Kanye West: The Life of Pablo
Virtually everything about Kanye West’s seventh studio album, “The Life of Pablo,” (T.L.O.P.) is complicated.
Spanning 18 tracks and containing production and features from artists such as Rick Rubin, Madlib, Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and more than 100 other artists, “TLOP” is a jagged collection of genre-bending songs that are consistently inconsistent.
Hip-hop has always been a genre that closely reflects the politics and trends of pop culture. The vernacular is directly representative of the time period, which is why a successful hip-hop artist is one who can navigate through a shifting culture.
When an artist like Drake embraces memes and turns lines into hashtags, he becomes an integral part of pop culture. This is why Walgreens sells YOLO shirts, and I just posted a photo on Instagram captioned, “Charged Up.”
But West never follows the trend, he creates it—and this is an album that only Kanye West could make.
“TLOP” is profane, deeply spiritual, moody and more than anything else, unfinished.
After cycling through three different titles and missing three self-set deadlines, West finally posted “The Life of Pablo” on the music streaming service Tidal, early Sunday, Feb. 14, only to disable it from being purchased later that day.
As of now, the album is not for sale and not even finished, according to West. It is only available for streaming on Tidal.
Adding to this botched roll-out of an album, West has done little to no press—instead choosing to speak for himself on Twitter, one aggressive and ultimately confusing stream of consciousness at a time. This has made it almost impossible to separate the artist from the art and the performer from the person.
Yet, if we are to look closely at “T.L.O.P.,” it appears that West is struggling to make the distinction as well.
Arguably, the clumsy release of the album could be considered performance art. West may be attempting to exhibit the complicated relationship between artist and their work, and the effect of the media on their creative process.
This would explain the incongruous flow of the songs, but dexterous production of each—which results in an often mystifying controlled chaos, best displayed in part one and two of “Father Stretch My Hands.”
Part one begins with the type of soul-sample that has become a staple of West and a career ranging over a decade. The sound is soon cut with a violent threat from rapper and producer, Future, then continues with a gospel-based chord progression backing Kid Cudi and West as they trade verses.
That eventually gives way to part two, where West appears vulnerable and agitated over dissonant chords and a trap beat—only to be cut again. The song ends with avant-garde composer Caroline Shaw cooing, “How can I find you? Who do you turn to?” This is abruptly cut by the soul sample from part one.
At the same time, West appears to be clinging to spirituality on this album more than he ever has before, embracing the act of penitence for the catharsis in being forgiven by a higher being. But West is still conflicted.
This is apparent on the album cover, which features a photograph from his parents’ wedding, a model and the words “WHICH ONE.”
There is ambiguity of which Pablo he is referring to, whether it be Picasso or Saint Paul, the apostle from the Bible. Like West, Picasso’s affinity for women largely influenced his work—which can be categorized by distinct moods and periods. Also like West, Saint Paul was a megalomaniac who also experienced an “Ultralight Beam” upon committing sin—as referenced in the opening track.
Finished or not, “The Life of Pablo” is a challenging album that pushes those who consume it to dig into its depths for answers, even if none of it makes any sense.