ENTERTAINMENT: “I Feel Like Pablo” Said Kanye, But Which One?
By Ian Hugo – Sports Editor
Picasso, Escobar, or the Apostle? Kanye West brings out all three personas on his latest album, “The Life of Pablo.”
West debuted the album, acronymized as T.L.O.P., on February 11 in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd in conjunction with his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line drop before officially releasing it exclusively on Tidal February 14.
West’s seventh studio LP, T.L.O.P. consists of 18 tracks and is chock full of ingenious samples only the mind of West could concoct and numerous collaborations with other high-profile artists such as Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, Chris Brown, and The Weeknd, to name a few.
‘Ye described T.L.O.P. as “a gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it,” in a radio interview prior to its release, and upon hearing the opening track, “Ultralight Beam,” skeptics who thought West was just trying to drum up the album’s anticipation might be surprised.
“Ultralight Beam” opens up with a prayer, proclaiming that “We don’t want no devils in the house, we want the Lord!” before West and R&B singer The-Dream begin crooning about “keeping the faith” and how “this is a God dream.”
This is West’s only real place on the track, before it opens up to a booming gospel choir rendition and the real highlight of the song, fellow Chicago native Chance the Rapper’s verse. Filled with biblical allusions, intricate wordplay, and split-second changes in cadence, many listeners consider this the best track on the album thanks to this gem of a verse from the young Acid Rapper.
The next track, “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1,” finds West musing about a lover, from how they met, to the bad parts, to just wanting to reconcile. The track features a Pastoral opening, before Kid Cudi delivers a beautiful verse, reaffirming Ye’s love for his girl.
“Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” seamlessly transitions to “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2,” in which West delivers a jarring verse discussing his personal demons, such as his father issues and finding time for both his family and his work, before Desiigner, the latest signing to West’s GOOD Music and Atlanta rapper Future’s vocal doppelganger, spits two verses from his breakout single “Panda.”
Possibly the most controversial song on T.L.O.P., “Famous” opens up with what can only be described as a misogynistic jab towards Taylor Swift, who West has been in on-and-off conflict with since the 2009 VMAs, as ‘Ye lyrically saunters around the track.
With Rihanna singing an absolutely mesmerizing intro and hook, West shrugs off fame, proclaiming he doesn’t need to be famous, particularly the fame he gained from the VMA incident that defined him to a wider audience outside of hip-hop, to accomplish his goals. The bridge right before the outro contains arguably the best sample on the entire album, sampling Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” and creating a wonderfully carefree feel on an otherwise controversial track.
“Feedback,” the fifth track on T.L.O.P., is where West brings out his Pablo Escobar persona. Catalyzed by the infectious hook, “Ayy, y’all heard about the good news? Y’all sleeping on me, huh? Had a good snooze?” West brags about his money, fame, and genius.
The track switches from high-energy boasting during verse four, in which West delivers some bone-resonating lyrics in which he resigns to the fact that he “shouldn’t even bother” with all the gossiping bloggers. Punctuated with an anecdotal outro where West proclaims himself “the ghetto Oprah,” “Feedback” is definitely one of the stronger songs on the first half of the album.
“Lowlights,” a track with no vocals from West, instead delivers listeners a testimony of faith to God shrouded in anonymity (the vocalist is unknown), which builds up to T.L.O.P.’s next track, “Highlights.” West tweeted this the day T.L.O.P. debuted as to why he chose to add “Lowlights” to the album: “I put Lowlights on my album just thinking about all the moms driving they kids to school then going to work…”
“Highlights” gives listeners West’s first collaboration with Young Thug to go public, in which Thugger and West belt out “Tell my mama, tell my mama, that I only want my whole life to only be highlights,” and “We only makin’ the highlights,” respectively. West sucker punches Ray J in the first line of the introductory verse, highlights his 21 Grammys and superstar family, delves into a bit of religion, and closes the track by posing a question to all the females in his gym.
“Freestyle 4” is arguably the track that goes the hardest on T.L.O.P. With West introducing the track as “rap god” material, he goes all out over a strings sample, accented by an instrumental “woop” sound. ‘Ye’s protégé Desiigner is back for the second and final time on T.L.O.P. for a short hook that will all in all leave the listener out of breath after the craziest minute and fifty nine seconds on the entire album.
