Album Reviews

“The Life Of Pablo” by Kanye West

Final Rating: 9.3/10

We no want no devils in the house.

We want the lord.

A child gleefully screams her best wishes while a guardian figure listens on and nods. You can be affected in any way as a child. Kanye Omari West was brought into the world by his mother. His mother has been the one person he has idolized over his own persona his entire life. West dabbled in self worship and learning through Satan before, but lest we forget that he was the one who was once worried that talk about God would have him pulled off the radio. Yes, the way one is raised will be the way they will live in ways. West is lavish with Hollywood richness and commercial lust, so his adulthood combats with his youth in many ways (especially lately). His past and present are in constant cahoots; Who is Kanye West? In I Love Kanye, West mentions that he made himself and the many that aspire to be a fictitious identity. So, we have a popular musician with alter egos wanting to visit his roots and take all of his legacy in.

This is The Life of Pablo. This is Kanye West’s church. He has a reputation as a preacher unsure quite of what he is truly saying to the world. He fights between love and lust, as can be seen on the front of the bible this album represents. You see a family photo on a big occasion paired up with an Instagram model’s backside. The young want the Lord in their house, but the older you get, the more curious about the devil you get. The cover, splattered not in Bible black or red but rather in spray tan murk, is repetitive and minimalist in nature. Between the two pictures, the obnoxious orange and the yelling of the album title and themes, you hold the Not So Good Book in your hands (or on your screens for now) and you are ready to enter the House of Yeezus. 

The album is just as unsure of the bigger picture as the cover is, but it’s a beautiful flurry of confusion. This is a conflicted service where the pastor, West, and his choir and alter boys (all of the appearances) are permanently fighting. There is a bigger message about purity and self-tarnation, and the album is scattered all over the floor like a broken stained glass window’s fragments. West believes in the message but is absolutely unsure of how to get his faith across.

 I mean, let’s backtrack a little bit. This album has been teased since 2014 and was going to serve as a quick rebuttal to his primitive album Yeezus. After All Day, Only One and an early take on Wolves, So Help Me God looked like a continuation on the themes of religion. But then it became Swish, which was more of a throwback to his early days as 2015 went on. Suddenly, Waves was the new title for a brief minute; After an e-feud with Wiz Khalifa , days later West teased that this may not be the title even still. Finally, TLOP was the final title and anyone who guessed the correct title first was promised free Yeezy shoes (someone actually won somehow). Let’s not forget that the album track listing changed more than a Rubik’s Cube being solved by a machine. The only steadiness we could cling onto were the promised release date and the GOOD Friday releases. We got some damn good tracks, including No More Parties In LA and Real Friends through West’s return of his weekly gifting.

Yeezy Season 3 came out and we were promised the release of The Life of Pablo. We figured that Pablo meant Picasso or Escobar, since West sees himself as both an artistic visionary and an empire. Once we saw his fashion show take off, we weren’t sure which Pablo he meant at all. On Twitter, he finally revealed that he meant St. Paul, who was seen as a messenger of God. His fashion show had his disciples standing stationary and clad in his designs. He debuted a trailer of a video game based on his mother’s ascent into heaven. He had new tracks playing through his phone connected to a laptop. 

The whole event was a weird spectacle that became borderline worrisome, and his recent Twitter explosions have had the same reaction. What does he mean when he says Bill Cosby is innocent? What is this deal about being fifty three million dollars in personal debt? What exactly does Mark Zuckerberg know, and why does West want him to help bail him out? After all of this, the album didn’t even drop when promised. Guest star Chance the Rapper noticed that the song Waves was missing, and he urged West to include it. This delayed the album until the wee hours of Valentines Day morning. Hedge fund cretin Martin Shkreli proposed to buy the album for fifteen million, and many were worried he succeeded (especially since West has debts).

Kanye West has been a talked about figure before, but this may be the most he has been talked about. This is the closest to his proclaimed beautiful dark twisted fantasy he’s ever truly lived. He’s struggling in celebrity debts as he is being pulled from every which way. He has fought for the beliefs he has instilled in this album. He truly feels that this is life for him. So, now we have finally arrived with this hodge-podge book at our feet. It’s as messy as his recent life is, and it’s an exquisite firestorm. 

Let’s eventually talk about this album, because it’s oddly both not cohesive and completely solid. You have neo gospel songs that autotune their way up to the Lord while hell’s synths trudge underneath. You also have hip hop songs that shatter innocence around them, and some of these cracks ripple through the production as well. Take Famous, for instance, where the beat sounds like a battering of fragile glass. The album is a toss up between West’s obsessions and the church he is so keen on promoting. 

Ultralight Beam starts everything off with a choir apocalypse, and you begin this vanity project feeling sympathetic for West. This truly is something he felt would be his most stunning, and you can tell that he fixated on this release until the bitter end. Father Stretch My Hands is both a wandering child and a weeping adult in nature, as West loops around fixating on having sex with a model and crying for his fathers’ blessing. Later on, you’ll find more Holy/Unholy tracks like Low Lights/Highlights, Wolves and Fade. These songs dabble in asking for cleansing as they try to fight off evils. Wolves has West shielding his children to protect them from the titular beasts that West knows he has become. Adults are wicked, so West has tried to reserve his childhood for his entire life (can you tell?). 

Then you have his dosage of hip hop that is dunked deeply in the chalice containing the red wine for communion. The Madlib-helmed and Kendrick Lamar-paired track No More Parties in LA is a sample-hooked banger that is so sunken in bass that you feel submerged. Real Friends is a bittersweet song that tries to fight off its fears while standing tall. 30 Hours, especially after tailing a phone conversation skit (way to get Max B’s blessings, ‘Ye) starts the reception of the album after the church meeting. It is almost like an extended play taped onto the end of a conscious idea, but it is a multi song celebration of hip hop love. 

The biggest joys of this album are just how breathtaking the initial listen can be. The first time the Sister Nancy sample ends Famous, I was overcome with a crashing feeling of euphoria. When the narcissistic I Love Kanye skit ends and leads into the Chance-saved anthem Waves, it was unlike an experience in music I have had in ages. It was a soaring whirlwind of feelings that dizzied me into a stupefying awe. Waves is the perfect blending of the themes on the album, as you have a stuttering choir-like sample oscillating through your soul. You think you finish on Wolves but then are led to the after party with 30 Hours, and it never feels overlong. You finally wrap things up with Fade, and it feels like you are only leaving the church grounds well into the nighttime. Will you go home to pray for salvation, or will you go to a club to repeat your sins to give you something to repent for? 

Along this wild journey are many contributors. You have (in no particular order) Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, Young Thug, Chris Brown, Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, and many others (including newcomers like Desiigner, and very abrupt cameos like Andre 3000 merely singing two words over and over again). Weirdly, West blends into these cameos at times: When The Weeknd sings in FML, it was such a clean transition that I felt like Kanye West suddenly became a terrific singer. These collaborations are planted specifically to feel as though there are many that West is speaking vicariously through, and it bloody well works. The Life of Pablo almost feels like one entity transforming into many.

Like an obsessive cubist painter, a drug crime lord or a speaker of God’s message, Kanye West’s work will never be done. In fact, The Life of Pablo may not even be entirely finished. West has attempted to “fix” Wolves (perhaps to restore the beat or the guest appearances it once had when it was featured on Saturday Night Live). Who knows what West may do to this album afterwards. It is the heavily crafted work of a perfectionist so much so that it feels like barely any work was done on it at all. It is the product of an over thinking egomaniac.

There is something noticeably wrong with The Life of Pablo, but it’s also the peering into a gorgeously creative mind. Sure, it’s laden with both some of West’s strongest and severely weakest writing yet. The fact is this is the deepest into West’s mind we have ever been. Is it My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? Far from it. In the end, Kanye West’s schizophrenic heap is still endearing enough to be long lasting. You may scoff before you put it on and expect a directionless mess, but you may leave feeling like you can see the shred of hope a madman had as he locked himself in a room and went ballistic. Kanye West may be the most overly ambitious artist of the 21st century, but you can look at The Life of Pablo and see why. 

As of now, it’s a unique experience. In the future, The Life of Pablo will either break ground and be considered one of West’s highest points of genius or it will be maligned for something we were misled by. Nothing can be as beautiful as that future fork in the road, especially when you’re experiencing an album you’ve never been so unsure of before. By God, West’s experiment worked, even when he cut it close until the bitter end. We’ll meet again in the future to see where this album goes (either to the pearly gates above or the fiery dungeons below), but for now let’s be blessed in a purgatory miasma.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.