Kanye West, infamous rapper, producer, and fashion designer, finally delivered his seventh solo studio album, The Life of Pablo (TLOP) on this most recent Valentine's Day. After so much hype and preparation for this album, by the time the album actually rolled around, it kind of seemed like this would be another ANTI (Rihanna’s new album) situation, where the artist would keep changing the content of the album to a point where people got tired and eventually stopped caring about the album. Thankfully this was not the case. Kanye really took the reigns for this entire project, shown in his fashion, the creativity in the singles, and the logistics of the album.
Originally TLOP was titled “So Help Me God,” which was then changed to “SWISH,” then “Waves” (which he got a lot of backlash for, resulting in a lengthy Twitter rant targeting Wiz Khalifa), then finally he announced that it was to be called “The Life of Pablo”. He also kept dropping songs and setlists for the record, then totally switching everything up a few hours later. While all of those events were very hard to keep track of, in many ways it was also the ultimate publicity stunt, as the unpredictability kept his fans on the edge of their seats.
To me, the album was very much worth the wait, but it depends on how you view it. TLOP is an album that is very hard not to respect. Kanye West is known for having control over his music and ideas, however you really can tell that he has been doing all of this himself and that it is insanely genuine. It really feels like this record is a perfect profile of Kanye, and by listening to a song it is just one little part of his brain that we are left to try and figure out. Eventually all of the little pieces add up and we are left with the life story of Kanye, or “Pablo”, “Pablo” being a reference to Pablo Picasso (internationally beloved and cherished artist) and Pablo Escobar (drug lord).
Right now, the album has been shot back into the public eye once again because of a feud of between Taylor Swift and Kanye West. In his song “Famous”, Kanye sings “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous,” which right off the bat is an offensive lyric. People didn’t look too far into the lyric, most people laughed, but as one can imagine, Taylor was not happy. At the 58th Grammy Awards she struck back while accepting the award for “Album of the Year.”
"As the first woman to win Album of the Year at the Grammys twice, I want to say to all the young women out there, there are going to be people along the way who will try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame. But, if you just focus on the work and you don't let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you're going, you'll look around and you will know that it was you and the people who love you who put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world. Thank you for this moment."
Later that night, Kanye took to twitter for a mini-rant which finished with:
Taylor denied this conversation having ever had happened, and the internet took sides (most people siding with Kanye). The beef was left there for a while until a week ago when Kim Kardashian, Kanye West’s spouse, posted a recording of the phone call that Kanye had with Taylor and her okaying the line, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex.” Immediately the internet went wild, calling Taylor a snake and a liar for denying the phone call. Later Taylor posted a screenshot of a note she wrote on her iPhone, calling the leak of the call “Character Assassination.”
“Where is the video of Kanye telling me he was going to call me ‘that bitch’ in his song? It doesn’t exist because it never happened. You don’t get to control someone’s emotional response to being called ‘that bitch’ in front of the entire world … While I wanted to be supportive of Kanye on the phone call, you cannot ‘approve’ a song you haven’t heard.”
Before she released this statement, I personally was totally on Kanye’s side, but after everything got put into light, it feels as if they are both in the wrong. No, it was not okay for Taylor to lie about the phone call, however, it was not okay of Kanye to go through with the rest of the line without getting the “okay” from Taylor or showing her the song.
Regardless of all the recent drama, there are nostalgic moments on this record, when he talks about his past and the things that have made Kanye the Kanye he is today (i.e. his car crash, his broken jaw, interrupting Taylor Swift at the Grammys, the pink polo era, etc). There is a ton of nostalgia in the production and instrumentation as well. Sonically, there is a lot happening in this record, and he seems to be trying to blend together so many of his previous styles from his past albums and eras in such a short amount of time (there are 18 songs, but most of them aren’t longer than two or three minutes, leaving it just under an hour). While there are times when he really does seamlessly and beautifully combine a bunch of different sounds together from his different styles that he used in the past (tracks like “Famous”, “Feedback”, “Waves”, “Ultralight Beam”, “Real Friends”, and “Facts - Charlie Heat Version”), he still has songs that don’t do this quite as well.
Though I understand and admire that TLOP was meant to show Kanye expelling all outside opinions and doing his own thing, that does not excuse the messiness of some songs (“Father Stretch My Hands Pt 1 & 2”, “Freestyle 4”). Also, the first half of the album seems like there are no real songs on it. It is just a series of two minute interludes and distractions. There are exceptions of course (“Ultralight Beam” and “Famous” are both incredible songs from the first half of the album, using tasteful samples and beautiful melodies).
As the album progresses, it does seem that Kanye is really beginning to pull his sound together, and the tracks start to seem more sure of themselves (seen in “FML”, “No More Parties in LA”, and “Real Friends”). Now, if Kanye really is trying to display his development and maturity throughout this album, then I really think that the general progression of the record is genius. At first he is seen going to all these different extremes, trying to find a sound that he liked and wanting to stick with it, then later on finally finding that balance and sticking with it for the rest of the record and making some great songs with it. However, if you look at the record like that, then you really are giving him a little too much credit because the only one who actually knows what he was trying to do with this album is Kanye himself. Regardless of all that, TLOP is a fantastic and acclaimed gift, really painting a very intimate and insightful portrait of Kanye, and I am excited to see what he gives us next.
Cover Image by Jodeci Zimmerman
Ting Ting Chen