Recommend if you like: hip hop. Any hip hop. And then go listen to a lot more Kanye, if you haven’t already.
Expectation: Kanye West is one of the most critically acclaimed, publicly controversial, massively influential, and constantly entertaining figures in modern music. The Life of Pablo marks his 7th solo album, and has alternately been praised as one of his greatest achievements and despised as his greatest failure. While the man himself has claimed the album will never be finished, I’m going to bank on him not updating it again in the final few weeks of 2016 and review the latest version we’ve got right now.
- Ultralight Beam – One of the album’s most well-known tracks, featuring a slow, almost minimalist beat underneath a powerful gospel choir. Kanye starts the song as if giving an introduction, then lets each guest stand proudly in the spotlight, where Chance the Rapper shines especially brightly, delivering a strong contender for the best verse on the album.
- Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 – A great hook from Kid Cudi, a great sample chop from Hudson Mohawke, and some fantastic backing vocals that were added in the DLC. Kanye’s rapping leaves something to be desired, but at least the various effects employed on his voice make him interesting to listen to.
- Pt. 2 – Still my favorite ‘Panda’ remix, and in my opinion, a massive improvement on the original. I do wish the outro was more fleshed out, but the abrupt transitions do fit the aesthetic of the album.
- Famous – Rihanna sounds great on the hook, and that bom-bom sample at the end is amazing.
- Lyrics? What lyrics? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Stop talking about it.
- Feedback – Some of Kanye’s best rapping on this album, but one of my least favorite beats. It does at least make an interesting change of pace to hear something so different, but the vocal sample that comes into the middle section of the song is not my favorite.
- Low Lights – While its not anything but an intro, I just want to say that all artists need to make song intros over 2 minutes their own tracks. People want to put your songs into playlists, make it so they actually can.
- Highlights – A pretty good song, though Young Thug is definitely underutilized a bit. The back half of the track is awesome; just Kanye going off while the beat adds and removes an element every few bars.
- Freestyle 4 – One of my least favorite tracks here, and probably one that I’ve never listened to outside of the context of the album. Just weird and grating in the middle of the much more positive atmosphere of the album.
- I Love Kanye – Okay, but this is actually pretty funny and clever. Its silly, but I like it.
- Waves – Easily my favorite instrumental on the album, the staccato vocal layer over the continuous creates such a unique effect that it blew me away the very first time I heard it. The hook is pretty nice, and the bassy synths that come in later sound great. Cudi humming was a nice touch as well, and I definitely want to hear more autotuned falsettos in the future, because theres a lot of potential in that sound.
- FML – An interesting break from the album’s mood to that point, giving a proper introduction to the darker back-half of the tracklist. A good song on its own, though a bit too long.
- Real Friends – Easily Ye’s strongest lyrical performance on the album, with a spacious, echoing beat for him to express himself over.
- Wolves – One of the album’s most famous tracks before it had even dropped because memes, but actually a pretty cool song on its own merits. Cut the “corny bitches” section, trim the outro, and include Frank’s track as part of it and you would be my ideal version.
- Silver Surfer Interlude – Ah yes, memes. Where would this album be without them?
- 30 Hours – The single most underutilized guest appearance by any artist in the history of hip hop. I know that it was probably Andre 3000’s own choice not to contribute a verse, but including an entire extended section where the verse could have fit it just rubbing it in.
- No More Parties In L.A. – Kendrick and Kanye did a song together, so check that one off the bucket list. Ye kept up too. It was awesome.
- Facts (Charlie Heat Remix) – The original wasn’t that bad, but Charlie Heat made this song so much better. Still not my favorite track, but pretty fun.
- Fade – An alright track that originally closed the album, which was a bit weird. A bit too long, but a good beat.
- Saint Pablo – The last song added (for now, at least) and a truly fantastic closer. The more abrasive, hollow sounds of the album’s latter half are united with the heavily Christian themes of the first half, and the conclusion actually feels conclusive.
Overall: There are a lot of things that will affect the way anyone listens to this album, so much that a truly impartial first-listen is nearly impossible for anyone who follows modern music or pop culture. In 2016, practically everyone in America has some kind of opinion on Kanye West: he is a talentless hack, a has-been, a visionary, a marketing genius, an actual lunatic, a crybaby, and in my opinion, one of the most significant and influential artists alive today. The effect Kanye has had on pop and hip hop over the past decade is unbelievable, and now his career has lasted long enough that he can work alongside the same people he inspired. The end result is messy, flawed, and covered in jagged edges; the pieces of the puzzle don’t really fit together right, and the entire thing is kind of a bloated mess. However, the quality of the music is impeccable: Kanye has once again engineered a sound that feels immediate and obvious, but just hasn’t been done by anyone else. Oh, the individual elements have been around; he really just brought back the gospel influences of College Dropout and applied them to a modern hip hop sound. Its something anyone could have thought of, Kanye just happened to be that person yet again.