The musician currently known as Kanye West is an asshole. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. I could write for days regarding his assholery, but frankly I’m just happy to have the word “assholery” in my lede, so instead I will attempt to focus this review on the album now known as Swish, WavvesThe Life of Pablo.
The Life of Pablo is the most Kanye album we’ve heard, since, well, Yeezus. But that’s not the banal sentence it seems. After all, having moved on from 2013’s audible meltdown over his pending fatherhood, Kanye seems to have pivoted to an existential point of view, approaching his music with both a cosmic awareness and a comedic lackthereof.
TLoP opens with ‘Utralight Beam’, a gospel-infused melody which is immediately followed by ‘Father Stretch My Hands’ Part 1 and 2. When listening for the first time, you may be liable to think that fatherhood has humbled the soon-to-be-father-of-two, however by the time Kanye’s fourth bar hits we are assured that the same old asshole is still present in the booth. The wrinkle provided, is that this time Kanye seems to at least be worried about feeling like an asshole (his words, not mine):
“Now if I fuck this model
And she just bleached her asshole
And I get bleach on my T-shirt
Imma feel like an asshole”
“Man I can understand how it can be kind of hard to love a girl like me. I don’t blame you much for wanting to be free. I just wanted you to know.”
By following this logical thread, the opening lines of ‘Famous’, as sung by Rihanna, reveal themselves in a new light. Not only does Kanye continue to recognize his temptation, but later in the track he doubles down on the assholery, declaring:
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous.”
Singing as the supposed Kim character, Rihanna’s hook continues on, juxtaposing the line “I just wanted you to know,” as a means of connecting the two hooks on a continuous narrative:
“I just wanted you to know
I loved you better than your own kin did
From the very start
I don’t blame you much for wanting to be free”
Having followed Kanye this far down the rabbit hole, the listener is rewarded with a throwback line to Kanye’s early days “Wake up, Mr West! Oh, he’s up!” hinting that Kanye has been indulging in fantasy, one he is aware of, but fails to recognize as out of his reach. While this parsing of tracks two through four on TLoP stretch Kanye’s genius, it at least provides a narrative that makes these songs palatable.
If unable to afford Kanye this creative grace, both parts of ‘Father Stretch My Hands’ merely stand as a convenient means of transition for Kanye. By opening with ‘Ultralight Beam’ (the best song on the album, by the way) Kanye The Human is protected from criticism as he offers up tithes for the lord, slipping out of his Sunday best before unleashing the wrath of Yeezus on Taylor Swift, who deserved it about as much as the beings that didn’t make it on Noah’s Ark.
On TLoP, Kanye offers several sonic moments of beauty to the listener, but they come without remorse. At best, they are offered as pre-payments for the transgressions found on the album, the sum of which outweigh the brief, beautiful moments, much in the same way a rainbow hardly makes up for the destruction of all mankind.
That’s Yeezus for you, though. He presumes to be above the listener, basking on a cloud of infallibility as acolytes defend his every move in the name of cosmic genius.
As mentioned above, ‘Ultralight Beam’ is objectively the best song on TLoP, which makes sense given it features the best Chicago rapper on album. Unfortunately for listeners, the closest Kanye comes to rapping like a professional on TLoP is found on ‘Feedback’, where Ye rides a Yeezus-like beat to challenge the listener to “name one genius that ain’t crazy,” which is notable only in the sense that Kanye is inferring he is crazy. We’ve known for many years he thinks of himself as a genius. He might not be wrong.
The Life Of Pablo, however, lacks these patented moments of genius. They are few are far between, like the terminating pages of a choose-your-own-adventure novel, which is the most apt one-line description of the album I have heard thus far. As Mo Topping already pointed out on LYFSTYL, the final track sequencing on The Life Of Pabloseems disjointed, designed to unsettle the listener. The only thing missing is a Chris Brown segway into a Rihanna hook, followed by a boxing pun by Yeezy himself.
Instead, dissonant, waste-of-time throwaways like ‘Lowlights’,‘I Love Kanye’ and ‘Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission’ are evenly dispersed across TLoP, allowing only small pools of flow on an otherwise immense 18-track album. Even ‘No More Parties In LA’ fails to showcase Kendrick Lamar with his usual flow. Instead, King Kunta is hampered by an Easy-E sample that is only slightly less obnoxious than Kayne’s plea for guardrails on Mulholland Drive, all so he can text and drive safely. But that’s hardly the most difficult thing about The Life Of Pablo.
Whether by design or out of pure negligence, Kanye West again seems intent on provoking listeners with his latest album. Rather than release a cohesive body of work, Kanye forces listeners down a hall of mirrors, all of which reflect Yeezus in his own image, not as a musician, but an infallible deity. But that isn’t what I see when I close my eyes and listen to TLoP — I see the distorted image of a man gratifying himself — one hand on his endowment, one hand up his own ass.
And if that seemed like an unsettling mental image to close a Kanye West review with, well, you’re absolutely right. Don’t give me credit for it, though. I’m not a genius, I’m just an asshole.