Tracks/Length: 18 tracks, 58 minutes (2 interludes)
Notable Guest Appearances: Chance The Rapper (“Ultralight Beam”), Rihanna (“Famous”), Kendrick Lamar (“No More Parties in LA”)
Album Genre/Tone: A diverse arrangement of Hip-Hop tracks, some uplifting, some swaggy, some dark
Lead Single: “Only One” (not on album)
Stream the album on Tidal after starting your free trial. Kanye has recently confirmed that the album will only ever be available on Tidal. It will never be for sale, and never be on Apple Music… might explain why it’s already almost platinum in pirated downloads.
My album will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale… You can only get it on Tidal.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 15, 2016
The mythical A+: Pretty much the best eargasm you’ve ever experienced. This is the album you will be listening to when you are sixty and your grandchildren will be judging you for.
A: All you need to appreciate this album is two ears connected to a heart. Whether it’s the deeper message, the prolific beats or memorable lyrics, everybody should be listening to this record.
B: If you like the genre, then you will love this album. You might keep it on repeat for a month, but it will eventually find itself in the bowels of your shuffle list. Hardcore fans of the artist will disagree with this rating, but it can be considered more niche than universally acceptable.
C: There are a solid tracks, but it’s really only worth a few rotations as a complete package. Those not into the genre probably shouldn’t even bother. It’s the musical equivalent of a sad handjob.
D: This album fails, in most aspects, to make a good or lasting impression. However, some out there might find joy in it, if even for only a few songs.
F: The only thing this album is good for is to make your ears bleed. You should steal every copy of this album and throw them all into a fire for a sacrifice ceremony meant to disband the demons living in the CD. And I say steal because it is obviously not worth the money. Or it would make a great gift for your enemies.
History Behind the Album
Calling the events leading up to the release of The Life of Pablo a shitshow would be an understatement. Truthfully, it’s been a train-wreck of a release that only a celebrity sensation like Kanye could survive. After three name changes and multiple attempts to unsuccessfully release the album to the public – including an impromptu change of tracklisting – the album is finally up on Tidal.
When “Only One,” an ode to his daughter, dropped New Year’s Eve 2014, it gave hope that Kanye West’s next studio album was going to be uplifting, happy, and incredibly soulful. Add in a verse on Rihanna’s “Four-Five Seconds” and some great Paul McCartney guitar lines, and this had the makings of becoming something beautiful. Since then, however, Kanye has changed directions musically with his next few song releases, “Facts” and “All Day” (the latter of which did not make the final cut). Truthfully, nobody really knew what to expect leading up to the release date – even Kim had mistakenly announced the return of G.O.O.D. Fridays, so this album was as much a surprise as it was anticipated.
What You’re in For
Hip-Hop fans can categorize Kanye West’s discography into two distinct categories: his weird shit and his good shit. That’s not to say that Kanye’s more eccentric albums aren’t good; I personally loved 808s and Heartbreaks because of Kanye’s willingness to experiment and show range. However, even people who boo 808s will admit that the album had value in Kanye’s willingness to expose his vulnerabilities. It was cathartic and, more importantly, true to who he was as a person going through the tragedy of losing a parent before their natural time.
The Life of Pablo is the exact opposite of that. It sounds like what your grandparents think ALL Kanye West music sounds like (word to Panama Soweto for that line!).
While cracks of the artist Kanye used to be shine through in spots throughout the album, the overwhelming majority of the TLOP is the aural equivalent of a five year old waving his dick around at a dinner party held in his honor. It’s idiotic bravado that isn’t even coherent half the time. Tracks like “30 Hours,” “Freestyle 4,” and “Facts” (and so many more…) are verbal diarrhea laced over mismatched beats. In truth, there are only a handful of tracks constructed well enough to make them feel like complete songs. Also, the album is very heavy-handed when it comes to auto-tune, which is disappointing because Kanye’s singing voice isn’t bad, and even light-moderately used Autotune is one of his specialties.
