Few artists can get away with the off-mic behavior Kanye West exudes. In the past, his arrogant, self-absorbed, out-of-touch view of reality was easy to put up with simply because the music that came out of him was good enough to drown it out. Modern classics such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy made the idea that Kanye really is just a mad genius.
The Life of Pablo embodies the mess of a human Kanye comes off as—but this time, it’s not a beautiful mess. Like its promotion, TLOP is a reflection of the mess of a mind that Kanye shows off on his Twitter account. TLOP feels unfinished, which makes sense given the amount of name changes and tracklist adjustments that were shared with the public.
Kanye may “feel like Pablo,” but TLOP is no Picasso.
On Jumpman-ripoff “Facts,” Kanye comes off like a child who didn’t get a toy in his Happy Meal on “Facts” as he rants about his shallow beef with Nike. He ruins a beautiful Metro Boomin’ beat on “Father Stretch My Hands pt. 1” with tasteless lyrics of bleached bottoms, as if his self-anointed “genius” would make them palatable in any way.
The replay value of “30 Hours” is ruined by an indulgent, pointless monologue small talk and phone calls. You even get a exclusive peek into Kanye’s voicemail on “Silver Surfer Intermission,” where Max B puts to rest any rumors of beef between him and Kanye over the “Waves” title, for the six of you who were ever interested.
If that wasn’t enough, Kanye will repeat his own name ad nausea on the aptly named “I Love Kanye” interlude.
TLOP is not void of quality—there are a handful of gems that remind us that Kanye is still a legendary musician for a reason. The gospel-inspired “Ultralight Beam” is original, beautiful, and well executed and features a tremendous verse from Chance the Rapper. “Famous” is a well-constructed banger. Kanye proves he can still rap with the best of them next to Kendrick Lamar on “No More Parties in LA,” and shows off his sentimental and introspective sides on “FML” and “Real Friends.”
These instances of great music are just that—instances in an album that literally gained too much fat overnight.
Kanye is married to one of the most powerful women in entertainment, a father of two, trying to launch a line of clothes for those unplugged from the Matrix, while putting together an album that can compete with his earlier classics—no wonder he’s distracted. TLOP reeks of unfocused energy.
Ultimately, the lack of depth throughout most of these tracks gives TLOP the worst odds to stand up to father time among any of West’s albums. TLOP is less of a window into Kanye’s life and more like a commercial for what Kanye thinks of himself. Kanye is so worried about painting himself as a modern Picasso that he forgets that he has to make consistently timeless music in order to warrant such a comparison between artists.
There is nothing wrong with making music about a narcissistic, self-absorbed musician, so long as the music depicts this character in an interesting and compelling way. Unfortunately, TLOP assumes the listener will sympathize and relate to Kanye because, well, he’s Kanye.
Some of the best aspects of Pablo came from featured artists and producers. Kanye deserves credit for bringing out the best of Chance the Rapper, Chris Brown, Metro Boomin, Rhianna, Kelly Price, and even Young Thug. However, that also means that Kanye himself was the weak link on his own album. With so many outsiders outshining Kanye himself, TLOP feels more like a social experiment-style album that was thrown together in a couple weeks than a thought-out, full length LP.
College Dropout has had a lasting impact on sample usage in mainstream rap. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will be remembered for delving into religion, race, politics, and idealism like never before in hip hop. Even the polarizing Yeezus was brash and cohesive enough in style to cause a stir. What will The Life of Pablo be remembered for years down the line other than a few well-flipped samples, a gospel song and a few features?
With another album apparently coming out as soon as this summer, Kanye isn’t showing any signs of tapping the breaks to do a proper roll out. Here’s to hoping Yeezus has something special in his back pocket that will have more lasting power than The Life of Pablo.