Album Review: The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

Calling a musician a genius is such a cliché that it doesn’t hold clout anymore. Pretty much anyone that makes an album all the critics agree is a great piece of music gets praised a musical genius. So with apprehension, and the lack of a nearby thesaurus, I say this: Kanye West is a musical genius.

The Life Of Pablo is the much-anticipated seventh studio solo album from Kanye West. Being a fan of his music, I was happy to hear he was out of the tabloids and into the studio. All the silly things he says in public have made it difficult to continue to support him musically, but it’s hard to deny his greatness. Following a comical amount of name changes and last minute updates, the album was finally released February 12.

Upon the first listen of The Life Of Pablo, I found it to sound like a demo version of what would later be the polished studio tracks that are ready for release. Recent news that Kanye has indeed pulled TLOP from Tidal in order to further work on it is proof that maybe this was a slightly hastily put together album. After listening to it again, the unpolished, raw sound of these tracks reflect a very deep inward look Kanye is taking.

I was slightly disappointed in the overall batting average of the tracks. Rather than having 13 or so great songs, we have a collection of 18 hit and miss songs. A few throwaways, such as the return of the nonsense “skits” that provide garbled audio of a phone conversation, or the splicing of one 6-minute track into three 2-minute songs for no apparent reason, leave the album feeling bloated and rushed.

As good of a performer as Kanye is, he’s an even better producer. With collaboration credits with nearly everyone of note in the hip-hop game, it’s bizarre to hear such a seemingly unpolished piece of work from him. There is a lack of radio hits that would appeal to the casual hip-hop fan like his past efforts. He doesn’t have a “Stronger,” “Gold Digger,” or “Homecoming” on The Life Of Pablo, meaning this album will be consumed by fans of hip-hop and Kanye West exclusively. Don’t expect to hear “Famous” coming from the Top 40 radio station blaring from an SUV of a soccer mom trying to hold onto her youth well into her adult years anytime soon. This is not a pop album.

Kanye West has ditched the radio friendly, pop-rap tracks he used to cut for a straight up dive into the mental abyss of a musical genius slowly being driven mad. Nearly every track on The Life Of Pablo is a very dark look into Kanye’s current life. From still mentioning perhaps his most regrettable public action, storming the stage to embarrass Taylor Swift, to talking about family members swindling a quarter million dollars from him, to the fake LA life he now leads, The Life Of Pablo is his dark, twisted reality.

Standout Tracks

Feedback – A super interesting musical track. Kanye synthesizes the “feedback” that comes from a microphone too close to a speaker. He uses a tight, 2:30 announcement of his return (A staple of every rap album. We get it, you’re “back.” We already knew that, we bought your fucking album man.). Kanye even gives us the incredible self-aware line “Name one genius that ain’t crazy.” Well, as least we are all on the same page Mr. West.

Waves – Another great beat. A gospel choir is heard with a track skipping effect, sounding like a wave. Kanye gives a soulful, though auto-tuned, vocal performance. Waves is one of the rare optimistic tracks on an otherwise supremely dark album.

FML – One of my favorite aspects of Kanye West is his ability to offer an honest self-evaluation of his life. FML is about him being on the brink of “Fucking My Life” up by giving into temptation or acting out on his anger. Tracks like this are refreshing and one of the things that sets Kanye apart from the pedestrian musicians. He knows how much of a dirtbag he can be sometimes. He knows who he is.

30 Hours – Kanye brought back his G.O.O.D. Friday’s last week, a new track he would release to the public on Fridays leading up to the release of a new album. The first of the new Friday music was 30 Hours. This sets the mood for the dark tone The Life Of Pablo. A pretty standard beat, but with the added repeating, haunting vocal effect that floats in the background – a reminder of the demons always following Kanye though his life.