Despite the name changes and the relentless, daily media coverage, Kanye West’s new album still doesn’t disappoint. First it was Swish, and then Waves. Towards the end, it seemed like Kanye was uploading photos of an altered tracklist nearly every day.
The album opener ‘Ultralight Beam’ is potentially one of the most powerful tracks on the release, and with a sample of an adorable four-year-old is sure to make anyone tear up. Complete with gospel choir and a superb appearance from Chance The Rapper (who features later on the album, too), this is one of the standout cuts from The Life Of Pablo.
This leads us on to ‘Father Stretch My Hands’ but not ‘Pt. 1’; we’re talking about ‘Pt.2’. A few days after The Life Of Pablo began streaming on Tidal, FACT ran a story revealing that a mobile phone repair shop worker from Rochdale was part of the production team on ‘Pt. 2’. It emerged that Desiigner, who also features on the track, bought the instrumental from Rochdale’s Menace, which made it onto the final album. This is a prime example of where West takes things to the next level, and shows his A&R ability and skill as an executive producer. He’s not afraid to use a beat from an unknown producer, where other artists may have elected to work with a friend or just reconstruct the beat they liked the sound of. This is what more successful artists should be doing. It feels riskier, and much more exciting. Kanye doesn’t play things safe.
Elsewhere on The Life of Pablo, ‘Wolves’ stands out thanks to the unmistakable production of Cashmere Cat alongside Sinjin Hawke – the only thing that lets this track down is Kanye’s uninspired lyrics and hook. ‘Fade’ is the track that samples house classic ‘Deep Inside’ by Hardrive, and is being termed as Kanye’s ode to the genre that originated in Chicago. ‘Waves’, similar to ‘Ultralight Beam’, is a particularly uplifting, heavenly-sounding effort with Chris Brown (unfortunately) providing the chorus.
‘Freestyle 4’ features a haunting string section, but sees Kanye’s flow in fine form – this sounds like it could’ve been on Yeezus. ‘Facts’ serves as a vessel for the rapper to vent, rant, boast and generally belittle Nike who he parted ways with to work with Adidas on his footwear instead.
‘Real Friends’, ‘No More Parties In LA’ and ’30 Hours’, the tracks that were teased before the album was available for streaming, deal with more serious issues (family, relationships, deception, money and the use of money against people, among others) and see Kanye at his introspective best. However, as these tunes have already been doing the rounds for a while, it feels like they could drift off into the ether and might have already been forgotten about in an online culture where things move so quickly; especially when there was already a review of The Life of Pablo up on The New York Times on February 14th. Kanye originally tweeted a tracklist that featured ten tracks, and that seemed like a really good number, instead of the eighteen that have been streaming on Tidal.
There’s been a lot of speculation that Kanye is dealing with mental health issues through and on this album, but as The Fader’s Associate Editor Aimee Cliff tweeted, this isn’t the appropriate way to start diagnosing someone, whether it’s Kanye West or not.
Less abrasive than Yeezus and a bit more disjointed than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, The Life of Pablo is still brilliant in sections and, if nothing else, shows the uncompromising vision of Kanye West, as he continues to nurture new talent and make sometimes unconventional collaborations work so well. The album is still to be properly released though, and could change from the version that’s been streaming via Tidal. Personally, I would’ve liked to see less social media activity from West before the release, to get the finished album and that be the end of it, but that seems like a very unrealistic wish that isn’t to be granted any time soon.