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Staff Round-Up: Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo (TLOP)

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As a long-time Kanye West fan, I knew The Life of Pablo (TLOP) would deliver in terms of innovation, and considering Kanye’s career progression it was easy to guess that TLOP would feature heavily over-processed samples and gospel-esque backing beats with strong hooks and stronger guest artists. Admittedly, the best part of this album is the featuring artists, whose names are neither listed under the track nor the artist columns on TIDAL. Chance the Rapper’s verse in “Ultralight Beam” is clearly inspired by multiple ego-boosting sessions with Yeezy (“I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail”), while Rihanna’s appearance on “Famous” turns the track into something sultry and ironically introspective. In terms of outstanding uses of samples, “Low Lights” blows away the competition with its lyrical strength and emotion. 

Unfortunately, it was features like “Low Lights” and stellar guest verses that highlighted just how lyrically weak Kanye was on this album. Tracks that could be great would get yanked down by petty, childish lyrics about Ray-J and former lovers. The most egregious example of this came in “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” a track that was meant to be a reflective look at Kanye’s relationship with his father and instead opened his first verse with a line about a model’s bleached asshole. However, this album really shines when Kanye returns to his College Dropout roots in tracks like “Waves” and “30 Hours” (which is basically just the updated “After Hours”). Here, Kanye provides the love he promised on Twitter and alluded to with the summer release of “Only One,” and it works well for him, in spite of his claims on “I Love Kanye.” Looking at this album in combination with Yeezy Season 3, the delayed release time, and Kanye’s multiple Twitter meltdowns, TLOP is a performance of insanity, inconsistency, and introspection, and one that far exceeded my already high expectations.

—Morgan Alexander, Managing Editor

After a couple weeks of strategically-placed Twitter beef, Kanye West has graced us with his mysteriously named seventh studio album TLOP. Pablo Picasso? Pablo Escobar? The central character of the album is as uncertain as its musical contents; each song is patchy, sonically and thematically schizophrenic. TLOP starts off with ardent gospel tunes squeezed through Kanye-typical distortion. “Famous” flexes Rihanna’s raw power as she covers Nina Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do.” It also includes a sample from Simone’s original song, as well as a Sister Nancy sample. Amid the jumble of melodies, and despite the strong female energy, Kanye decides to reminisce about the women who owe him their careers. He gloats about Taylor Swift, “I feel like me and Taylor still might have sex / Why? I made that bitch famous,” a claim that feels neither true nor triumphant. The album includes some entertaining features from Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and others, and the haphazard melodic jumps are actually quite interesting—but Yeezus himself doesn’t seem to be saying anything new.  “Wolves” is a standout track; it feels gentle and genuinely concerned about his new family’s notoriety.  The lyrics combine Kanye’s faith and familial devotion: “Cover Nori in lamb’s wool / we surrounded by the fuckin’ wolves,” he warns Kim. This line is scary as hell, and probably the realest thing Kanye spits on TLOP.

—April Barrett, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Laptop-stealing cousins of the world, beware! Kanye West is finally back after one of the most publicized blown deadlines in music history. On third listen, it’s becoming clear that this is likely his best album musically, and his worst album lyrically. He excels on tracks like “Wolves” and the 90-bar monster verse on “No More Parties in L.A.” but he too often devolves to “shocking” one-liners and lazy repetition instead of digging in and delivering the introspection and wit that made his earlier albums so great. Furthermore, he tends to get outshined by artists like Chance the Rapper and Desiigner, often feeling like a feature on his own album. 

That doesn’t matter as much when the album is as well-produced as it is. After listening to the first track, “Ultralight Beam,” it suddenly becomes clear why the album took so long. Its intermittent gospel choir and lush organ stack up against the best of anything Kanye has ever produced, continuing his streak of fantastic album openers. Despite the fact that the rest of the album never really lives up to the gospel vibe he was going for, there’s a lot to like about nearly every song, from the sample of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” on “Famous” to the grimy piano sound of “Real Friends.” The fact that there’s no real narrative or sonic through-line to the album means it can feel more like a jumbled collection of songs than an actual album, but it’s hard to find fault with something this joyful and unique. 

Christopher Lutes, Arts & Entertainment Editor

The much anticipated follow-up to 2013’s Yeezus, Kanye West’s latest album, TLOP, offers a solid snapshot into the sounds, history, and cultural force that surround the self-proclaimed ‘genius’ that everyone loves. The opening track of the record, “Ultralight Beam,” explores a highly somber, gospel-influenced sound, and really sets a serious tone with politically charged lyrics that self-consciously invites listeners to demand more from the album. As a result of the albums heavy reliance on featuring artists, we don’t, however, get to hear Kanye rap himself until the fourth track, “Famous”, where he immediately enters with his much beloved controversy, notably shifting praise from Taylor Swift toward himself, and provides a much needed refreshment with his clean vocals when compared to the auto-tuned voices and relatively generic beats that dominate the preceding tracks.

