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Music Review: ‘The Life of Pablo’ captures West’s roots, authenticity

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Des Delgadillo
Arts Editor

Whether he has decided to call it “So Help Me God,” “SWISH,” or “The Life of Pablo” this week, Kanye West’s latest LP has all the makings of a mad artist’s most remarkable exploit.

TLOP is surrounded by more controversy than it features soul samples, but aside from Yea’s standard Taylor Swift and Ray J disses, most of the talking points play out on Twitter and not on Tidal.

From flip-flopping on his album release date and format to publicly asking Mark Zuckerberg for money, West’s tweets over the past week leave one wondering if his Yeezys are maybe laced a little too tightly. But as the rapper spits on TLOP track “Feedback,” “name one genius that ain’t crazy.” He has got us there.

 

Strip away the scatterbrained tweeting and the gaudy fashion shows and we are left with a gospel-infused work that features the best elements of West’s six previous efforts with the rapper/producer putting yet another foot forward into uncharted territory.

TLOP encapsulates the essence of authenticity that initially put West on the map. Tracks like opening cut, the Kirk Franklin and Chance the Rapper-studded “Ultralight Beams” are the first of many oh so soulful joints reminiscent of the college trilogy, while Ye returns to his straight rapping roots in earnest on tracks like “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in LA” alongside Kendrick Lamar. The downside to the six-plus minute latter track, which has been floating around the web for a while, is Kendrick’s clear superiority to West as a lyricist, making the whole track feel like West is rushing to catch up with K-Dot’s effortless flow. Make no mistake, however, that West’s lyrical skills are at a higher level than they have ever been before, and as usual, Ye is not unaware. As “No More Parties” reaches its peak Yeezy spits “I know some fans who thought I wouldn’t rap like this again / but the writers block is over, MC’s cancel your plans.”

Lamar is not the only big-name feature on the album. TLOP boasts major features like Chance the Rapper, The Weeknd, Chris Brown and Young Thug. On paper there is a concern that the record runs the risk of relying too heavily on these heavy-hitters—think last year’s Dr. Dre effort “Compton: A Soundtrack.”

What sets the album apart from Dre’s Apple-exclusive release last year is Ye’s ability to space out the all-star lineup and versatility as a beat-maker. The Rihanna-assisted “Famous” shows off this versatility, as Ye spits over a detached club-ready track reminiscent of “Can’t Tell Me Nothin,” before completely transforming the cut’s sound into something a lot more springy and indicative of modern indie pop.

Much of the album plays like West is trying to move in a completely different direction from 2013’s industrial fuzz-laden “Yeezus,” but it is never wise to rely on Yeezy to conform to one or even two sounds for long. The rapper touches on his “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” days with tracks like “Father Stretch My Hands (Parts 1 and 2)” and the highly vulnerable “FML,” where the Weeknd’s high register more than compliments Ye’s singing, which for once is autotune-free.

Of course, West also takes every opportunity to indulge himself, including a soliloquy interlude unsurprisingly titled “I Love Kanye.” We know. But on this track West finally seems to be in on the joke, as he raps “What if Kanye made a song about Kanye called ‘I miss the old Kanye?’ … Man that’d be so Kanye. … I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.”

As a whole, TLOP plays like an homage to West’s entire discography to date, which explains the final “Life of Pablo” title—a reference to West’s artistic idol Pablo Picasso—or maybe it is a reference to Pablo Escobar. Good luck getting a straight answer out of the guy.

The idea that this entire album is such an homage explains West’s almost maniacal behavior over the last few weeks. As an artist, he is putting his entire legacy on display. The typical Kanye West swagger and confidence is unmistakable, but this time there is also a hint of insecurity. Ye has done everything short of cutting off an ear for art, which is good, because he definitely needs both of them for a seventh LP, though we will probably have to wait until his 2020 presidential bid is over or, more likely, canceled.

Yeezy apparently got wind of Pitchfork’s 9-10 review of TLOP and politely corrected the music-reviewing outfit, letting them know that the album is actually a 30-out-of-10. Although TLOP might not be a 30, it definitely deserves to be played at 11.

“The Life of Pablo” is available exclusively on Tidal, for now.

Des Delgadillo can be reached at desmond.delgadillo@laverne.edu.

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