Kanye West returns to the music scene after numerous name and track listing alterations; his unsure and constantly changing style show in The Life of Pablo. The album lacks a clear message and coherent flow, and whilst the music is experimental and interesting, what he is trying to say is not clear. After the success of rap albums like Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly which combine interesting music and political lyrics made the need for Kanye to be on top of his game, but for me he disappoints.
The lyrics are mainly related to women and how great he is at sleeping with them, something we have already heard before. These lyrics have already got the newspapers talking with lyrics on ‘Famous’ stating how him and Taylor Swift will have sex, and that “he made that bitch famous“. He is an extremely talented artist and these shots only cheapen the interesting music he makes, with journalists focusing on this rather then praising aspects of the album.
For me one of the key components of rap is its political message, the alternative against the mainstream, however this albums seriously lacks any political statement. This is a surprise, considering the climate which this has been released in, and with the American presidential election in full swing you would of thought Kanye would have something to say. There is a small mention to the Black Lives Matter campaign in ‘Feedback’ which he states “Hands up then the cops shot us” presumably reference to to the Michael Brown shooting. Perhaps Kanye does not want to compete with other rappers like Run the Jewels and Kendrick on political issues; his fame perhaps limiting his relevance as a spokesperson for the lower-middle class.
One of Kanye’s strengths is his rapping (it is the reason he broke-through with his critically acclaimed album The College Dropout), however The Life of Pablo does not fully utilise his skill. This album relies heavily on auto-tune which does not seem appropriate, unlike his previous album ‘808’s and Heartbreak’ which had the emotion to make the auto-tune work. This feels purely compensation for poor vocals all around, rather then a good aesthetic choice.
Saying this, the album has some great points, the middle section from track 8 of ‘Freestyle 4’ to track 13 of ‘Wolves’ is excellent. ‘Freestyle 4’ might be the most interesting song on the album, the exposure to the raw vocals, the aggressive beat and orchestra make this an intriguing listen. ‘Wolves’ is probably the best overall song, with its whisper-like vocals from Caroline Shaw, providing the background for Kanye and one of the few where the auto-tune works. ‘Real Friends’ makes commentary on the era of social media and falseness in which connecting with people is more difficult. ‘I Love Kanye’ is the short interlude that offers a light hearted touch to the album and takes shots at the people questioning the direction he is taking. ‘FML’ probably offers the most poignant moment of the album with the hook stating how he “Fucks his life up” over limited samples; this minimalism is probably where he shines most.
To conclude Kanye delivers an interesting album, offering a mix of EDM, soul and rap that at times is exceptional, especially the middle. The album will grow on you the more you listen to it, however with rap being taken to new heights, the cheap shots will overshadow the great aspects of this album. Kanye fanatics will state how this is his greatest album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; his attackers will highlight the poor lyrics, however the truth is it is somewhere in between. For me the public should try and experience the music for themselves before making a judgement.
To listen for yourself check out the link here.