The Life of Pablo (released February 14, 2016)
I know how much y’all love Twitter drama and rapper beefs, but as for me and my house, we’re only here for the music.
I don’t care about allegations of being $52 million in debt (while bragging about emojis that make millions of dollars a minute).
I don’t care about rotating albums titles that switch names more than Sean Combs.
I don’t care about catfights with Wiz Khalifa on Twitter or if women lit firecrakers in a playa’s buttcrack.
I don’t care about fashion shows that look straight out of District 12 of The Hunger Games or $500 shoes that look like they were knitted by your grandma.
Take away the weird fashions, tantrums and bizarre rants and you’re still left with one of the most influential artists in music history.
Trust me, he’ll be the first one to tell you.
In 2016, Kanye West has absolutely nothing to prove. The legit classic albums on his resume are all he needs to solidify his spot as one of music’s premier change agents. His DNA is in the flow of every rapper currently on your radio. But his creativity is so boundless — and his ego so huge — that side projects just aren’t enough.
From the rants to the clothes, and yes, to the music, Kanye yearns for just one thing — your attention.
That’s essentially the game plan for The Life of
Petey Pablo, Ye’s seventh studio album — an album that unapologetically grasps for the attention of every ear in his diverse fanbase.
Ye turns back the clock to 2004 with the album opener “UltraLight Beam,” the second coming of his landmark “Jesus Walks” track. Kanye, The-Dream and Kelly Price bring that Easter Sunday energy in an attempt to “feel safe and end their holy war.” It’s also a star-making turn for Chance the Rapper, who delivers the best bars of his career:
Imma make sure that they go where they can’t go
If they don’t wanna ride Imma still give them raincoats
Know what God said when he made the first rainbow
Just throw this at the end if I’m too late for the intro
Ugh, I’m just having fun with it
You know that a n***a was lost
I laugh in my head
Cause I bet that my ex looking back like a pillar of salt
But don’t get too caught up in this Holy Ghost party. Although “Father Stretch My Hands” Parts 1 and 2 continue the theme of revival, the album’s tone quickly switches. The switches again. And again. And again.
The haunting “Freestyle 4” sounds like an outtake from My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy. “Highlights” is 808s & Heartbreak reborn — Kanye’s familiar marriage of auto-tune and attitude. The brutal honesty of “30 Hours” sounds like another walk down the Graduation aisle while the blend of hip-hop and R&B on “Waves” sounds like it was yanked from the Late Registration line. And of course, the notorious “Real Friends,” where Ye has to pay his cousin $250K to return a stolen laptop, is a bitter reimagining of College Dropout‘s “Family Business.”
TLOP aims to please all of Ye’s fans over the past decade, no matter their album entry point. He basically admits it on the “I Love Kanye” interlude, which reminds fans of his glory days:
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 miss the sweet Kanye, chop up the beats Kanye
The goal of TLOP was to make all facets of Kanye form like the mighty Voltron. But instead, it’s like all of Ye’s albums were thrown into a Play-Doh factory — pull the lever and what oozes out is a curious, abstract glob.
In sort of a minor miracle, Kanye manages to hold his own lyrically next to Kendrick Lamar on “No More Parties in LA,” by far the album’s highlight and the closest thing to a “traditional” hip-hop track. Ye croons alongside The Weeknd on the woozy “FML,” sounding fresh off a drunken bender. Somehow, it works. Kanye even sprinkles Phoenix Down to resurrect the career of Frank Ocean on the updated version of “Wolves.”
But “Facts” and “Fade” come off like “Jumpman” clones — inferior copies of an already-inferior song. And the infamous “Famous” (where Ye intentionally stirs up the Taylor Swift hornets’ nest) is an annoying sound clash, with the production failing to mesh with Rihanna’s hook.
When Kanye declared TLOP the greatest album of all time, we all rolled our eyes — and for good reason. The Life of Pablo is more of a conversation piece than a masterpiece, an exhaustive catalog that showcases Ye’s boundless creativity, stirring soundscapes and different musical facades — introspective Kanye, soulful Kanye, angry Kanye, emo Kanye, etc. It’s a great career retrospective but too unfocused and uneven to gel into the classic album it aims to be.
But at the end of the day, after being out of music’s spotlight for three long years, all Kanye really wanted was to gain our attention again.
In that case, mission accomplished.
Best tracks: “No More Parties in LA,” “Real Friends, “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”
3.5 stars out of 5