Kanye gets a definite nod for being self-aware enough to know what a tour de force he has become, humbling himself on “I Love Kanye” (a 45 second skit) and showing his human side on “Real Friends.” However, it doesn’t even begin to make up for the amount of lewd garbage he spews from his mouth. You’d think marriage and fatherhood would change the way he speaks about women, and life in general, but he seems to be even more unapologetic about it.
The guest list on the album is further perplexing. Gone are his long-time notable collaborations with big brother Jay-Z or G.O.O.D. Music constituents Pusha T, Big Sean, or John Legend. Instead, there are a wealth of artists that don’t deserve to share the track with Kanye, particularly Young Thug on “Highlights” and Ty Dolla Sign on “Real Friends.” Then there are the features that really sold me on the album, but were disappointingly short (Frank Ocean on “Wolves”) or under-ultilized (The Weeknd’s chorus on “FML” is laughably terrible). There are some bright spots, though, as Chance The Rapper really put himself on the mainstream radar with “Ultralight Beam,” and the sound of Chris Brown’s voice on “Waves” fits perfectly. Kendrick Lamar also lends his typical greatness to “No More Parties in LA,” one of the album’s strongest tracks.
Musically, TLOP is the most simplistic of all his albums. That’s not a knock, as the
Songs On Repeat
“Ultralight Beam” featuring Chance The Rapper, Kelly Price, The-Dream, and Kirk Franklin
Candy Bars: “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 fail/I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”
The gospel-inspired track for the intro is unequivocally beautiful. It’s hands-down the best track on the album and coincidentally doesn’t even feature Kanye as a rapper. His arrangement speaks so much louder than the production, as Kelly Price and The-Dream fill in the perfectly void simplicity of the beat. If you weren’t a fan of Chane The Rapper, this will convince you otherwise. “Ultralight Beam” is spiritual and profound, leaving us even angrier that the rest of the album falls on its face after the intro.
“No More Parties in LA” featuring Kendrick Lamar
Candy Bars: “Thinking back to how I got here in the first place/Second class bitches wouldn’t let me on first base/A backpack nigga with luxury taste buds/And the Louis Vuitton store, got all of my pay stubs/Got pussy from beats I did for niggas more famous/When did I become A list? I wasn’t even on a list”
One of the more unique-sounding tracks on TLOP, “No More Parties in LA” was co-produced by the legendary Mad-Lib (and was apparently created over 5 years ago, intended for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s a more laid-back songs, and samples Junie Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy.” This track is part reflection, part insight into his new life. He mentions his newborn baby Saint for the first time on a track, and details what it’s like living in LA. The song is highlighted by one very long verses by Kanye and Kendrick each.
The Quick and Dirty
It might be time to fully admit that the Kanye West we knew and love, the “All Falls Down,” “Heard Em Say” Kanye, is gone. It may not be for good, but I’m not holding my breath for the second coming of a Late Registration-type product from Kanye any time soon. He’s become his own brand, one that he is quite proud of, and one that the media seems happy with. Don’t believe any of the reviews you read about how mystifyingly brilliant he is or how “sonically magnanimous” his sound has become (give me a fucking break, HipHopDX… you, too??), it’s a shit album, and I’ve heard amateur demo tapes that sound more put together than The Life of Pablo.
I can’t pretend to understand what is going through Kanye’s mind. He’s gone through quite a bit since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy came out (objectively the best in his catalog), so I won’t presume anything about why his album is so manic, or misogynistic, or unfinished. And I certainly won’t attack him as a person or celebrity; the rest of the world does plenty of that already. What I’m seeing with The Life of Pablo is a confused, troubled man who needs to be told that who he is musically is not passable as the Kanye West we’ve grown to love over the years, but instead, the musical equivalent of Mike Tyson in the mid-90s, more full of bravado than bite (no pun intended), too prideful to admit that maybe he is well past his prime.