Life of Pablo (formerly Waves, formerly SWISH, formerly So Help Me God) sound is weird. Its production is weird, its development was weird, its lyrics are weird, and even getting it is weird.
To get this album, one must subscribe to Jay Z’s music streaming service TIDAL. Now if you ask me you are just begging for piracy and low sales with that business plan. The fact we are now reaching a point where dividing music into tiny little fiefdoms based on streaming is sad. Especially given that this will never receive a physical release. This has so many ramifications to consider, many of them bad for everyone involved. If things don’t go right, rights holders screw each other over, and TIDAL shuts down we could end up with an album that’s near impossible to get legally.
So as it stands now, this seems aimed to be TIDAL’s killer app, the big exclusive album to get the masses to buy into TIDAL. Honestly if that’s the case they could have tried harder. The album is probably the weakest Kanye has ever released. And the reason why it’s his College Dropout has a recognizable and unique soul influence involving sped up samples, Late Registration brought in orchestrated strings to the table, Graduation had an electronic pop feel, and 808s and Heartbreak had a unique sound based on minimalist drum machines and auto tune. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy his most highly regarded work had a huge spectrum of diverse sound sampling songs from rock bands like Black Sabbath and King Crimson, all the way to piano pieces by Aphex Twin. Yeezus’ sound was influenced by industrial music and with the exception of Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson is perhaps the biggest exposure industrial music has ever achieved in the mainstream.
In contrast, the Life of Pablo is about as mish mashed as one of the paintings of its namesake Pablo Picasso. One can find songs such as “No More Parties in L.A” hearkening back to the College Dropout era of Kanye, to songs like “Freestyle 4,” which sounds like a Yeezus cut, to a song like “Feedback,” which sounds like something Clipping would put out. This lack of constancy makes the album feel like a compilation of some kind, which I suspect it is in some way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was just various songs Kanye had lying around and thrown together without any thought whatsoever.
The album kicks off well though with “Ultralight Beam,” which features a Gospel-inspired chorus and a decent verse from Chance the Rapper. While this creates a good start, the next song “Father Stretch Your Hands Pt.1” drops it down a bit with some of the absolute worst lyrics I have ever heard, which because this is a high school newspaper, I can’t relay those to you. At least it gives a decent chorus and that “if young metro don’t trust you” meme. This moves into Pt. 2 of the song, which is probably the most generic song Kanye has ever delivered. Without some weird soul sample at the end, it sounds like any generic rap song out there. “Famous” leads after this, which starts out with a generic “dark” beat but eventually leads into a rather beautiful section with a chopped up vocal sample, strings, and ends with a rather beautiful Nina Simone sample. Thankfully the next song is “Feedback,” one of the album’s best, which contains an absolutely killer beat, having Kanye rapping overly weirdly-pitched feedback.
After that is “Lowlights,” which is basically a glorified interlude, followed by “Highlights,” which contains another horrible line that I also can’t tell you about. It has a cool beat that switches up a lot from being piano driven, to having a grimy synth, until finally turning into one driven by bass hits. Next is “Freestyle 4,” which sounds like a rejected Yeezus song. At this point, the album has been devoid of anything really interesting lyrically, which is delivered by a short freestyle title “I Love Kanye.” It’s a self-aware bit poking fun at how people perceive Kanye and overall is a highlight of the album. “Waves,” which shortly follows, has an absolutely beautiful beat sounding like a repeated chorus of angels slowly driving over you. Chris Brown also delivers a stellar chorus. This angelic sound jarringly switches to the incredibly dark “FML” with the Weeknd providing vocals. Voices that sound like an alien lie in the background and it includes a cool guitar line. Kanye raps about depression and reaffirming his life goals for his children; overall it stands as a truly great track on this album. In keeping with the more personal mood Real Friends gives a really touching song about friendship and desiring “true friendship.”
Wolves continues the introspective trend except for a cool background vocal from Sia. Unlike the last two songs, this one is absolutely terrible. The album does pick up, though, with “30 Hours,” which details a relationship Kanye had before he broke out, where he talks about driving 30 hours to visit someone he loved.
Then we get to what is by far they absolute best song on this album. “No More Parties in L.A.” is classic Kanye with Kendrick Lamar fresh from releasing one of the best albums and dropping the best verse on this album. At this point, the album should have ended, and they should have just stuck “30 hours” behind this, closing it out on a positive note. Instead, listeners get two more songs. “Facts” is a cool bit with horns but is probably my least favorite lyrically, with Kanye cracking a joke about Bill Cosby’s current status and accusations. Not cool Kanye, not cool. Ending the album is “Fade,” a fitting title as it fades from your memory pretty quickly.
The Life of Pablo is not worth signing up for TIDAL; spend that $20 a month on something more productive. Maybe go out and buy all of Kanye’s previous albums because they’re all better than this one, or you could pick up Kendrick’s new album which is vastly superior to this. Either way, you could just wait until Kanye inevitably caves and it gets an iTunes release. That way you can just pick up the good songs and pretend all the other crap wasn’t part of the album.