Kanye West's 'The Life Of Pablo' Is A Game Changer
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 17, 2016 3:30PM
You announce an album. You debut an album. You hold an album hostage. You finally release an album. You take that album back almost right away. You say you’re re-recording parts of the album. You tell people they can only ever hear the album if they join a paid music-streaming service.
If all of the above is true, you must be Kanye West.
The Life Of Pablo isn't the first album West has worked on right up until the release date, but it is the first time he’s reworked it after its initial airing. He almost doubled the length of the album after last Thursday’s listening party at Madison Square Garden; then, after releasing it early Sunday morning, he announced he’s reworking at least one of its tracks, "Wolves."
Musically, The Life Of Pablo is both beautiful and frustrating. When I first heard it last Thursday it felt fractured—like a bunch of the beginnings of great ideas with very few thought out to completion. The opening track “Ultralight Beam” was an immediate lift to a higher realm, but what followed felt largely half-baked. However, West’s work, at it’s most challenging, tends to reveal itself more fully after repeated listens.
The Life Of Pablo is no exception.
It didn’t hurt that when West added eight more tracks, they included more accessible party material like “30 Hours,” “No More Parties In LA,” “Facts,” and “Fade” to round out the album and end things on a more uplifting note.
West has opted to pull from all his previous eras here, mixing the gospel flourishes of The College Dropout with the abrasive progressiveness of Yeezus. The masterful autotune from 808 And Heartbreaks is here, and the dusty soul samples West loves are twisted and turned to great effect. West has created a dense sonic masterpiece; and it grows more satisfying with every subsequent listen.
Of course, West loves to provoke. Lyrics like “Now if I fuck this model / And she just bleached her asshole / And I get bleach on my T-shirt / I'mma feel like an asshole” on “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” or
“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous” on “Famous” certainly force the listener to flinch.
Ultimately, lyrics like these confront us with a question: are inflammatory statements forgivable if they're made in pursuit of art?
In West’s case, I think the answer is yes. If you’re going to dig deep and allow what you find to flow freely, there’s a good chance of offending. (West has clearly offended Taylor Swift.) However, Kanye's track record shows he is a work in progress, who learns from—and often publicly talks through—past mistakes.
It’s also clear that West is changing how we anticipate and experience music. Previously we'd expect to experience The Life Of Pablo as a singular artistic work. However, West is forcing the public to engage with this collection of his music in a fluid, constantly evolving listener experience. West is fond of referring to himself as the agent of paradigm shifts, and in this instance he may very well be correct.
Right now you can only listen The Life Of Pablo by paying to stream it on TIDAL, but you can get a free trial membership (via Beyoncé) if you want to give the album a spin. And, as a bonus, here's a mix using many of the original songs sampled when creating the album.