Story by Nick Erickson, Staff writer
Kanye West wants to rule the music industry in the 21st century, which is evident by his self-proclamation last year as the greatest rock star alive. The 38-year-old rapper and entrepreneur has built up quite the reputation as an egotistical airhead, and it doesn’t help retract those claims against him since he just released his 7th studio album, oddly titled “The Life of Pablo.” Currently only being streamed on the site Tidal, and prior to release, West changed the name three different times and continuously rearranged the track listing before settling on a finished product. To some, this record might be West at his finest, yet it is a flop to others. Regardless, one thing is for sure: he’s as immodest as ever, even more so than 2013’s “Yeezus.” Does the combination of West’s bar-spitting talent, massive ego and hefty amount of featured artists gather the title of being the best record of alltime? No, but it holds enough weight for some replay value.
West spoke on social media of how “The Life of Pablo” would be a gospel album, as well as a hip-hop album. The elements of gospel incorporated into the record work in its favor and prove to be a strong point for a record such as this. Far too often, rap albums tend to be limited to uncreative loops and beats, so this factor could be intriguing to an entirely new audience not keen on listening to West for his rapping.
The first track, “Ultralight Beam,” draws on the gospel influence West was talking about. Lush organ soundscapes, a church choir and a featured verse from Chance the Rapper, it has it all, even kicking off with West preaching the gospel.
The atmosphere of this song makes it a candidate as the strongest on the album. Unfortunately, this is one of the few tracks that does not feature many expletives, a turn-off for many listeners and, obviously, radio stations.
The lead single and 12th track from the album, “Real Friends,” is another standout track. West raps about trust issues and his struggle with balancing fame and family. Sadly, it seems with this track, as well as several others, that the guest appearances seem to shadow what West actually contributes lyrically or vocally. For example, Ty Dolla $ign’s verse on this track is gripping from a lyrical standpoint and flows well. On top of all of this, this track features an intriguing instrumental track that will hook listeners ears.
Some of the other guest appearances are creative, but some are the exact opposite. Rapper and singer Chris Brown’s appearance, “The Waves,” would be smooth and add the extra melodic element the track needed to compensate for the average instrumentation but is failed by the glossy layer of auto-tune over his voice. On the other hand, The Weeknd’s vocal addition to “FML” really brings some soul to the track, and it works fairly well, as West raps about staying faithful to his wife, Kim Kardashian West, and The Weeknd adds a catchy hook to the song.
Where the album falls is in its lyrical predictability. Kanye isn’t the most modest guy and has no shame in singing about overly-vulgar or downright confusing topics. From the line in “Father, Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” where he raps about the messy details of having sex with a model, to track “Famous,” in which he recalls interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards and has the nerve to say that he thinks he might have a chance to get with her. It’s quite cringy but something to be expected from someone as proud as West.
Album closer, “Fade,” is very repetitious, but arguably memorable, a solid closer to a slightly above average rap album.
West set his goals high for “The Life of Pablo,” but fell short. What he did achieve, however, was to write the most creative instrumentation and vibes to be found in a rap album from the 21st century, with its old school hip-hop and gospel influence. On the contrary, most of West’s lyricism is far too crude or boastful, and many listeners will find themselves wincing at the first listen. Those moments where he comes through with some deeper meaning in his raps he too often is overshadowed by the number of other artists he featured on the record. “The Life of Pablo” is a solid record, with its handful of tasteful moments, but if West wants to rule the world, or even get himself $53 million out of debt, he might need to take the ego down a notch and crank up the passion.