Pablo Picasso, Pablo Escobar, Paul the Apostle—which Pablo is Kanye West referring to in the title of his seventh solo album?
In reality, it’s equal parts of each as he crafts his manifesto of his relation to the three Pablos. The brash power of Escobar along with his view of himself as a sullen and misunderstood artist much like Picasso. Finally, he relates to Paul the Apostle being a man amidst constant controversy but whose contributions have been so valuable to the music industry.
With perhaps the greatest string of consecutive albums in any recent artist’s discography, it seems as if West has yet again managed to keep his streak alive. Upon its release, the album was equally as polarizing as two of his prior game changers in 808s & Heartbreak and Yeezus, but this time it’s slightly different.
Leading up to release West let his fans inside of the process of his slightly-mad creative mind at work. People were able to see the title and tracklist evolving, and various photos and videos from the studio helped to drum up hype for the release.
The peak of the album’s peculiar rollout was a grandiose welcoming party, debuting in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden. In true Kanye fashion, fans had to wait two more days to stream the album on TIDAL, where its rights are currently held exclusively. The album was originally available for purchase as well, but that link has been removed from West’s website and some people who have purchased it have not yet received the album, but have been told they will receive it this week.
The last-minute tweaking of the record is evident—which is mainly because the album actually isn’t fully complete. West tweeted that he intended to “fix” the song “Wolves”, a track that originally debuted a year ago, with contributions from Vic Mensa and Sia traded for a rapping verse from Kanye and a painfully gorgeous outro from the elusive Frank Ocean. Perhaps West will never feel that the album is completely “finished,” but luckily the way it currently stands is pretty damn good.
On The Life of Pablo, there’s just about everything you could expect to hear on a Kanye West album, along with some new tricks for good measure. There are a handful of controversial and cringeworthy lines, boisterous braggadocio, deep introspection, and of course some good old rhyming over banging beats.
Earlier this month, West tweeted about this being a gospel album, and he wasn’t quite joking. From the opening track, there is a strong religious theme that presents the battling duality of benevolence and temptation towards destructive vices.
The album’s opener “Ultralight Beam” is striking and beautiful, peppered with a backing choir and featuring a verse from Chance the Rapper.
On “Feedback”, Kanye channels the aggression and industrial sound of his prior album to give a shot of energy into the first half of the record. “Hands up, we just doing what the cops taught us/hands up, hands up, then the cops shot us,” raps West, proving that his days of tossing around socio-political commentary are not far behind him.
“Highlights” and “Waves” borrow a familiar sonic landscape from his 2007 release Graduation. Both tracks are upbeat and blanketed with lush production—they are feel-good but still fit in the overarching theme of the project.
West has something to say for the people who miss his ‘old self’ on the satirical interlude “I Love Kanye,” which shows off his razor-sharp wit and self-awareness.
“I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye/The always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye/ I miss the sweet Kanye, chop up the beats Kanye”.
Similar to the work of Picasso, Kanye’s Pablo is disheveled, chaotic, and oddly beautiful.
“FML” featuring The Weeknd and “Real Friends” are Kanye at his most personal. It’s the moment when you realize that behind the façade of the egomaniacal superstar, there’s someone that feels and has problems just like everyone else.
The song’s crescendo is the arresting end to the second verse: “What if Mary was in the club, when she met Joseph around hella thugs?/Cover Nori in lamb’s wool/We surrounded by the fuckin’ wolves.” The same line is repeated swapping the name of his two-and-a-half-year old daughter for his newborn son, Saint.
He provides a similar sentiment on “FML” when he laments that his family is the motivation for his hard work, “I’ve been feeling all I’ve given/For my children, I will die for those I love.”
On “No More Parties in LA” West refers to an old version of himself being a “backpack n***a with luxury taste buds,” referring to the pink polo-wearing, soul sampling cocky college dropout that we all grew to love.
Above all else, The Life of Pablo proves that Kanye West will always hunt for something different and be forever evolving. Sometimes people may miss the old Kanye, but when the new one makes albums like this, he’s more than welcome to stay.