Out of Many…One: The Life Of Pablo

BUZZ*WORDS: Schizophrenic, Honest, Pornographic, Religious, Glorious

Right around the time Kanye’s sixth solo album was due to come out, the musical trailblazer and Chicago native said that his biggest inspiration for his new work was an obscenely expensive Le Corbusier lamp. Kanye claimed that it was a fascinating piece of furniture because when it was first made it was given away for free. Now deemed a collectors item, the price has been exponentially inflated to a whopping 110,000 $ USD. West argued that this lamp had come to symbolize the disparities between socioeconomic classes – something which deeply frustrated him. This fueled West’s anti-establishment sentiment which can be felt on every track on Yeezus. Perhaps the unibody-nature and continuous shape of the lamp also contributed to the minimalistic harmonies of West’s previous project. Whatever the case was, what was clear was that Kanye Omari West had a singular focus: the lamp and its symbolism. On Kanye’s latest offering, The Life of Pablo, no such focus is evident. On this LP, West lets his mind run free…and what we are left with is a beautifully dizzying and hauntingly mesmerizing body of work.


Courtesy of: fashionista.com

With his previous six albums, Kanye reinvented himself six different times. He built up six unique universes out of soul samples, chopped up electronic music, auto tune crooning, maximalist production and minimalist tones. TLOP is the musical equivalent of standing in the middle of an intersection on the outskirts of West’s previous landscapes. West finds himself standing facing a forked road with directions running everywhere: and this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Everything from the album’s title changes (So Help Me God, Swish, Waves) to conflicting reports from listening sessions (“cookout music”, “continuation of Yeezus”, “gospel”), and to the divergent directions of his singles (“Only One”, “All Day”, “I Feel Like That”, “Wolves”, “Real Friends”, “No More Parties in LA”) hinted at the fact that for the first time in a long time, West didn’t know where he was going. He was in uncharted territory. So what is Kanye to do? The answer lies in the album art designer by Peter De Potter, a collaborator of legendary Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons. The artist is known for fusing elements of early twentieth century Dadaism, mid century cubism and contemporary pop-art. This works to produce collages, made all the more meaningful by asymmetrically aligned captions that provoke hidden messages. It can be expected from this collage like cover that this album would draw on elements which made up both the “old Kanye” and the “new Kanye”.


Courtesy of: highsnobiety.com 

This is an album of dualities. This does not become evident on the first track, but rather on the album cover: superimposed are two distinct images. One is of a family portrait and the other, of a big booty ***** – a testament to the duality of rap fame. Throughout the album, there is a juxtaposition between the maximalism and self awareness of Dark Fantasy on songs like Waves & Real Friends and the minimalist tones and aggression of Yeezus, that can be found in the synths of Low Lights/High Lights. There is a contrast between the soul samples on Father Stretch My Hands and the trap-house lyrics of Brooklyn based but New Atlanta influenced artist, Desiigner. Rihanna’s melodic chorus on Famous seems to be at war with the absurdity of Kanye’s antagonizing lyrics (“I made [Taylor Swift] Famous”). Thematically, the album sheds light on the duality of Kanye’s religious upbringing and his obsession with sexuality. At various times throughout this record, Kanye tries to find a balance between his cries for spiritual guidance (Lowlights) and his pornographic fantasies (Freestyle 4). These dualities make the album at once jarring and insightful, as Kanye West leaves his innermost thoughts and creative tendencies on the table for anyone and everyone to judge – something which is powerful in its honesty.



Courtesy of: nydailynews.com / Dimitrios Kambouris for Getty Images

This is not to say that there is nothing wrong with this album. In fact, one of the major faults is West’s lyrical showcasing. While Kanye has always rapped and sung some ridiculous lyrics on records (see Lift Off first verse), on TLOP Kanye manages to reach new lows. The lines about having sexual intercourse with Taylor Swift is a blatant attempt at attention-whoring. The raps with regards to Ray J and Kim Kardashian’s past are cringeworthy. The award for most what in the fuck moment has to be given to Kanye’s auto-tune crooned lyrics about models with bleached body parts (ass holes) and his bleached t-shirts. Despite these head scratching moments, Kanye is able to overcome what would otherwise prove to be a fatal flaw for most other artists: lyrical inadequacy. He manages to overcome it with his genius album-crafting.

Kanye brings the best out of artists that you didn’t even know you wanted to hear from.

The album begins on one of the most soulful notes in Kanye’s discography with features from The Dream, Kelly Price and Pastor Kirk Franklin. A shimmering synth weaves its way in and out of the sparse percussion as if perfectly timed and sent from the heavens. The track is also one of the most humble moments in Kanye’s music. On the second half of the record, he cedes the musical spotlight to Chicago up and comer Chance the Rapper who delivers the verse with such clarity and purpose that one couldn’t imagine anyone else occupying the same time space on the song. This verse falls rights in line with other stellar guest appearances on previous Kanye records such as Rick Ross on Devil in a New Dress and Nicki Minaj on Monster. On Fade, Kanye makes Post Malone transcend the confines of his Tumblr and Instagram fame…and Malone shines as he emotionally sings over a beautifully sampled Chicago House beat. Highlights has New-Atlanta star Young Thug crooning in the background, adding another dimensions to the song. Kid Cudi’s crooning and humming on Waves makes people forget about his recent disastrous musical output. Kanye also shines with his sampling work. While he first rose to stardom for this very skill, Kanye reasserts his dominance in this regard on TLOP. The sample switch between Nina Simone’s Do What You Gotta Do and Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam on Famous elicits feelings akin to the ones you would experience at the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square. The Section 25 Hit sample at the end of FML serves as a beautiful followup to the Weeknd’s chilling vocal performance.

So while The Life of Pablo didn’t have a clearly mandated direction like its predecessors in Kanye’s discography, its chaos, honesty and collage of Kanye’s talents makes it another remarkable entry in West’s catalogue. In a way, the album is like a difficult multiple choice question: while you may not know the answer, your first educated guess is more likely to be correct than the conclusion you arrive at after overthinking. On TLOP Kanye just went with his gut feeling, and he got it right. It’s an album that was three years in the making, but still manages to feel rushed… but this only makes it feel more human. On the intro track to Dark Fantasy West poses a question: “can we get much higher”? I am not sure whether West will ever be able to recapture that kind of cohesiveness: simply because he has branched out to avenues beyond music and may have overextended himself. On TLOP Kanye does however remind us that he is a dreamer. He is an artist that will always aim for the moon and reach for the stars…just like an Ultra Light Beam.


Courtesy of: qz.com  + Reuters/Andrew Kelly


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