By Andrew Ho
The latest Kanye West album has been a hot topic for almost everyone. Over the past two years, The Life of Pablo has managed to garner attention from big players like The Rolling Stone and Pitchfork to non specific review-aggregators like The Verge and Metacritic. Even tabloids like USA Today and The Guardian have discussed this release. These news sources and review agencies have all been eager to contribute to the reception of Kanye’s new album, as he’s grown to become not just a top hip-hop artist of our generation, but arguably one of the most popular personas of our time. The expectations for Kanye, someone who has been active for twenty years, who has adopted and transcended multiple identities in hip hop community (i.e. the producer, the lyricist, the ghost writer, the feature…), is undeniably high. Having been involved with every step of the album’s production, Kanye has been able to provide his listeners with a little bit of everything we expect from him, such as flaunting his ability to lay down the tracks, write lyrics, choreograph videos, and finding excellent and relevant features. He has even taken the task of promoting his work on release day, which eventually caused a very cyberpunk-ish launch-day hiccup regarding the digital-only release of the work.
Admittedly for Kanye, all this hip-hop stuff would come easy to him. Unlike his prior works, Kanye is not attempting to change hip-hop’s status quo. In Life of Pablo, he is reflective, as he is taken aback by all that he has contributed to the industry. He details in I Love Kanye, an interlude, the blood, sweat, tears, and heart he’s put in for the industry as he personifies hip-hop as himself. Kanye goes between being boisterous to being calm and reflective. Ultralight Beam and Father Stretch My Hand, Pt. 1 are undeniably gospel-like. But soon after, Kanye defaults to trap, the industry standard as of late. To keep the listener interested, he creates a narrative with interludes, a lost art of some sorts due to changes in listening habits. Additionally, he does not shy away from making popular culture references, from mentioning Oprah’s seemingly philanthropic nature, to models bleaching assholes, to rapping about the sneaker craze that is bigger than ever.
At this stage of his career, one of Kanye’s biggest strengths are the connections he has within the industry. Manifested in Life of Pablo, this means that for every track there is a never-ending list of features. Because of his status as an innovator, many are eager to work with him. He has the latest and greatest features: Desiigner, Chance the Rapper, Young Thug, Chris Brown, The Weeknd, Ty Dolla Sign, Post Malone, Metro Boomin’, Boi 1da, and Kendrick Lamar. Yet, he is not ashamed to work with some of the more forgotten names too: Havoc from Mobb Deep, Kid Cudi, Madlib, and Swizz Beats. He even has access to production legends like Rick Rubin and uses all these talents to their fullest potential. Ultimately, in The Life of Pablo, Kanye proves that he has mastery over his sound. It is his ability to strike a balance between an amateurish and refined sound which makes it even remotely acceptable that he and Picasso are mentioned within the same sentence.