Love or hate him, it’s hard to deny Kanye West’s raw talent. For more than a decade, he has set the standard for modern rap music with frequent style shifts, allowing him to explore different genres through his music. The Life of Pablo, released Sunday, finds Kanye West experimenting with a new, more minimal style of production to create fantastic results.
West described TLOP as a gospel album, and although it certainly isn’t pure gospel, the genre is the project’s biggest influence. The record’s lead track, “Ultralight Beam,” which features solid verses from hip-hop recording artist Chance the Rapper and choir singer Kelly Price, is the best display of West’s gospel influence, incorporating a church choir to create a unifying and overpowering sound over a spacious beat.
Later on the album, the hook-heavy “Waves,” a track brought back from the dead by Chance the Rapper, sounds as if it could become the breakout single of the album. Even “Low Lights,” an interpretation of a testimony written by Paul in Romans 8:38-39 stands out for not just its historical context, but its emotional weight as well. These tracks stand out as clear visions for the dominant sound of the album rather than random moments.
At times, though, TLOP feels scattered, jumping from a heavy and intense beat to a lighter, more choral sound. These constant jumps back and forth make the album as a whole less cohesive. “Facts,” remixed from its previous G.O.O.D. Friday release, still lacks the lyrics, which include a reference to Kimojis, or a resounding beat to make it a bearable song. During “Highlights,” West delivers one of his worst lines in recent memory when he says, “Sometimes I’m wishin’ that my dick had GoPro.”
The album’s varied feeling is likely the result of the vast number of features, producers and samples on TLOP. Listing this album’s personnel is such difficult task in itself — all pity goes to the person who has to write the liner notes for this one. The names sometimes result in huge moments, such as Madlib’s fantastic beat on “No More Parties in L.A.” and Frank Ocean’s outro during the modified “Wolves”; but occasionally Kanye’s tendency to bring on everybody comes back to bite him — especially on “Famous,” where the hook from Rihanna feels forced, in addition to Desiigner’s unnecessarily boisterous verse during “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2.”
Besides gospel, the other resounding theme of TLOP is Kanye West’s happiness. There’s an abundance of humor, whether it’s in the satirical self-indulgence of “I Love Kanye” or West’s comparison of himself to Oprah during “Feedback.” These moments bring a positive spin to an otherwise heavy album.
Lying behind all of these influences is usually a very minimal and hazy production style. Certain songs break the mold, especially the aforementioned “No More Parties in L.A.,” but West’s decision to scale back his overbearing style to something more palatable was the right decision.
At almost an hour long, TLOP isn’t a quick and easy listen by any means. There’s a variety of different sounds on this project, and the entire experience is much more stylistically varied than most of his previous works.
However, taken individually, almost every song has a standout moment, with very few tracks going unnoticed or sounding out of place.
Before TLOP’s release, West touted the album as not just his best, but one of the best of all time. Although both of those statements are up for debate, and will likely be for a long time, The Life of Pablo delivers on Kanye West’s reputation for challenging music, spinning his career in a brand new and exciting direction.
Album: The Life of Pablo
- Genre: Hip hop
- Tracks: 18
- Rating: A-