it we finally get a collaboration between Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. Lamar helped write All Day for West last year so there was always speculation that he would be involved in TLOP – it was just a matter of how. It’s a fun and playful song like Highlights that vents about the artificial Barbie Doll-style Hollywood lifestyle that seems to have surfaced since they both became LA-based artists. The sampling of soul and soft guitars also puts both artists’ influences on display for listeners and I have to give credit to producer Madlib where it’s due. This is a very well done song and I look forward to more collaborations from these two.
As tough as it is to say, I think Facts is my least favorite song on this album. I’ll admit it’s better than the version he dropped on Soundcloud last December but the whole thing sounds convoluted and disorganized – albeit it’s still funny at moments. It’s also pretty clear that Kanye is going to stick with Adidas and has no intention of collaborating with Nike anytime soon.
Nike, Nike treat employees just like slaves // Gave LeBron a billi’ not to run away
The closing track was a familiar one seeing as it premiered at West’s second fashion show, Yeezy Season 2, but like Facts, this was worked over as well and added none other than Post Malone! The only word I have been able to use to describe Fade is “cool”. It’s a very cool song. I can see a song like this making it into clubs and different people sampling it. The words aren’t too much to think about. It’s basically about being crossfaded and the blurred lines of temptation that come hand in hand with it. The beat is smooth and quite far from anything Kanye’s done before to close an album. I’m not too big on Post Malone but his breakdown in this song is awesome. The song cuts out mid-beat and before you know it you just listened to The Life of Pablo in all its entirety.
The main question on everyone’s mind I think is, “Was The Life Of Pablo worth the wait?” It really depends on how you look at it. Most of the criticism revolving around Kanye West these days is that he isn’t a rapper anymore and now he’s solely in the limelight to cause controversy and upset the general public by booking fashion shows in front of acclaimed designers and creating more expressionistic music before going on a Twitter rampage as if the man has only five minutes of wifi at a time. To be completely honest I don’t think of Kanye West as a rapper anymore. He certainly still has it in him and this album displays it well with songs like Real Friends and 30 Hours; but as a whole I think Kanye is one of the few artists that walks that line between artistry and insanity. The man’s Twitter presence and blunt honesty (despite popular opinion) juxtaposed with this record is a perfect example of this.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Awesome
The Life Of Pablo shows that despite changing conditions in West’s career – whether they be fashion oriented or family – music will always be his most influential, artistic, and expressionistic means of communication.
UPDATE: Future is indeed on this album but the part I was thinking of is actually Desiigner (Not a misspelling) who apparently is a store brand version of Future. My way more musically inclined friend pointed out the error to me.
IMAGES: http://www.slate.com/content/dam/slate/articles/podcasts/gist/2016/02/160216-thegist-kanye.jpg.CROP.promo-xlarge2.jpg, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/4e/Kanye_West_The_Life_Of_Pablo_Alternate_Cover.jpeg, http://photon.hypb.st/hypetrak.com/images/2016/02/kanye-west-the-life-of-pablo-alternate-cover-0.jpg, http://www.nbc.com/sites/nbcunbc/files/files/images/2016/2/14/160214_2985373_Kanye_West__Ultralight_Beam.jpg, http://cdn.nextimpulsesports.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ADIDAS-X-KANYE-WEST-YEEZY-SEASON-1.jpg, http://media4.popsugar-assets.com/files/2015/09/16/842/n/1922564/ba29c5a9_edit_img_cover_file_15741505_1442424300_GettyImages-488589090.jpg