Kanye West - The Life of Pablo (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Kanye West

The Life of Pablo (2016)

G.O.O.D. Music

Maybe Kanye West is this generation’s Pablo Picasso. All the signs are there: both artists express themselves in creatively fresh ways. Both challenge what is acceptable and beautiful within their medium. Plus, both are assholes.

Plenty has been said about Kanye West over the last two weeks. Very few of those things are new. Very few of them will matter in two months (hopefully). And very few of them actually involve the music on The Life of Pablo.

The Life of Pablo demands to be looked at like a modern art piece, partially because of Kanye’s roll out plan. Mostly, though, it earns the right because of Kanye’s previous output. His first few albums inspired a generation of backpack-wearing emotional rappers. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy made it okay to publically be a dick if your craft was good enough, a persona that he has kept. Yeezus was a clusterfuck of industrial sounds that still counted as pop music. Now we have The Life of Pablo to pick apart and criticize for years to come.

On the eighteen-track album, Kanye maintains his impeccable taste for sampling. “Famous” uses Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” to full effect, and the entire track “Lowlights" gives Kings of Tomorrow’s “So Alive (Acapella)” a full two minutes early on. Again, Kanye acts as the master of ceremonies mashing oldies with shiny new talent. Since MBDTF, Kanye has made a point to collaborate. And with each album, the list gets longer. This time around he incorporates Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, The Weeknd, and Kid Cudi, to name a small few. And that’s not including the writing credits or samples. More than once he allows a younger star a spotlight-stealing moment. Chance’s verse on opening track “ Ultralight Beam” is the album’s best and Chris Brown’s catchy hook on “Waves” takes up more retail space than Kanye himself. This is his gospel album, primarily the ten songs he premiered at his ridiculously grandiose Madison Square Garden fashion show. The latter eight mash up bonus tracks (“30”), songs cut from the album when it was called Waves (“No More Parties in LA”), and odd dance heavy numbers (“Fade”). That doesn’t make them worse. They just don’t find the same stride.

Kanye is a self-described douche bag, asshole, scumbag, jerkoff. He’s a pop culture villain and he lives up to the character. On “Feedback” the most Yeezus-like song on the album, he yells “I’ve been outta my mind for a long time” leading into “Name one genius that ain’t crazy!” And he’s probably right. Few of the “geniuses” he compares himself to were known for their gentle hearts. But they didn’t have Twitter accounts either and his Bill Cosby tweet didn’t do him any favors. Some would say the already infamous Taylor Swift line didn’t either. And while they’re hard to defend, the lyrics got so much press Kanye indirectly interrupted another Swift award speech. It’s negative press, yes. But with the exception of album reviews, it’s hard to recall good Kanye press.

A lot of The Life of Pablo depends on if you’ve already drunk the Yeezy cool aid. (Pitchfork certainly has, giving the album a 9.0 a mere two days after its release.) While it is a stiff drink (especially “I Love Kanye”), there is so much personality in the album—a singular vision composed by a thousand contributors. The Life of Pablo isn’t a perfect album nor is it his best. It is actually the first one in sometime that doesn’t represent an artistic shift for him. But it is interesting. It is unique. Too often genre albums play to their comfort zones. But this is a Kanye West album. While it may not be relatable, it is a rewarding journey. It is as imperfect and pretentious and self-involved as an album can be. But it is one that will inevitably be heard by so many people. And after sifting through all of the bullshit, Kanye West makes damn good music. Pardon me. Art.