Does The Life Of Pablo prove Kanye West is a ‘genius’?

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Kanye West’s seventh studio album is an 18 song epic that changed names (Swish to Waves to The Life Of Pablo) and track listing several times. Intentional or not, this was great for marketing. The Life Of Pablo is a confusing album and it perfectly sums up my feelings about Kanye. A love-hate relationship. There has been times when he’s been great, like in a 2005 interview with MTV where he discusses homophobia in hip-hop and asks rappers to stop it; and then there are times when he’s been straight-up stupid like in February of this year when he posted on Twitter arguing that Bill Cosby is innocent. Sometimes Kanye’s great, sometimes he’s an idiot.

The same goes for the album. There’s some good, and there’s some bad.

The Life of Pablo

Yeezy’s seventh album The Life Of Pablo has landed. But does it confirm Kanye’s (self-proclaimed) greatness, or has God fallen from the heavens?

Like the album itself, I’ll start off with the good. Ultralight Beam is the opening track that brings together great gospel singing with quite minimal hip-hop beats. Kanye’s vocals are some of his best on TLOP and it’s got some high quality production, but the award goes to Chance The Rapper on this one who, as usual, steals the show with an amazing verse.

The following four tracks uphold the standard set at the beginning. These include some decent features by Kid Cudi on Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1 and Rihanna on Famous. Also Feedback comes through as one of the hardest songs on the record with Kanye spitting with attitude. This is one of my favourite songs off TLOP, maybe because it’s a song that wouldn’t go amiss on Yeezus which is my favourite ‘Ye album.

Surprisingly, my favourite track is the acapella I Love Kanye. This “tune” is actually quite a clever moment on the album because he plays on the public’s view of his egotism and takes the piss out of himself. It’s only forty-four seconds long and pretty much every line ends with the word “Kanye” but it’s got such a great rhythm that it’s hard not to bop your head. If you’re not the biggest fan of this song how it is, check out the original version that actually has music underneath. Subjectively this makes it a much better song, but for me I love the fact that he’s just thrown it on there acapella. It’s something different and it makes it that much funnier.

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Now in terms of bad…well not exactly bad, but rather disappointing. Waves, one of the previous album names, has some nice sounds but is really quite boring and contains too much Chris Brown for me (actually any Chris Brown is too much Chris Brown for me). Wolves is “meh”. Also, it’s a disappointing use of Frank Ocean. He’s such a great artist, yet he is used in the completely wrong way here. And speaking of used in the wrong way, André 3000’s feature in 30 Hours is literally just singing “thirty hours” over and over again in the outro. In the words of M.I.A., “what’s up with that?”.

The sixth song, Low Lights, is a bit of a frustration because a really interesting beat comes in 20 seconds through but goes nowhere. I would’ve really liked to see Kanye do more with this track because it starts off with so much potential, only to become stale and continues to do the same thing for another minute-and-a-half.

One track that lies somewhere in-between the good and the bad is No More Parties In LA. At face value this is a good song. But that’s the thing. It’s a good song, not a great song. And when you have two of the biggest names in hip-hop today on a song together you want it to be great. You want it to be killer. It just goes for too long with essentially the same beat the whole time. Also, Kendrick’s verse is quite average. It’s sad because Kendrick is one of the best rappers alive and we’ve seen just how good of a feature artist he can be on tracks like Collard Greens by Schoolboy Q and Never Catch Me by Flying Lotus.

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The last thing I’d like to add in reference to the songs on TLOP is: what happened to All Day? This was apparently going to be on the album back when it was titled Swish and when upon first hearing this song, and seeing the incredible performance at the BRIT Awards, I was so excited to hear the rest of the album. I do understand that this song is quite different to the overall style of TLOP, but initially this song was what got me eager to hear the rest of the album. Also, All Day is sampling a song written by Paul McCartney that was inspired by a Pablo Picasso painting!

There’s been a lot of discussion online about who exactly “Pablo” is, with most assuming it is in reference to Pablo Picasso (especially since at Kanye’s 2015 lecture at Oxford University he talked about wanting to “become Picasso or greater”). Online music reviewer Anthony Fantano perhaps best describes Kanye’s efforts in TLOP as more like a Jackson Pollock painting because of its chaotic manner, rather than the well thought out abstract nature of Picasso’s works. The album cover is a relevant representation of the album itself – organised mess. Yet I feel like it comes across as a little less organised than it is meant to be.

I love this album, but not in the way that I love any other album. I feel weird and quite reserved about my love towards The Life Of Pablo. Just like how I feel towards Kanye himself. It’s quite a polarising album and I don’t expect everyone, or even a lot of people, will like it. However, I’d still recommend giving it a listen because, although sounding rushed, it does have many redeeming traits and is still a very high quality and interesting work.