On “I Love Kanye,” West recites his most common criticisms satirically, such as his rudeness towards media and frequent bad moods, giving listeners a look at how ridiculous and silly these complaints actually are. Kanye goes on to say how there’s neither an “old, sweet Kanye” or a “new, bad mood Kanye,” because he invented Kanye. Overall, a pleasant bit of comic relief that actually serves a purpose, highlighting West’s supposed identity crisis with fans, before heading over to the second half of the album.
“Waves,” the track which holds the same name as T.L.O.P.’s previous and third title (West went from “So Help Me God” to “Swish” to “Waves” in the creative naming process before settling on calling the album “The Life Of Pablo”), is absolutely breathtaking. West has a couple solid verses, but the real star on this track is Chris Brown, who harmonizes the chorus beautifully.
West originally planned to not include the song on the final cut of the album, which led to a little Twitter banter between West and Chance the Rapper. On February 13 West tweeted a photo of the T.L.O.P. album with the phrase “BLAME CHANCE” plastered all over, before Chance replied the next day saying he fought for “Waves” to be included on the album, which led to its official release being delayed a few days, but that he stood behind his decision.
“FML” is a track in which West discusses the troubles he’s faced staying faithful to his lady. West pours out his feeling on this track, which he states lyrically in the song, and thus reveals his soul. West goes on to discuss antidepressants and a specific episode in which him and his lady raised their voices before he got “the last laugh in the end.”
A truly dark and sinister sounding track, “FML” would be nowhere near as impressive without The Weeknd’s vocal talents, during which he makes a point saying that he can’t let them (haters, critics, etc.) get to him, and that even when he messes up (The Weeknd and West are one on this track) he’s the only one that can mention it. The eery outro reinforces the sound of this track, as Kanye croons “They don’t want to see me love you.”
“Real Friends,” which leaked on Soundcloud prior to T.L.O.P.’s release, is a track that carries an immense amount of meaning. Here, West steps back and takes a look at his life, which includes being a father, husband, and an artist. West apologizes for not making time for family, “When was the last time I remembered a birthday? When was the last time I wasn’t in a hurry?” but also laments the fact that he can no longer find his “real friends,” something Ty Dolla $ign lends West a hand with, playing the fake friend.
From “Real Friends”: West: “I couldn’t tell you how old your daughter was, Couldn’t tell you how old your son is, I got my own Jr. on the way, dawg, Plus I already got one kid.” Dolla $ign: “Couldn’t tell you much about the fam though, I just showed up for the yams [money, fruits of West’s labor] though.”
West released the next track, “Wolves,” way back in February 2015. However, he reworked the track, which opens with instrumentals resembling the howling of a wolf at the moon, by cutting out Vic Mensa and Sia’s verses from the original version and adding new verses of his own and an outro by the mysterious Frank Ocean to complete the eeriness of the track.
West alludes to his relationship with Kim Kardashian prior to marriage in the hook before reflecting on his recent behavior and his parents’ reactions to such behavior. ‘Ye then introduces us to a modern day nativity scene, Kimye-style, proclaiming himself and Kim Joseph and Mary before likening his children to Jesus . Frank Ocean finishes off this track in a way only he can do, creating not only sensation on an auditory level, but on a visceral level as well.
“Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission,” a phone conversation between fellow rappers Max B and French Montana, serves more as a point on the album than as a track. Wiz Khalifa started beefing with Kanye in late January after West changed the name of the album to “Waves,” saying that Kanye was “taking the wave” from Max B. However, Max B came back with this phone call, assuring Kanye that everything was all good in his book.
“30 Hours” is a ballad to a love long lost. Here, Kanye looks back on a failed relationship and all he did to make it work. However, every time he did something for her and expected something good in return, she let him down: “I’m drivin’ with no winter tires in December, Skrrt skrrt skrrt like a private school for women, Then I get there and all the Popeye’s is finished, girl, You don’t love me, you just pretendin’.”
The outro, which features Andre 3000 of Outkast’s vocals, consists of about three minutes of West rambling about his anger when he found out his girl was cheating, some hypothetical lyrical experimentation in the booth, his own personal love for bonus tracks, and an iPhone call with Gabe that will forever cause listeners to check their phones.
