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LABEL: G.O.O.D. MUSIC, Def Jam Recordings RELEASE DATE: February 14, 2016 GENRE: Hip-Hop
// review by Matt

Half and half don't always equal a whole.

Kanye West is $58 million in debt. His new album, The Life Of Pablo, will never go on sale according to him; it may remain an exclusive to the Tidal music streaming service. I'm still going to review it as though it were a physical release, because I know Mr. West will come around and release the album proper — maybe once Tidal have paid him all that money he's lost. I like to own all my albums in physical form if I can. The problem with Kanye is that he is Kanye and will do sensational things for attention because that is what Kanye does. The result is that a talented musician stifles his own success, meanwhile his quality music takes a backseat for his "hilarious" antics to take the limelight. Ignoring his ego and absurd behaviour, does The Life of Pablo stand as another solid entry in what now stands at seven studio albums?

The album begins with Ultralight Beam. A sample starts us off, a young girl praising the Lord and casting out devils. Slow, long-held chords and gospel style singing give off a reflective tone, dark and almost sinister. The first verse, performed by Kelly Price, deals with the "problem of pain", a famous theological argument that the existence of pain means that a God should not be able to exist. However, it shuns such a theory, instead talking about how in moments of utter desperation simply turning to Jesus is all that is needed to get through any challenging period. I believe this may be symbolic of Kanye coming to terms with how he has strayed far from his Christian roots and his own beginnings, but also how his belief in "being equal in the eyes of God" allows him to, as can any Christian, repent for his transgressions and seek forgiveness. I do not think there is any way to read this song as uplifting or positive, however it does have a strong message of "carry on, persevere," which could be seen as catharsis. After all, the track ends with a little prayer, for everybody who feels they're not good enough, that they're missed up for said sorry too many times... reminding anybody who has forgotten that they are equal in the eyes of God whether they're a saint or a sinner. And Kanye knows he's a sinner; that's what makes it poignant.

Wow, this song could almost make me religious again. Ugh, can't have that. Next!

There is a smooth transition into Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1. There is a strong religious theme to this song too, starting with gospel and prayer. The rap goes into detail about Kanye's past love life and how lucky he feels now to have a wife and a child. In no small way, Kanye thanks God for giving him the opportunity to experience a good life after many bad relationships (some of that conflict having been caused by his own personality). There is a lyric, "Everybody gon' say something / I'd be worried if they said nothing", which refers to how Kanye is possibly the most talked about artist, definitely in my lifetime. It also echoes the old adage of one Oscar Wilde, "there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about". But later in the album, it becomes more apparent that Kanye wishes he sometimes wasn't talked about.

I had to listen twice to the opening of Father Stretch My Hands Pt.2, because I definitely heard the "Perfect" from Street Fighter 2. Am I imagining things? No, there's a number of video game references on this album. This track draws strong connections between how Kanye's father, Ray West, would put work before his wife and child — and how Kanye has been doing the same thing with his wife Kim and his son North. He doesn't even remember to call his friends, unless it's to ask them for a favour. This track also emphasises Kanye's longing for God in his life, notably to help him be a better father and husband.

The excellent Famous has a very strong vibe of wishing to be "free" from celebrity status. Rihanna absolutely nails the intro on this one. This track talks about Kanye's roots in the South of Chicago, and the "hood rats" he slept with. It contains a line about Taylor Swift which has already caused much controversy on social media, saying that her success was down to Ye's "I'mma let you finish" antics at the 2009 VMAs.

How this for a little Feedback, Kanye? I'm really digging the synth. It's a point of contention for a lot of Kanye fans because Ye's big success was partly down to great amount of soul music sampling. Both 808s and Heartbreak and Yeezus used synths quite heavily, and it was not as well-received. I, on the other hand, love the use of synth. And that gives Feedback a free pass. The rap in it is punchy and solid.

Next comes Low Lights and Highlights. Low Lights is a beautiful mixture of the gospel singing and the Yeezus synth. Neither element sounds great on its own, or together - and yet, at the same time, it does. This powerful, opening section helps set the tone and leads into Highlights. Keeping the same structure and chords, Highlights turns up the heat with some catchy percussion and reflective sounding harmonisation that is simply incredible. The "one life, one night" stings are just, wow. There's something 'cheesily' fantastic about "I need every bad bitch in the equinox / I need to know right now if you a freak or not". Freestyle 4 belongs on the floor, probably in the same corner where you keep the garbage bags. I don't really feel this one. Every album has at least one track inferior to the others, and this is it.