The album’s features are simultaneously a blessing, as they enable the album to explore a variety of sounds, such as the jazzy feel of the Kendrick Lamar-led “No More Parties in L.A.”, and a curse, as the sheer number of features, particularly coming from the almost featureless Yeezus, ultimately bury and hide Kanye the rapper in favor of Kanye the producer and don’t always provide interesting additions to the album. When Kanye the rapper does emerge, however, he provides some of the album’s most memorable tracks, most notably “30 Hours”, that never fail to generate clear and catchy flow. With the various moments of lyrical intimacy that display a self-reflexive Kanye musing on his hip-hop legacy, the wide range of soundscapes covered by the album, and the occasional great feature, TLOP, despite some of its filler, posits itself as a great overview of the legacy that is Kanye that’s a worthwhile listen for newcomers and hardcore fans alike.

Luka Ciklovan, Staff Writer

The opening track of TLOP, “Ultralight Beam” is an affirmation of faith: Faith in God, faith in yourself, and faith in Kanye- and Kanye would like to convince you that these are all the same thing. “This is a God dream,” Kanye calls. A gospel choir responds with a soaring, vast proclamation of that statement. In this line Kanye seems to introduce a new age; the line represents a pivot in the path of culture, art, fashion, and celebrity. Then Chance the Rapper comes in: “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail,” he raps, then sings “This is my part, nobody else speak; this little light of mine; glory be to God, yeah”. Chance at once lauds his own success while contributing much of that success to Kanye himself. This apparent contradiction is essential in Kanye’s “gospel”. “Ultralight Beam” is an anthem; a resounding introduction to an album that as a whole seems to be a manifesto of everything Kanye stands for.

Kanye once said, “if you’re a Kanye West fan you’re not a fan of me, you’re a fan of yourself”. Everything about TLOP supports this statement; Kanye practices an extreme form of self-esteem that has garnered huge amounts of criticism- but why? Is humbleness, modesty, and being apologetic really the way to success? In Kanye’s case, certainly not. “Low Lights” and “I Love Kanye” are particularly representative of this concept. “Low Lights” delivers a spoken word performance that, astoundingly, blurs the line between Kanye and God. “I Love Kanye,” while definitely the most obvious track on the album, is the most interesting. “What if Kanye made a song about Kanye, . . . Yo, that’d be SO Kanye!” Kanye raps, at the end laughing at the line “I love you more than Kanye loves Kanye”.

Kanye believes in himself, but more importantly, Kanye believes in you. In his Saturday Night Live performance of “Ultralight Beam” he smiles gleefully during Chance’s rap and Kelly Price’s solo, like a proud father. TLOP, with at least a dozen features, is a celebration of Kanye but also a celebration of some of the most talented people in the music industry today. Musically, TLOP is excellent. “Waves”, featuring Chris Brown, is expansive and totally immersive. “Wolves” delivers an exciting surprise; at the end we hear the voice of Frank Ocean, a lone wolf himself, coming out of the woods in a rare and highly anticipated appearance. TLOP is loaded with talent, but it’s also a statement loaded with controversy. The album, just like Kanye himself, is an outrageous expression of talent and self-love.

Evelyn Goessling, Staff Writer

It’s Kanye’s world, we’re just living in it. After four name changes, a near-dystopian fashion show and a last minute postponement (#BlameChance), TLOP is finally here, and man, is it weird. TLOP is easily Kanye’s most diverse record to date. Every track feels meticulously crafted to give us every possible side of Kanye in 2016. We get the old Kanye (the chop up the soul Kanye) on tracks like “No More Parties in LA” and “Real Friends.” We get hell-raising, scorched-earth trap fireworks on “FACTS” and “Father Stretch My Hands.” Still, there are songs like “Wolves” and “Fade” that sound like nothing he’s ever done before. It’s a mess at times, but man is it a beautiful one.

It’s become common knowledge that Kanye records always have great features, but TLOP might feature his best supporting cast yet. Kendrick Lamar slays over a slippery Madlib beat on the aforementioned “No More Parties in LA.” Somehow, Kanye lured Frank Ocean out of whatever cave he’s been hiding in to deliver a scene-stealing turn on “Wolves.” And then there’s Chance, the new king of Chicago hip hop, who delivers what must be the best verse on the record on “Ultralight Beam.” Chance deserves additional credit for saving “Waves,” a towering pop-rap monolith that might just be TLOP’s best song.

Fans put up with a lot of shit from Kanye. To be honest, he seems like a crazy person most of the time. But then he puts out a record that makes all the twitter rants and the egomaniacal ranting somehow manageable. The Life of Pablo is one of those records. It was well worth the wait. 

Eric Noble-Marks, Staff Writer

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