The bleached asshole line is stupid. Even though he asserts it as a term of endearment, he still calls his wife a bitch. Taylor Swift was already famous, and they probably won’t have familiar relations anytime soon. Apart from the haphazard track listing and the mish-mash of partially unfinished ideas on The Life Of Pablo, those have been the major talking points of Kanye West’s final (?) product. But for every line that makes you cringe, you’d be lying or contrarian not to admit there isn’t one that warms your heart, breaks it into a kajillion little Lego pieces, or makes you burst out laughing. THAT is what we should be talking about.
Pablo is an absolute mess, and to say otherwise would be selling it short; it’s an entrancing shit show. With MBDTF ‘Ye brought the word “maximalist” into rap’s lexicon, ditched and swapped it with “minimalism” for Yeezus. Somehow Pablo feels like an intersect between the two: slightly less than an hour but still eighteen songs long, through the ceiling highs and subterranean lows, over the top symphonies of rap songs built from skeletal remains of latter day soul. Opener “Ultra Light Beam” is the closest Kanye has come to breaching the pearly gates, and it’s built on little else than an elastic synth and a few taps of an 808. It’s the restraint that makes the opportunities West takes or gives seem as balls out as they are, be it Chance’s heartfelt performance, having Andre 3000 mumble a hook because why not?, or allowing The Weeknd space to sing about what he’s always sang about way better than how he’s always sang it. The juxtaposition is incredible, there’s really no other way to put it.
The abundance of ideas throughout the universe enveloping 58 minutes is staggering. Donnie Trumpets gentle support on “Ultra Light Beam.” The contrast in both sequences of the “Father Stretch My Hands” suite. Kendrick’s verse on “No More Parties In LA.” Rihanna covering Nina Simone seguing into Kanye’s dick-holdery segueing into the ecstatic flip of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” on “Famous”, before being thrown full throttled into the stalled elevator funk of “Feedback.” Kanye’s verse on “No More Parties In LA.” While some of his machinations could use a little more fleshing out (the aforementioned “FSMH’s” seem slightly vague, “Freestyle 4’s” shock-jocking begs to be expanded à la “Hell Of A Life”) they are all equally important to the sequencing, or lack thereof. The autobiographical “30 Hours” is classic Kanye if classic Kanye were as good a rapper as he is now. “Wolves,” premiered a year ago at his Yeezy Season 1 event, now feels even less structured. Lacking Sia and Vic Mensa – replaced by a haunting outro from patron saint of alternative anything Frank Ocean – Kanye ruminates on the hypothetical scorn of his deceased mother while shielding his children from predators while comparing himself and Kim to Joseph and Marry while dissing his wife corny ex-suitors. He’s all over the place, trading biblical allusions with sandwich theft. It’s one of the strangest and most beautiful rap songs I’ve ever heard. The distorted howls between Yeezy and Frank are interesting in so many ways, and if they are involved in some facet of the direction TLOP will inevitably charter popular music to go, well, that’s just peachy.
Every second right through the album may seem out of place, but there’s rarely a correct spot for erratic thought. Kanye West is in equal parts more batshit crazy and lucid than the rest of us, with better and worse control of his urges to boot. He may or may not be on Lexapro, but he is joined by marriage to the most famous/hated family in the world and bolsters the most unimpeachable track record the genre, possibly music as a whole, has ever seen. Kanye’s been stunting on the biggest jumbotron in the world for a decade and a half, so yeah, it’s hard to be humble. When you handcraft something as transcendent as “Waves,” why would you? If you can make Chris Brown of all people sound angelic, maybe you shouldn’t.
It’s been well over a week since TLOP streamed, released, got touched up, and promised to be fixed again. Nearly every publication has released their review, some more thought out than others. We at RLGT have taken our sweet time processing all 18 of these songs, and, though I can’t speak for the rest of the writers, I’m nowhere close to realizing all this record is hiding. Kanye believes above all else, as he’s been wont to say, that the world can be saved through art. That may be true, but it’s probably not. The world needs saving, yes. Money helps, so does reducing poverty, increasing education, and boycotting the Grammy’s…water bottle designs not so much. But art is a way for people to convey and create emotion. In a world where Taylor Swift can win enough Grammy’s to make up for the fact that she makes vacuum-sealed trite condescension a product as harmful as it is commercial dominant and that she probably doesn’t have a belly button, we often take for granted an antihero like Kanye West; someone who gives no fucks, someone who does what he wants with absolute conviction and honesty. It doesn’t hurt that he’s an inarguable creative genius (his words, true, but I stand by them). When was the last time you were so interested in a record that you read every review, even ones that came two weeks after the albums initial release? When was the last time you streamed a fashion show just to hear its soundtrack? The Life Of Pablo means a lot as a piece of music, but more as a product of our generations most important voice as a product of our culture as a product of our time. If that’s a roundabout to “journalistic integrity” so be it; it’s the truth.
On “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” Kanye begins his verse with the now infamous reference to staining his t-shirt by a scorched clean anus. Its how he finishes his verse that paints a fuller picture of Pablo as a manic masterpiece, and by extension Kanye as the only lunatic brilliant enough to pull it off. “I want to wake up with you in my eyes” he purrs before Kid Cudi reminds you how breathtaking every morning can be. These are the two sides to Kanye: the grotesque and the grand. Take the good with the bad, the kitsch with the cute, because both are more important together. The Life Of Pablo isn’t Kanye’s best work, but it’s his most succinct and most honest. Were it a part of anyone else’s catalogue, it would define the rest of their careers. For Kanye, it’s simply another progression, logical or not. But it is a walloping artistic statement, make no mistake. A look inside the mind of the most engaging, revolting, revolutionary, petty, brilliant douchebag genius of our lifetime -we should be honored to share it.
There’s been a lot of discussion as to the original tracklist and how it could be altered to add a greater sense of cohesion. I gave it a shot but somewhere in the ballpark of my seventh or eighth run through, I decided I wouldn’t attempt to linearize Pablo’s sprawl. As a thematic album, sequenced for effect, it’s an absolute haymaker of a failure. Thankfully it’s not trying to be. Served as a supposed snapshot of Kanye Omari West’s frontal lobe, The Life Of Pablo is perfect. It’s brilliant mania -jumping from a gospel singer’s prayer to blanched buttholes to fatherhood guilt within the first ten minutes. Pablo is the most introspective Kanye has ever been, premeditated or otherwise. The chaos apparent is exactly what Kanye’s mind must look like.
As for the matter of the records outro? “Wolves” is obvious because it’s conveniently the best choice. For the sake of discourse, I’m going to root for the underdog. “Fade” and its tumbling baseline are taken from Fingers Inc.’s “Mystery of Love (Club Mix),” a staple of Chicago House. It seems prophetic the prodigal son closes out his Iliad with a callback to the city that raised him to behave in such a manner, no? Before Kanye interpolates Aaliyah – which, by the way, is awesome – Ty Dolla $ign grumbles the hook and album’s mantra: “When no one ain’t around, I think I think too much.” There is not a better summation of Pablo’s scattershot lack of a mindset. Also, in regards to the funk, oh my gawsh.