Controversial rapper provides a living, breathing messy piece of art
A common comment about any artist is that they’re not what they used to be, whether or not it’s a criticism depends on your own interpretation. In the Hip-Hop genre though it’s often a way to slate a rapper who has went against his original sound or image, whether it be selling out in order to make more money or throwing away any potential they once had in a bid to be more appealing.
It goes without saying that Kanye often bore the brunt of this. As his image constantly changed, his ego inflated and his sound began to mutate into something that, whilst still remarkable, was a far cry from what we heard back in his debut album The College Dropout.
Just like his aforementioned image, The Life Of Pablo is an album that has never stayed consistent. Since its release in February, the Chicago rapper’s seventh LP has undergone various regenerations, most notably the recent update which followed the record being placed on streaming sites other than TIDAL. This constant evolution results in what can only be described as a self aware, messy masterpiece that is only set to get better as it ages.
This approach to albums is certainly refreshing and could change how we see music as an artform but it’s certainly not an act of laziness on West’s behalf. The release of Real Friends back in January perfectly displayed the artist as someone who, while fueled by huge ambitions and claims, is a perfectionist at heart, tweeting “Un momento, there was a slight distortion in the main loop within Real Friends. It will be back up shortly. When it’s back up, all rippers please rip the new one instead”. Slag off his fashion career all you want but he’s not got careless.
Real Friends represents more than just West’s work ethic though as both lyrically and instrumentally it stands out as a classic Yeezy track. In his most vulnerable position since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West voices his guilt regarding friends and family over a beautifully tragic sounding beat that ends with a poignant howl, evoking the same sadness and isolation that we have become accustomed to with Kanye’s more personal tracks.
This transitions perfectly into Wolves which bares the brunt of the reworking The Life Of Pablo has gone under. It isn’t just little sound adjustments like on the lyrically solid and appropriately titled Feedback but rather a whole new makeover, incorporating not only the original SIA and Vic Mensa verses but giving Frank Ocean his own individual track. “I’mma fix wolves” was a promise made repeatedly by West and it’s still not clear whether or not he’s just put a bandage on it.
At times The Life Of Pablo sticks out as a greatest hits compilation rather than the next step for West which isn’t a bad thing considering his track record. There’s a definite cold sentiment to the Weeknd featuring FML that is reminiscent of 808’s while 30 Hours, which has definitely been downgraded since the original release, could slide onto the pink polo Kanye days with ease.
However, it does feel like the album is trying to say something personal which is more akin to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy than any other release before this. Being free and liberated isn’t a message that is delivered heavy handedly and is a thread that continues over the running time, whether it be Kid Cudi saying it explicitly on Father Stretch My Hands or West’s desire to live a calmer life now that he’s a father on No More Parties In L.A.
Unfortunately the lowest points of The Life Of Pablo seem to relate to this self portrait of Kanye. While the Taylor Swift line on Famous can be seen as a tongue in cheek piece of humour at best and a sexist remark at worst depending on what side you’re on, Facts give us yet another song that just feels like Kanye bitching about Nike yet again. Blips like this do result in a few worries that no matter how much updates this album goes through that it will still have some horribly dated moments.
While he may have a tendency to have a social media breakdown just as regular as his wife will post a selfie and his ambitions may have resulted in him accumulating a great amount of debt, there’s no doubt a great sense of this being art. Just like the most prolific artists who put their blood, sweat and tears into their work, Kanye has crafted a record that radiates hip hop greatness embedded with gospel and his own classic sound, despite the few times he colours outside of the lines.
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