Kanye West’s seventh album is pretty much everything an album shouldn’t be. It’s incohesive, inconsistent, aimless, and arguably purposeless. It seems like West just threw a bunch of stuff at the wall and took what stuck (and even some things that didn’t). Even the rollout for this album was unconventional, with three title changes, multiple tracklist shufflings, an ever-changing release date, and West’s decision to make the album a Tidal exclusive. Everything about this album points to it crashing and burning, but, fortunately, it doesn’t. While not doing anything particularly new, West continues his tradition of making interesting and entertaining music that refuses to compromise.
The album opens with “Ultralight Beam”, West’s version of a gospel song, which is complete with a choir and famed gospel artist Kirk Franklin. It’s a great opener, and it’s made even better with a fantastic verse from Chance the Rapper. The album’s incohesiveness is evident immediately, as the album goes from what is essentially a gospel track to a Metro Boomin-produced banger that has West delivering absurd lines concerning bleach and T-shirts. Both parts of “Father Stretch My Hands” are undeniably enjoyable; it’s just jarring that an album would cover this broad of a range in the first three tracks.
West has never been one to shy away from controversy, and on “Famous”, he, backed by a solid instrumental, embraces his public persona and makes a remark about Taylor Swift that caused quite a stir. Although this album is all over the place, the most recurring theme is that of fame, and it almost seems like West is fed up with it. By addressing the event that has most defined him in the public eye in such a brash manner, perhaps West is, in a sense, liberating himself (“I just want to feel liberated” is a phrase repeated multiple times in the previous track) from it and proclaiming that he no longer needs fame to achieve what he wants.
The following track, “Feedback”, confirms the suspicion that West didn’t really give much attention to the lyrics on this project, as he jumps from police issues to his public persona to his fashion line to a “Ghetto Oprah” skit all in about two-and-a-half minutes. This is perfectly fine, however, as West’s intents with this project clearly lie elsewhere.
“Low Lights”, sure enough, marks one of the low points of the album. The interlude features a woman rambling for over two minutes and it adds absolutely nothing to the album. It could be deleted from the tracklist and the album would benefit from it, since the track is filler at its worst. Fortunately, the project picks right back up with the catchy “Highlights”, in which West continues to name-drop by firing some shots at former boyfriend of Kim Kardashian, Ray J. The track also features Young Thug, a welcome inclusion to the track, since he improves pretty much everything he’s in.
The album immediately takes a turn to the weird with “Freestyle 4”, the album’s most experimental track. Its instrumental sounds like it was ripped straight from a horror movie and West’s delivery is aggressive, causing him to be indecipherable at some points. Despite any reservations one could have based on this description, the track really works, and it’s one of the album’s most interesting offerings. On “I Love Kanye”, another interlude, West shows his funny side by poking fun at those who “miss the old Kanye”, as well as himself.
“Waves” is an admittedly pretty forgettable track that features Chris Brown in a decent performance and solid production by West. The next two tracks, however, have West return to a state of vulnerability that he hasn’t shown since 808s and Heartbreak. In “FML”, West reflects on his shortcomings as a husband in a very intimate manner, and that combined with a top-notch feature from The Weeknd results in a powerful and poignant track that’s one of the album’s best. “Real Friends”, the project’s strongest track, signals West’s return to the idea of being fed up with fame. He gets extremely personal and raps about how he has gotten so famous that he no longer has really any real friends, since the people who claim to be friends just like him for his money, even getting to the point where a cousin of his stole a laptop and West had to pay him $250,000 for it. The track’s production is phenomenal, and Ty Dolla $ign’s feature, in which he portrays a “real friend”, is great.
A trait of West that has allowed him to make some of the fantastic music he has is his perfectionism, but, unfortunately, that same trait really impacted the album’s next track, “Wolves”. He performed this track on SNL around a year ago, and it featured the talents of Sia and Vic Mensa. The track was fantastic, but West decided to cut their vocals and record a lackluster verse with some terrible lines in their place. What most likely happened was that the track sat with West for too long, and he wanted to improve what was already great. A plus side of this track is that it features Frank Ocean, a man who has been absent from the music scene for over three years, and it’s comforting to know that he is still making music.
“Silver Surfer Intermission” is yet another interlude that’s also pretty pointless and really adds nothing to the project. The first half of “30 Hours” is really good and has West rap about unrequited love over a catchy instrumental. The second half, however, has West ad-lib for three minutes in such an aimless way that he actually takes a phone call while recording. It’s so misguided that it almost seems like it was a mistake that it was included in the final cut.
Fortunately, the album picks back up with “No More Parties in LA”, perhaps the funkiest song in West’s entire catalogue. On the track, West actually goes in with some serious bars in a way that hasn’t been seen since the days of Graduation. His verse is so great that he even outshines Kendrick Lamar, who is one of the greatest artists, not just rappers, working today. And the great Madlib on production is just the cherry on top for this fantastic track.
The next track, “Facts”, is in such a completely different league with “No More Parties in LA” lyrically that it’s funny. To go from one of West’s best verses in recent memory to lines that are so bad that they’re laughable is shocking in every sense of the word. However, the beat on this track is superb, so it makes up for some of the lines on this track.
The album closes out with “Fade”, and even though it’s not a bad track, it’s a strange choice for a closer. Even “Wolves”, which is a pretty mediocre track, would have fit the role of closing track much better than “Fade”.
While the album went through three title changes, “The Life of Pablo” is probably the most appropriate track for this album, since this album, in a sense, is a highlight reel of the career of Kanye West. The album has the soul samples of The College Dropout, the intimacy of Late Registration, the braggadocious bars of Graduation, the autotune and emotion of 808s and Heartbreak, the grandness of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the experimentation of Yeezus. And, for the most part, it works. Is it cohesive? Not at all. Is it enjoyable? Absolutely.