By Arts /// Staff Writer
I could never love Kanye West as much as Kanye West loves Kanye West, but I can try. I have even heard that if you use his name three times in one album review sentence, he will appear in your bathroom mirror with an entirely updated tracklist and fresh title for his much anticipated — and very delayed — latest album, The Life of Pablo. I have been counting the years until the “best rapper of all time” (his words) and my favorite celebrity would finally add to the canon of his greatest work and stun us all. Unfortunately it has been a long wait, made even longer by the confusion of the album’s release.
I take joy in loving Ye. I make Kanye West fan art, have designed a cocktail collection to match every track on the album Yeezus, and keep the tradition of rapping the song “Late” on the first day of classes every term. I believe that appreciating Kanye West is about buying into his egotistic self-expression. If you are not playing along with how ridiculous it is, you are not going to have any fun, kind of like doing the YMCA dance, or wearing a serious turtleneck (of which he owns a few). It’s hard to believe that Kanye could include a minute-long rap impression of a T.L.O.P. critic, with the track name “I Love Kanye”, on his album without some self-awareness about how crazy his public persona has become. He knows; he just doesn’t care.
Likewise, the artist’s famously abrasive personality hasn’t evolved much from threatening the writers of South Park with a fish stick. His latest album takes a controversial jab at Taylor Swift and references his own need to “quit women” despite the fact that he’s currently in a very public, high-profile marriage. However, while the album brings in many of his contentious personality quirks, it also draws heavily on his older work, and the result is a celebratory album ten years in the making.
Earlier tracks in T.L.O.P., such as “Ultralight Beam”, and the recorded sermon “Low Lights” (which I almost expected to be punctuated at the end by a call to pray to Yeezus) have a gospel-esque sound similar to the tracks on his 2004 album, The College Dropout. For a man who has literally called himself a god, his reverence for the Christian faith resonates strongly in his music, returning in full force in to an extent we haven’t heard since he first released “Jesus Walks” many years ago. Sung verses bring some warmth into the music which was missing from his last solo album where the partying persona Yeezus was born.
There is a smorgasbord of artist collaborations on this album, and just like in his previous works, they are all fantastic. The recently popular voice of Kendrick Lamar hooks listeners, excited to hear what verse the artist will drop over a Kanye beat, and bringing in soulful artists like Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean was instrumental in shaping the ebb and flow of energy throughout the album. There are even shout-outs to when Kanye flirted with an ill-advised autotune phase, recalling 808’s and Heartbeats on the synthed-up track, “Highlights”. On top of all of this, Kanye lets loose the attitude of unchecked egoism he’s gained in the studio over the past few years. T.L.O.P. still features “the character” Yeezus prominently, under the guise of a man named Pablo, and he includes some of the simplified, slower rapping, with blunt lyrics about his sex life and personal swag, that made up most of his last album. It wouldn’t be a modern Ye record without having ridiculous lyrics said with a straight face.
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Not all of the songs are perfect. In true self-style, Kanye includes a slower track, “FML”, that reflects on his own shortcomings using modern lingo, in a somewhat inaccessible introspection. The heavily collaborated on, almost-namesake track, “Waves”, features a sappy and ill-fitting chorus courtesy of the breathy and auto-tuned musical stylings of Chris Brown. And Kanye’s attack on the phonies in his extended posse with the song “Real Friends” at times conjures the image of a spoiled rich boy, complaining while counting his millions. But these flops are more than made up for by the Kendrick-featured track, “No More Parties in LA” near the end of the album, which brings the mood back up and drops some amazing verses.
The Life of Pablo combines all of the best elements of Kanye West’s previous works into a single track list, the likes of which we’ve never seen in all in one place. All together, it sounds like a best-of album that he made to celebrate himself. And we’re right there celebrating with him.