Possibly the most anticipated track on this album, “No More Parties in LA” gives listeners West’s first collaboration with esteemed lyricist Kendrick Lamar. On this track, which opens with an intoxicating sample blend, West and Lamar lead listeners on a six minute lyrical journey over a whimsical beat, sharing with each other their Hollywood stories and what fame has brought them, and more importantly, their lifestyles so far. Arguably two of the best in the game right now, Kendrick and Kanye’s collaboration makes “No More Parties in LA” an instant classic.
Likely to be West’s most oft-criticized track on T.L.O.P., “Facts” gives us Kanye touting his Adidas Yeezy’s over anything Nike, more specifically, Jumpman. Reworked by Charlie Heat from the original version released on Soundcloud, West opens up with the same ear-grabbing hook post-sample, “Yeezy, Yeezy, Yeezy just jumped over Jumpman,” mimicking Drake’s hook in his and Future’s fall hit, “Jumpman.”
While some of Kanye’s purported “facts” on this track are just plain false and some lyrics just plain ridiculous (“I give ‘em grey poupon on a DJ Mustard, ah!”), this track is still hard hitting, something you can throw on at a party that everyone can jump around and go wild to, similar to West’s “Black Skinhead” off his 2013 album, “Yeezus.”
West closes out this album strong with “Fade” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and the young Post Malone, a highly anticipated track whose instrumental was strewn all over the web prior to T.L.O.P.’s official release. A combination of four samples, “Fade” doesn’t really contain any “traditional” verses. However, this doesn’t stop it from dominating the back half of T.L.O.P.
Listening to “Fade,” it’s easy to get lost in atmosphere it creates. Before you know it, Post Malone’s voice appears as if out of a fog to bemoan all the ridiculousness he’s had to deal with in the past year. While the lyrics of “Fade” suggest love slipping away between partners, on a primal level it’s much simpler to just lose yourself in the instrumental and the feeling it brings with it. Before you know it, the track and “The Life Of Pablo” itself has faded away.
One of the prime gripes critics have had with T.L.O.P. is how disorganized it is. It’s as if Kanye looked through his symbolic sewing basket of music, found pieces that could never conventionally work together, threw them together and plopped them down in front of the listener, i.e. the public.
This project is similar to West’s Yeezy Season fashion endeavors. While to the untrained eye, his clothing may look like something a zombie in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland might wear, in reality, it’s art. Because to see art, one must look for the beauty inside. That’s why his clothing line, and more importantly “The Life Of Pablo,” is beautiful. Because West hands it to you, pieces spilling out from every which way, and challenges you to figure out what to do with it. He challenges you what to make of it.
“The Life Of Pablo” is in stark contrast with “Yeezus,” the album West released in 2013 prior to T.L.O.P. Listening to “Yeezus,” one can tell that West spent countless hours in the lab with producer Rick Rubin, fine tuning and cutting the record to perfection, creating the futuristic, laser-like sound the album is well known for.
However, this does not mean that West threw together T.L.O.P. in a month and let it loose upon the world to wreak whatever havoc it may. Recording for this album started way back in 2013, with work on “No More Parties in LA” starting an astounding six years ago back in 2010, when West was working on his fifth studio album “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
To label “The Life Of Pablo” a failure on West’s part and as having no artistic value would not only be a travesty, it would be unfair. While maybe not some of West’s best work (although some may be inclined to argue that it is), T.L.O.P. shows America the direction in which Mr. West is heading, and that’s towards making modern masterpieces.
Similar to modern art, T.L.O.P. must be viewed (or heard) in the correct manner, or else one may not be able to fully grasp and comprehend what is in front of them.
Come on, West even called himself Michelangelo last fall. Now if that isn’t foreshadowing, Yeezus save us all.
If you were one of the many waiting for T.L.O.P. to drop on iTunes or Spotify, bad news. Back on February 15, West tweeted: “My album will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale… You can only get it on Tidal.”
If splashing $9.99 a month is your type of thing, go for TIDAL. Otherwise, you can stream the album for free on West’s official website, www.kanyewest.com.
(It is also worth noting that “The Life Of Pablo” was illegally downloaded an astounding 500,000 times a mere one day after its official release.)
The things we do for Kanye. Or rather, the things Kanye makes us do.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars