The Life of Pablo, by Kanye West
Suggested by Alfie Bennett
According to my figures, in 143 albums thus far, I’ve classified eighteen of them as Rap Albums.
That figure seems smaller than I’d anticipated, at about twelve percent of the total output. I’d have wagered nearly fifty percent, if my heart did maths instead of my head.
I think my issue is that, on some level, a lot of the genre’s output is, shall we say, “creatively consistent.” Angry men looking to stop injustice, or stoner dudes looking to party, or wannabe criminals looking to get money, or lothario lizards looking to get busy. On the face of it, there’s only so many topics to cover, and only so many ways to cover them.
Even with different rapping techniques and different styles for backing tracks, there’s a pretty generic “American rapping vocal” sound upon which all the players build. It gets a touch repetitive, especially when three out of the last four albums conform to this pattern. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have this music as the only cake in your patisserie.
The last time I reviewed Kanye, it was for the excellent Yeezus. Even though I feel a little tapped on Rap, I still have high hopes for this.
Unfortunately, The Life of Pablo starts with a whimper rather than a bang. Ultralight Beam is an incredible sparse opener, with meandering and repetitive vocals which reveal very little about anything. While Father Stretch My Hand Pt 1 picks up the quality a touch, we don’t really begin to shine until my standout track Famous, an acidic diatribe on the nature of fame which contains the lines that provide this album’s obvious Kanye Drama. I’ll leave you to Google, but in a nutshell, Taylor Swift both is and isn’t a snake.
We then hit some more seemingly incomplete tracks, then another excellent song, then more filler, then more good stuff, then we’re out.
This album is packed with ideas, but so many of them feel half-complete, particularly musically. Kanye himself is on vocal form, but songs such as Feedback or Freestyle 4 do little to stamp any indelible memories into my brain. But even the half-baked ideas are endearing in places, such as the self-aware acapella I Love Kanye. And the more complete songs, such as Real Friends, Wolves and No More Parties in LA are exciting and engaging.
I think that’s the strength of Kanye. He’s engaging. For a start, he tackles so much more than the generic genre tropes, and he does it with wit and style. He never lets the art or technique obscure comprehension, and he’s such a polarising character that you can’t help but be dragged along with him, clinging to his stampeding ego for dear life.
The Life of Pablo contains some gems, but they need to be snout-snuffled out from the bracken like precious truffles. I give The Life of Pablo 6/10, but, as before, I’m more than happy to hear more. Unlike a lot of his peers, Kanye always has something to say.