“This is a god dream.”
So states Kanye West in the opening track of his seventh studio album, “The Life of Pablo.” Few would have thought that the Chicago emcee who changed the game with his debut album, “The College Dropout,” would be in the position that he is today: a god in the rap world. But ever since the release of 2013’s “Yeezus,” fans have been wondering whether Kanye still has it. Three years and multiple delays and name changes later, Kanye has answered that question with TLOP.
The album starts out strong with “Ultralight Beam,” which sets up a gospel theme that is often revisited throughout. Next up is “Father Stretch my Hands Pt. 1.” A brief sample of Future propels us into the type of energetic beat we’ve come to expect from Kanye. This song is one of the highlights of the album, combining Kanye’s superb production with Kid Cudi’s catchy hook. Other memorable points include “No More Parties in LA,” which features some of Kanye’s best technical rapping, holding his own against Kendrick Lamar, and “30 Hours,” which gives us a taste of Kanye’s human side. As the laid-back beat of “30 Hours” goes on, he comes off as more loose and relaxed, starting to freestyle towards the end. But for anyone who had forgotten that this is a Kanye album, he reminds us with “Famous.” This track is classic Kanye: self-aggrandizing (if not controversial) lyrics combined with top quality production.
In a startling moment of clarity, Kanye stops the whole show to deliver “I Love Kanye,” a strikingly self-aware satire made even more effective by its complete lack of instrumentation. Rapping “I miss the sweet Kanye, chop up the beats Kanye… See I invented Kanye,” he acknowledges what his fans expect from him while simultaneously mocking them for wanting it. If the album has any lyrical theme, it’s best demonstrated here: the difficulty of dealing with the pressures of fame and public perception while struggling to defy expectations.
“The Life of Pablo” is a skillfully produced piece, if a little confusing musically. Unlike the stadium feel of “Graduation” or the auto-tuned vocals of “808s and Heartbreak,” it’s hard to place a finger on TLOP’s unifying sound. In some songs, orchestral instrumentation and gospel-like layering of vocals elevate Kanye to a mythical, godlike figure, as if to mirror his own perception of himself. Others are more minimalist in their production. The intentional lack of a coherent sound may leave some listeners unsatisfied, but it reflects the complexity of Kanye himself. He wants to make clear to us that he refuses to abide by our expectations. The album is his way of responding to the perception of him that has become embedded in our culture. It’s no secret that people love to make fun of Kanye West, but with TLOP, Kanye makes fun of us.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS