SPOLIER ALERT – This isn’t another review wedged between Kanye West’s arse hole and his balls. It’s not a review to border on the controversial and it’s not written because Kanye West is a moron, which he is. This is just simply a bad piece of music.
I was first introduced to Yeezy’s sound on Jermaine Dupri’s Life in 1472 debut. As the introduction played in, it was the first time I could refer to what I now consider a Yeezy-esque sound. Initially sampling Willie Hutch for a soulful playfulness, the beat dropped in to a Davy DMX-chopped East-coast rap instrumental, characteristic of that which Kanye would produce for Jay-Z. I watched him live in Brixton a few years later, performing his ’03 I’m Good bars. The rapper/producer was everything HipHop needed, and followed artists like The Neptunes and Timbaland in putting out a volume of work that typified their own sub-genre sound.
Thirteen years later and Kanye West has become the annoying Hollywood celebrity, engulfed with egocentricity, his work sabotaged by delusion. His self-thwarting nature is evident in the number of times he renamed his latest album, and indecisiveness evident in changing release dates and method. His actions perfectly embody the artist at this point in time; his beleaguered psyche a result of the loss of his mother and the pressure of (he and his family) being continuously and intensely followed by cameras. The Hollywood-hills celebrity culture is unnatural and inhuman. It’s an over-the-top materialistic culture of grandiosity gone wrong. And this is reflected in the artist’s behavior.
It’s fascinating to look in to Kanye’s psychological state and behavioral patterns, but most important is the album’s content. Many of The Life of Pablo’s tracks sit on my iTunes with a rating of two stars or lower, excluding Father Stretch my Hands, 30 Hours and No More Parties in LA. It’s more miss than hit, with a host of auto-tuned, brazen-lyric almost-pop tracks proving more than skippable. But there are moments of rap brilliance and they’re all the more noteworthy in an irrelevant album marking his decline as an MC. Thirteen seconds in to Father Stretch my Hands Part 2, this happens
Up in the morning, miss you bad
Sorry ain’t called you back, Same problem my father had
All this time, all he had, all he had in what he dreamed
All his cash, market crashed
Hurt him bad, people get divorced for that
Drop some stacks, Pops is good
Momma passed in Hollywood
If you ask, lost my soul
Off the road, jaw was broke, ‘member we all was broke
‘Member I’m coming back I’ll be taking all the stacks
And suddenly all the egotistical stupidity disappears as I’m pulled in to one of the shortest but most impressive rap verses of late. It’s not just the off-key flow but the invitation in to such personal life moments that re-ignites the Yeezy flame. A reflection of his father’s decisions, talk of his mother’s death and his famous car crash, and a tweet stating he cried whilst writing the verse, culminate in a very human portrayal of a troubled and vulnerable man, struggling with celebrity culture.
Elsewhere, man of the moment Kendrick Lamar drops a hundred seconds of rap superiority in No More Parties in LA, climaxing with Yeezy repeating an over-pronounced ‘SCARY’ to dramatic effect; this is one of few instances of humor (along with I Miss the Old Kanye) in an album that generally lacks any real interesting content or conceptual depth, other than being Kanye.
Kanye West’s creative use of sampling has deteriorated. The album provides two of the worst samples I have ever heard. In the Rihanna-featuring Famous, (we will ignore the boring Taylor Swift reference) Yeezy uses Sister Nancy’s Bam Bam, before forever-ruining Hardrive’s Deep Inside in the awful Post Malone-featuring Fade. It’s too obvious! It’s typical of an American culture that want things too fast and too easy. And more than anything, it just doesn’t sound good.
Kanye’s right, I want the ‘Old Kanye’. But the old Kanye only exists in memories of playing College Dropout for the first time to my ex-girlfriend, or smoking skunk with my boys to MBDTF. That was the beginning of Kanye. Maybe this is the middle of Kanye. Maybe after showing glimpses of rap-royalty-status he needed to show the world he’s imperfect and flawed just like us – before concluding his career with Hip-Hop perfection. That’s one of the beautiful things about this artist’s career, it’s impossible to know what you’re going to get. And this time round, we were dealt a poor hand.
Other than the aforementioned poor use of sampling, the album’s production creates a huge mess of merging genres and the result is chaotic, which is fitting, because chaos makes chaos. Among the few thousand producers, top picks include innovative LA-techno-duo DJ Dodger Stadium, as well as Cashmere Cat, Hudson Mohawke and Sinjin Hawke. Yep, that’s two hawks! A regular list of rap producers follow: Madlib, Swizz Beatz, Boi-1da, Metro Boomin, Southside and the eclectic Rick Rubin. Unfortunately, too many cooks spoiled the broth. There are brilliant pieces to The Life of Pablo puzzle, but they fail to make a cohesive hole, and the end product is far from a gratifying listen. It’s instead a labored collection of mistakes and footnotes that draw towards more of a Kan-nah than a Kan-ye.
Kanye talked of wanting to put a GoPro on his dick. This album puts a GoPro in his brain. And the result is a Being John Malkovich-type experience; a bizarre, identity-probing journey in to the mind of a madman with the terrifying feeling that I may not ever return. To quote the film, Craig states to his wife’s pet chimp ‘consciousness is a terrible curse; I think, I feel, I suffer’. I suffered greatly throughout the fifty-eight minutes of this album.