It has been known that I Love Kanye, and this particular track is a nice, fun, and bouncy satirical track where Kanye refers to his past, future, and everything in his life. Yes, it's a joke track, but it got important things, too. It can definitely be read as Kanye wanting to return to his old days. Waves is your best track ever in Kanye's career. Well, that's hyperbole, but damn, Waves is where this album's talent went. And guess what — this song almost didn't make it onto the album. We can thank Chance the Rapper for insisting on its inclusion. I'm really starting to like this guy a whole lot.

This track is all about making the biggest splash possible, so that you'll always be remembered. Kanye points out how his "talkin' shit" gets everybody talking, and how, much like real water waves, they never truly die. They disperse back into the water. Kanye knows the effect of his waves he makes in the music industry will be felt forever. But damn, this track is way too short.

According to Kanye, FML means "For My Lady", which this track is. It's a song about how hard Kanye finds it to be faithful to his wife when so many women throw themselves at him, but also reflects on his ability to remain faithful in contrast to young Kanye, who certainly wouldn't have been so grown up. Kanye also draws attention to the friends that he lost because he was dating Kim. It shows great development, but it's not a track I significantly enjoy. And to be fair, nothing can follow Waves.

Real Friends is simply incredible. This downbeat, sad, and foreboding, negative-sounding reflective track is dark and simply upsetting. (Editor's Note: Leave some adjectives for the rest of us!) This is why Real Friends is amazing. It focuses on Kanye's friends he's failed to keep up with due to his hectic life, the friends who have thrown dirt on his name and disowned him due to his career and success, and friends who showed their true colours, such as his cousin who stole his laptop and demanded a ransom — what a jerk. The song also makes things apparent to all of us, that we may not be good friends to our actual friends. "How many of us are real friends to real friends?" I bet there's someone you haven't been talking to, who maybe you really should... is it you?

Another dark track in Wolves, a really introspective take on the effect of the media and their endless scathing words. Here in the U.K., most people think Kanye West is an idiot. Not just because the media tells them, but because they came to that conclusion based on the quote mining performed by the media on a regular basis. "He called his son North, how stupid", et cetera. Kanye thinks Wolves is unfinished and wants to go back to fix it... I think it's pretty good how it is. The singing from Sia in the back is really effective. I get a sense of real depression from Wolves; is Kanye actually okay?

Let's ignore Silver Surfer Intermission. It's one of them skits.

30 Hours is pleasant to listen to and is about one of his older relationships which was quite serious and lasted seven years before it fell apart. It's pleasant but not amazing, goes on forever, ends with Kanye getting a phone call. All staged, but blegh, it's nice.

Then we have No More Parties In L.A., which was my favourite until I listened to this album. I still absolutely love this song, though! What I really like about it is the complete lack of control Kanye has. He could have said, "Bitch, no more parties in L.A." but he instead says "PLEASE baby, no more parties," which implies he's got no control at all. I like that one subtle lyric can completely change the tone of the track. The song itself is a stab at the celebrity culture in Los Angeles and how so many people in the scene are fake people, fake friends who don't back up their buddies when things go wrong. Kendrick Lamar, as they say in the industry, "kills it."

Facts (Charlie Heat Version) is pretty damn good too. It's another song Kanye fans had heard before the album release, but this version has rerecorded and cleaned up lyrics and new production by Charlie Heat. The result is a really gritty, gangsta-rap grind that I really enjoy listening to. The "Yeezy just jumped over Jumpman" probably isn't a reference to Super Mario's original name, but I like to think it is because it makes me laugh. Someone needs to hack Kanye into Super Mario Bros.

"Sorry Toad, I'mma let you finish, but our princess is in another castle."

Fade is a beautiful end to the album. Yet another difference in tone. Post Malone is incredible on this; I will definitely be looking into him and his work.

Kanye West may be an annoying, insufferable jerk sometimes, but at the same time, I think he deserves a lot more respect for his musical talent than he gets. However, while The Life of Pablo is a really solid offering with many great tracks, it has about three hits on it — whereas I felt on Yeezus, almost every track is a hit. Taking into account that this album has been in production for three years and has been proven to have begun writing phase soon after the release of My Dark Twisted Fantasy, this means I have to judge The Life of Pablo on the three years (and more) that it has spent in development. With that in mind, I think the score I have given below is fair and adequately sums up the entire album. Rap fans who enjoy Kanye West's output will find comfort and joy in The Life of Pablo, but it isn't one of them rap-along albums like Graduation.


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