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REVIEW | “The Life of Pablo” by Kanye West – The Nine Minute Free Trial

virgilabloh_2016-Feb-11.0.0

by EJ Coleman

kanye

/ˈkɑːnjeɪ/

adjective

  1. excessive, self-aware, fake deep to the point of possible real deep.

“that would be so kanye”

 

Transcendent, confusing, and superfluous, it can only be Kanye. With his seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo, Kanye West teaches us that there’s no limits to just how Kanye he can be.

Even after the album’s release, questions still surround Kanye as questions so often do. The album name: So Help Me God? Swish? Waves? TLOP? Where you can get it: Tidal first? Tidal only? Tidal until it’s finished? Is it finished? And who is Pablo?

Of course, if you want to answer those questions for yourself, you have two (legal) options: pay ten bucks a month for Tidal or get the first thirty seconds of each song for free on kanyewest.com. For (and from) those living sans Tidal (be it for personal or financial reasons) here’s a recap of the nine public minutes of The Life of Pablo.

  • “Ultralight Beam”: As performed it on Saturday Night Live with a slew of aides (Chance the Rapper and Kelly Price among them), the full version of “Ultralight Beam” proves that three parts gospel, two parts rap, and five parts guests apparently yields a song that might just make you want to believe in something.
  • “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”: Our thirty seconds have no Kanye. Instead, we get an Uncle Murda sample. Today’s guest artist is Kid Cudi.
  • “Pt. 2”: More fast paced and personal than its predecessor, it’s a Kanye song. Genius.com notes that, “After his mom died, the chopped up soul samples we heard predominately on his first three albums disappeared,” which is touching considering the album so far.
  • “Famous”: Including the infamous Taylor Swift line and dropped originally at the Yeezy Season 3 release, Rihanna plays fame seducing and ultimately losing Kanye.
  • “Feedback”: An (but probably not the) explanation as to who Pablo is, this clip has a reference to Escobar, the Colombian drug lord. That pretty much sums it up: Kanye spends our 30 seconds together both dismissing his money and flaunting it.
  • “Low Lights”: Basically the a capella version of “So Alive” by Kings of Tomorrow, there’s some bonus some instrumental backing behind the uncredited woman’s biblical testimonial.
  • “Highlights”: In contrast with the previous song, this album’s interlude, “Highlights is a summary of Ye’s career in both the recording studio and the bedroom. Apparently. The thirty seconds only get you through Kanye and Young Thug repeating that, “we only makin’ the highlights.” It’s nice to know Kanye still loves his mama, though.
  • “Freestyle 4”: Rap God Kanye comes back to team up with Wasted Kanye and Lustful Kanye within his own mind. Yeah, it’s weird.
  • “I Love Kanye”: You know when you say a word over and over and it stops sounding like a word? That’s what this does to “Kanye.” Despite (or perhaps because of) that, it’s one of the best, most honest tracks on the album. The best lyrics? Not really. The best production? There isn’t really any. The best music? It’s a capella. But it’s Kanye, to Kanye, love Kanye.
  • “Waves”: Personally, I’m tired of having to listen and pay attention to Chris Brown, and it’s a little disappointing that one of the best lines on the album is in his voice: “Waves don’t die / Let me crash here for the moment.”
  • “FML”: …which actually means “for my lady.” The only disappointing part of this one is the fact that you miss out on the three minutes that presumably have The Weeknd in them.
  • “Real Friends”: What revived 2010’s “G.O.O.D. Fridays” series, this was originally put on Soundcloud in January (and then taken down and put back up and taken down again) before eventually ending up on the album.
  • “Wolves”: This was the Yeezy Season 1 release soundtrack, but apparently even the changes made in the year since still aren’t enough as Kanye plans to “fix” it.
  • “Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission”: Literally all talk. Wiz Khalifa’s quasi-drama in defence of Max B from way back when the album was still Waves is settled by this message left on Kanye’s answering machine from him and French Montana, giving Kanye the permission and blessing to keep “doing you, doing your wave.”
  • “30 Hours”: Tab through your pages of kanyewest.com, genius.com, a maybe a wikipedia.org or two to find yourself on Soundcloud for the entirety of this one. Of all the tracks that could exist outside of Tidal, it wouldn’t be a first choice, but a self-aware Kanye is always a welcome Kanye. Would that it only had the new addition of Andre 3000 on it.
  • “No More Parties in LA”: Staying on Soundcloud a little while longer, this collaboration of hip hop heavyweights consists of even more of Kanye and now Kendrick’s frustrations with the rich and famous around him in LA, despite the fact that he’s kinda, you know, one of them. Written in the midst of My Dark Twisted Fantasy and calling back to Late Registration, it’s the Kanye we know, love, and are somewhat annoyed by.
  • “Facts (Charlie Heat Version)”: A song about how Adidas Yeezys do better than Nikes? The non-Charlie Heat rough draft is here.
  • “Fade”: And, to complete the trilogy, the Yeezy Season 2 hype song. In stark contrast to the opening, “Fade” is funky, more reminiscent of 808s & Heartbreak. It doesn’t bring the album full circle so much as it drops you off in the middle of nowhere just as you realize you haven’t been paying attention to the street signs.

Is nine out of fifty-eight-and-change minutes enough to make a good judgement call on an entire album? Probably not. There’s a lot missing out that could make or break the album, but we can only ever work with what we have. In this case, that’s 15.5% of the music and 100% of the dramatic circumstances of the album’s release, and therein lies the problem.

With the fog surrounding the release of Pablo, distinguishing opinions about the music from those about the people, or even just the surprise/relief that it’s out, is difficult. Even those who have heard the entirety of the album find themselves asking if they would have liked it as much without the drama, and those of us who haven’t had that privilege are at a loss of what to say. Not to mention your thoughts about Tidal and their ethic, we can all agree on one thing: It’s hard not to be disappointed when you can’t hear the music you want to, especially coming from an artist such as Kanye West. For someone who preaches constantly about how important making art for the sake of art is, Kanye doesn’t seem very interested it letting everyone engage with that very thing.

But, of course, it wouldn’t be Kanye if there weren’t any complications or reservations, a fact that he seems well aware of. In “I Love Kanye,” he addresses the very thing:

What if Kanye made a song, about Kanye?

Called “i miss the old kanye,” man that would be so Kanye

That’s all it was Kanye, we still love Kanye

and I love you like Kanye loves Kanye

The degree of cognizance that Kanye has for himself is admirable, if at times excessive, but this song really solidifies the idea that Kanye is Kanye, and if you like that, you’ll like this. Especially when you think about it outside of the circumstances of the release, Pablo only makes sense at some level of self-awareness, at the point where you can joke about how Kanye it is.

In the end, your opinion of the album hinges on three things: if you can listen to the whole thing, if you care about drama, and if you can separate the artist from the man. If you’re a fan of Kanye enough to have Tidal and thrive on drama, you’re probably in pretty good shape to listen to The Life of Pablo over and over for the next month. If you aren’t, maybe it isn’t worth your time. The good news is, regardless of your opinion of this album, there’s always the next one.

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