BY MARIELLE MANGANAAN
Kanye West has done it again.
The Life of Pablo brilliantly sends listeners into a whirlwind of putting together the pieces of his experiences and artistic mind scattered along 58 minutes and 2 seconds. This time around, West appears to be stepping into a place of faith and redemption from previous darker experiences, evident in his last few projects.
Some speculated, even hoped, that this record would be a revival of the Kanye who did Graduation or The College Dropout – a stretch considering the life-altering directions the 38-year-old rapper and producer has taken since Yeezus in 2013. Now a husband and father of two, he’s settled down, successfully released the third collection of his Adidas clothing line, walking with an unceasing creative momentum.
The Life Of Pablo is a complete album that stands on its own, without a cloud of any out-of-whack statements or tangents hovering over it. West offers everyone a piece of work to simply listen to and enjoy, a record that boasts of his genius first as a producer and then a rapper.
Every album has acted as a chapter of his life, the previous three albums expressions of different circumstances he faced; his mother Donda West’s passing in 808s & Heartbreak, his failed romances in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and then issues he found trying to break into different territories of the game outside of music in Yeezus. The Life Of Pablo is an accomplished chapter, in some sorts a happy ending, a glimpse of an evolving Kanye aware of where he’s come from and joyful of his current success.
Through each album he’s shifted the genre in a different direction with his distinctively abstract and distorted sound production and others follow, as evidenced in “I Love Kanye” in which West raps a capella about people missing his old, classic hip-hop style, although all he seems to see in the industry today are replicators of himself.
West consistently exceeds his own level of production project after project, and in this instalment, he’s compiled gospel tones, beautiful soft melodies, hard-hitting beats and harmonies, trap rhythms and made it work. The production on this record is once again unmatched with anything else out now. West brought on the best of all time, mainstream and underground, as well as unexpected appearances and got them to fulfill his vision.
Included are renowned American producer and former co-president of Columbia Records, Rick Rubin, who is credited in the first three and currently most popular tracks off the album, Swizz Beatz, Metro Boomin, The Dream, who is the talent behind multiple Drake hits and Toronto’s own Boi-1da, dirty-south sound pioneer Mike Dean, and more.
West carefully handpicks who he wants to collaborate with and won’t settle for less. Chance The Rapper, who is at the head of the young rap scene today, features in the gospel-heavy first track ‘Ultra Light Beam’ and raps “I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”, a testimony of being deemed acceptable to take part in West’s craft and direction when it comes to music.
Aside from bringing on an impressive array of samples ranging from an ominous violin solo by Goldfrapp for “Freestyle 4”, 1976 funk by the Suzie Super Groupie on “No More Parties in LA”, to a West favourite, Nina Simone, vocal appearances are also made by Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Rihanna, and gospel icons Kirk Franklin and Kelly Price.
Because of everything West has going on – kids, wife and fashion, there seems to be a hurried, random, and dishevelled element throughout the album – which were the same problems that caused Yeezus to suffer. But now it’s an orchestrated chaos rooted in good nature; his priorities have shifted to the sentimental, invaluable things in life, yet his skill and talent are left unhinged.
Each track off the record is essential to understanding the entire body of work and where West is at with his music. He puts no filter on his strengthened Christian faith, with spoken and sung gospel exhortations – “Ultra Light Beam”, “Father Stretch My Hands”, “Low Lights” – accompanied by biblical illustrations both in the album title which is after St. Paul of Tarsus (in Spanish, Pablo) who was blinded by a light beam from heaven and after recovering, went on to write 13 books in the New Testament following the Resurrection of Christ.
In one of the singles off the album, he eludes to an illustration of Kim and himself as Mary and Joseph in “Wolves” where West flawlessly delivers a resonating verse: “cover Nori in lambs’ wool, we surrounded by the fuckin’ wolves”.
The journey this album took that Kanye West allowed us all to witness via social media with a handful of album title changes, population and deduction in the track list, even cut verses of features in some of the songs, it felt messy and unraveled from afar, but it only got us to talk about it more. West thoroughly expressed his perfectionism through his openness, as with his loyalty to those who follow his craft inside and outside of the recording studio.
Family and faith have won him out of the darkness now and remains the Kanye we’re familiar with, maintaining his utterly unreserved persona, and his sense of humour that always had its place in his best songs. The Life Of Pablo is perfectly expansive in its sound and poetry; it’s fun, illustrative and free. West invites us to see that from where he is standing and this point of his career, this is a God dream.