27 months after he started it, many stops and restarts later, four album titles, an ever-changing track list, culminating with a massive Madison Square Garden fashion release, Kanye West has (finally) delivered his seventh album, The Life of Pablo (TLOP).
Only a handful of artists’ album releases get me as excited as a Kanye release. He has defined hip-hop and published music that extends past the norms in the 2000’s like few others.
When the momentum of TLOP started to hit that feverish pitch and we finally had a release date (originally February 11th) the curiosity of what Mr. West would deliver was huge. An early track list tweeted by West himself had TLOP at 10 tracks, the same as it’s predecessor, Yeezus. This only helped fuel my excitement because that is one of the major victories of Yeezus, it’s succinctness. You (and Kanye) can thank Rick Rubin1 for the Yeezus trimming and keeping it to the strongest 10 tracks Kanye had at the time. For all of TLOP brilliance (and believe me there are massive stretches of brilliance all over this record. It’s an early completely impulsively pick already for one of my best albums of 2016) it begs to have the Rubin slash treatment. We may never know why Kanye took his original 10-song track list for TLOP and blew it open to be 18 songs but this is one of the downfalls here.
Tracks like ‘Freestyle 4’, ‘Silver Surfer Intermission’ and ‘Facts’ all stand out as unnecessary here in this collection. Even the amusing ‘I Love Kanye’ could be dropped and kept as the Saturday Night Live skit treatment it got on February 13th.
True to form Kanye produces and includes some of the best samples and sounds to be found in hip-hop. Songs like ‘Ultralight Beam’ sound completely fresh and original. Samples on the outro of ‘Father Stretch Mt Hands Pt. 2’ and the dance fuelled beats of the final two minutes of ‘Famous’ and the album closer ‘Fade’ are brilliantly used.
Kanye’s ego or antics in the media have never been enough to turn me off of his music. Admittedly there are lyrics here in TLOP that give me pause. They seem to be included for nothing more than shock value… as if ‘look what I can say’. There is a stretch of songs starting with ‘Famous’ then ‘Highlights’ into ‘Freestyle 4’ that all have start with Kanye lines that leave (at least me) dumbfounded on the outrageous nature of what he is actually saying.
But in the end it’s the overall sounds and Kanye’s swagger that just have the ability to complete stand out and come back again (and again). He has delivered a record that sounds like nothing else right now and THAT is what is most refreshing.
In ‘Feedback’ Kanye yells “Name one genius that ain’t crazy”… After the lead-up to finally hearing this record, West’s constant tinkering, his twitter account with seemingly no-filter, crazy seems to be the perfect word. But I’d caution to not shrug this record off as the musings of a crazy man. Instead I would encourage you to hear it as the sound of 2016, delivered by a man who’s made it his business to soundtrack the 2000’s better than most.
Essential tracks: Ultralight Beam, Waves FML, Real Friends, 30 Hours, No More Parties in L.A.
1 “The rough cut ran nearly three and a half hours, Rubin said, and West had initially intended Yeezus to have 16 songs. Rubin suggested trimming. "That first day, before he even asked me to work on it, I said, 'Maybe you should make it more concise. Maybe this is two albums. Maybe this is just the first half,'" Rubin said. "That was one of the first breakthroughs. Kanye was like, 'That's what I came here today to hear! It could be 10 songs!'"” – rollingstone.com