Depending on who you ask, Kanye West’s name will mean many different things — to some, he’s just a loudmouthed rapper with a tendency for controversy, but for others, he’s one of the greatest and most creative artists this generation has seen.
I identify with the second group, and eagerly awaited the coming of his latest release, The Life of Pablo. After multiple listens, Pablo isn’t Ye’s best work, but it 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 record often marries trap beats with gospel melodies, with surprisingly powerful results (in “Father Stretch My Hands Parts I & II,” the choir-like atmosphere of the former part transitions effortlessly into a hard-hitting banger).
Almost every song has some sort of beat change, keeping things fresh while adding on layers of sonic gold. Speaking of choirs, it’s 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 lyrical aspect is where the album get a bit 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, the 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; West spits bars without any real substance. A lot of lines come across as unnecessarily raunchy or out of place, and that is saying something for a Kanye release. Another negative would have to be the interludes, which, while 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, instead using mixed metaphors of different themes to get its point across. It is not exactly innovative like his previous works, but it takes bits and pieces of what people love about his music to craft something special. That lack of a clear path to the end zone is what makes it ultimately great and why Kanye has delivered once again.