Kanye West is many things for many people. To some he is merely a loudmouthed rapper with a tendency for controversy, but to others he is one of the greatest and most creative artists this generation has seen. I fall under the latter group, and eagerly awaited the coming of his latest release, The Life of Pablo. After multiple listens, I find that Pablo isn’t Ye’s best work, but certainly holds its own in his discography.
Sound-wise, Pablo is entirely out of control – in a good way. West seems to have struck the perfect balance between the harsh, spastic aggression of his previous album Yeezus and the delicately intricate soul sampling that kick started his career. The album marries trap beats with gospel melodies often, with surprisingly powerful results. A great instance of this comes in “Father Stretch My Hands Parts I & II”, with the choir like atmosphere of the former part transitioning effortlessly into a hard-hitting banger. Almost every song has a sort of beat change, keeping things fresh while adding on layers of sonic gold. Speaking of choirs, it is impossible not to mention the album’s opener, “Ultralight Beam,” an extremely uplifting and spiritual journey that features a guest verse from Chance the Rapper that may actually be the best on the entire album.
The work is lyrically polarizing, as Pablo brings with it some of Kanye’s most introspective moments as well as his most shallow. Tracks like “Real Friends” and “FML” give fans the “old” Ye back, as he opens up about loyalty, loss of friendships, and remaining faithful. “FML” in particular is an especially emotional and somber track with West touching upon staying loyal to his family despite the temptations of fame. However, disappointing deliveries run rampant on this album as West spits out many bars without any real substance. Lines frequently come across as unnecessarily raunchy or out of place, and that’s saying something for a Kanye release. Another negative would have to be the interludes, which, despite being entertaining at first, lose their luster after a few plays.
At first glance, The Life of Pablo may seem like an album without a clear direction, leaning on a mixing pot of themes to get its point across. It’s not exactly innovative, like his previous works, but takes bits and pieces of what people love about his music to craft something unique. Its lack of a clear path to an end zone is what makes it ultimately great, and why Kanye has delivered once again.