Will Goodall, resident Kanye connoisseur and proponent of long walks on the beach at sunset, reviews Kanye West’s long-awaited and ever-changing new album, and discusses the separation of art from artist.
To what extent can you separate the art from the artist? That is the question I asked myself while listening to Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. I personally anticipated this album more than anything else this year, however West’s polarising and misogynistic nature turned off many. I initially found my answer less than a minute into the album; the almost euphoric sounds of a church choir mixed with incredible production value immediately reminded me of something off of Chance the Rapper’s Surf or Acid Rap, thoughts that only further developed with Chance performing on one track arguably one of his greatest verses ever, speaking on everything from God to wanting to win a Grammy. I thought I might have found my album of the year, only a month and a half into the year.
The second song comes on, “Father Stretch My Hands” (my favourite song on the album), and I do not know what to expect. Kanye West had stated in a tweet that this was a “gospel album” and the first song did not do anything to dismiss that claim, yet 15 seconds in to the second song, the Metro Boomin’ tag gets fired off, and I am hyped. Loud club beats, a great hook by Kid Cudi (216 represent), my body was ready and then the first line happened: “Now I f***ed this model/And she just bleached her a**hole/And I get bleach on my T-shirt/I’m a feel like an a**hole.”
I was completely taken out of the experience by the awkwardness of the statement. It was not powerful, it did not tell me anything. I was quickly taken back in by the beat, and subsequent lyrics, but I was unable to forget those lyrics. If you were to ask any casual listener about the album and what stood out, those lines would definitely be up there.
Each song felt different, as if it did not know its place. While 808’s, MBDTW, and Yeezus all had a distinct style, Pablo almost feels as if it is a collection of bonus tracks left off of each album. On their own, songs that were not singles before the album came out did not hold a ton of weight; the autotune was out of tune, as well as random interjections from other songs, strangle samples, and a lot of yelling made each song feel like teenage angst channelled into music. All of the songs put together; however, made something from nothing. They were lost on their own, but together they told a story. What made this story so interesting was that there was not a certain order, and there was not one story that these pieces formed together. People have referred to this album about being a journey of self-discovery for Kanye, a tale of family; some have even gone as far as to say this album is about the biblical figure Paul.
Kanye’s features are, as expected, strong. Contributions from Chance the Rapper, Rihanna, and even Chris Brown, stand out as some of the best. Kelly Price adds powerful female vocals to the gospel songs. The real surprise stand out performance comes from Brooklyn’s own Future impersonator, Desiigner, showing up on two different songs despite not having a major hit of his own and really bringing energy to both tracks. Frank Ocean makes a guest appearance on Wolves, but the real question is: where is the album, Frank?
Is this Kanye’s best album? No. Is this Kanye’s second best album? You could make that argument, I guess. For me, I have got it sitting around three. Kanye is crazy, like clinically insane, and as a Hetero Cis White Privileged Male, I am already on the list of people excluded from reviewing or understanding black music (no, really, he tweeted that) but jokes on you, I wrote this anyway. I did separate the Artist from the Art, and once I did that, I found another complex masterpiece.
Just try to remind yourself that Tidal does not exist, sit back, and enjoy one of the most diverse and creative albums this year.