Now that the extended, elaborate, and seemingly wishy-washy rollout is complete for Kanye West’s seventh studio album The Life of Pablo, the blow from the shock and disappointment many of us felt from it feels surprisingly and pleasantly less abrasive after hearing the beautifully satisfying sounds on the final product. The months-long delay that preceded this Valentine’s Day release of T.L.O.P. was highlighted (or shaded some may say) by three name changes, two tracklist changes, a gaudy fashion show in Ye’s Yeezy Season 3 Madison Square Garden event, and a worthwhile stall set in place by Chance The Rapper in order to include “Waves” within the mix. Perhaps it was all strategically planned and staged so that the drop would land on this February’s Sunday holiday of love. Sort of feels a little bit like… kismet, doesn’t it? Anyway, the best way to describe the music production side of T.L.O.P. would be an alternative hip-hop/electro-soul score that is schizophrenic at times but gorgeously melodic and ultimately comprehensive in its insertion of classic, vintage samples at other times, and lyrically, it’s likewise nothing short of brilliant.
Mood-wise, the album can be roughly divided into two sections by that very “Waves” single Chance is responsible for insisting upon. The first half is Kanye at his most lovely, pompous and boisterous. Heartwarming spiritual prayers and the bursts of choir roars lead into some remorsefulness that doesn’t stick around for long. The now-infamous Taylor Swift/sex comment, that of course is probably a joke, arrives in the big, tall, commanding “Famous” track featuring Swizz Beatz and Rihanna over echoing claves and screeching keys that drift into a cut from Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam.” With posturing, self-pronouncing, more speaking with the “man upstairs,” and some busting out and loosening up (T.L.O.P. can sound very turned up and in-your-face), the rest of the tracks leading up to “Waves” feel somewhat self-consumed and something close to but not quite irresponsible – West’s fixation on supremacy and “paper” place him in his frequently occupied position as hip-hop status-fixture. As a side note to help follow the flow of emotions, the smutty, perverted Mr. West is extenuated more so in this beginning portion than in later songs.
The love-meditations by Chris Brown in “Waves” riding on stuttering ripples of chopped sonic/vocal jabs see this very sea being parted by the more self-reflective, self-critical feelings of the second half. Though this section eventually becomes a bit conceited and arrogant towards the end in the Drake-mocking “Facts” and the house-y danceable “Fade,” which lovingly borrows from “Deep Cover,” Kanye West is shockingly humble as he feels regretful looking back at mistakes and mess-ups in “Real Friends.” Similarly, “Wolves” is simply and entirely selfless in its study of finding love in the most strange and unexpected of places (please make note of the genius creation of wolves howling purely from musical instruments), and “30 Hours” has West nostalgic and reminiscent of his past destined-to-fail relationships. As a kind of cap to T.L.O.P.‘s deep social studies, the Madlib-co-produced “No More Parties In L.A.” handles Hollywood pitfalls and other celebrity poo-stains with rap-tastic rhyme-juggling from Ye and Compton crown-holder Kendrick Lamar in easily one of the freshest most loaded collaboration songs in recent memory.
Mean and nice, biting and inviting, Kanye is a cool confident judge of his court stabbing Ray J in “Highlights” and in a way showing up Wiz Khalifa with “Silver Surfer Intermission,” but he’s also a gracious flattering tributary of figures like Max B, Twilite Tone, DJ Timbuck2 (R.I.P.), Andre “3-Stacks” 3000 and others. He is generous in his spirit, his message, and with his time here. Take one look at the guests, and you’ll understand why and how. When Kanye puts on stars like Post Malone, Ty Dolla $ign, Young Thug and Frank Ocean, who add on to their careers by adding on to Kanye’s, it just means that you don’t work with Kanye West; Kanye West works with you. He’s a master director/conductor and a magnetic, magical maestro of his craft, whether it be by singing with his 808s & Heartbreak-style autotune or rapping moodily with his signature wordplay. T.L.O.P. gleans from all of West’s past periods and flavors just enough and no more at just the right moments, but it’s still ultra unique in its own regards. It’s a loaded stew filled with bits and pieces of West’s encyclopedic familiarity with old funk, soul and rock records derived from his skill and finely tuned innovative ear for good music. His co-producers, namely Metro Boomin, Rick Rubin and many others, only help to update, freshen and push it to the cutting edge. The Life of Pablo is a great success for Kanye, a classic in progress, despite the attacks being leveled on it from some haters in the media shooting from the hip.
The Life of Pablo is now available to stream on Tidal and according to some outlets for download as well at Kanye’s personal website. A wide release of the album is reportedly scheduled to land on Friday, Feb. 19 or sometime next week.