We’re approaching a year now since Kanye West presented his ‘So Help Me God’ single at The BRIT Awards and that legendary surprise show at KOKO. The album has had multiple album changes, including two in the past month alone – but last Kanye took over Madison Square Garden as the world watched to simultaneously present his seventh solo album ‘The Life Of Pablo’ and his third season of his YEEZY Season apparel line with adidas.
Having already pre-warned nobody to text or ask him for anything until Monday, the preoccupied Yeezus took to MSG donning his new ‘I Feel Like Pablo’ merchandise backed by creative director Virgil Abloh and the whole Kardashian clan decked out in all white – with platinum wigs – designed by Balmain’s Olivier Rousteing exclusively for Yeezy. After being joined by his G.O.O.D Music family - president Pusha T, Big Sean, Travi$ Scott and affiliates 2 Chainz, KiD CuDi, Vic Mensa and A$AP Rocky – he was ready to begin, pushing play on the opening track ‘Ultra Light Beams’ while a gigantic sheet shrouded the visuals that filled the centre of the gigantic stadium.
Kanye’s infamous Tweet about 'The Life Of Pablo' (then 'Waves') being a gospel album makes sense from the opening track ‘Ultra Light Beams’ which opens with an intro from what sounds like Nori, preaching and a melodic Kanye, as Tyler, The Creator-esque drums kick in. The-Dream hops on board to sing about trying to keep the faith before Mary J. Blige shows off her incredible vocal talents and Chance The Rapper contributes a verse that begins singing and ends rapping. Goispel singer Kirk Franklin closes the track with an outro and from the off it’s an all star affair – "Hallelujah" exclaims Nori, we concur!
The second track, ‘Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 & 2’ is of particular importance to Kanye, who Tweeted that he cried writing it. As the song begins, Vanessa Beecroft’s performance piece is unveiled with hundreds of models – including a few familiar faces, Naomi Campbell, Ian Connor and Young Thug – sporting Kanye’s latest line of adidas apparel that looks like it came straight from Jakku. The models all stand facing one way, some on a platform and some below on ground level – it feels defiant like a protest, and is the perfect visual accompaniment to the music. The Metro Boomin-produced track features guest vocals from KiD CuDi and a verse about a model with a bleached asshole which evokes laughs when Yeezy expresses concerns about the bleach getting on his T-Shirt – first world problems eh! The second part of the song contains an interpolation of ‘Panda’ a viral hit from G.O.O.D Music’s latest signee Desiigner.
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‘Freestyle 4’ sees Kanye going solo as he raps about those sleeping on him, admitting that he often shares his feelings at the wrong time and asking listeners to name one genius that isn’t crazy. It closes with some of the digital distortion that became a staple of Kanye’s sound on ‘Yeezus’. The following track, ‘Famous’, opens with vocals from Rihanna over a huge Swizz Beatz production. It also includes the controversial line in which he expresses his belief that he and Taylor Swift may engage in intercourse in the future due to the fact that he made her (“that b***h”) famous. While Kanye is certainly not new to misogyny and it’s made the headlines (which we’re guessing was the motivation), it’s surprising to hear from a happily married father of two, and certainly can’t have been comfortable to play with his wife’s whole family in the house.
The following song ‘High Lights’ contains another provocative line, this time – after wishing that he had a Go-Pro on his penis so that he could watch his bedroom activity back in slow motion – he suggests that he and Ray J (Kim’s ex and co-star of her infamous sex tape) would be friends if they didn’t love the same “b***h”, explaining that while Ray might have ‘Hit It First’ Kanye is richer and therefore got the girl. The-Dream contributes backing vocals and Young Thug joins in with a guest verse. A highlight, which appears between tracks, is a meta a capella in which Kanye expresses his love for himself, in an almost split personality verse about meeting the old Kanye in the pink polo, before ending with “I like you like Kanye loves Kanye”.
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The musicality, the controversy, the melody, the contradictions...
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Going against the latest draft tracklist that he recently shared on Twitter, he jumps over the Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign assisted ‘Fade’ which he had previously played during YEEZY Season 2, returning to the house-flavoured song that is sure to do some damage in the clubs this year, with it’s sample of Fingers Inc’s classic ‘Mystery Of Love’. The following track ‘FML’ saw The Weeknd returning the favour for the ‘Tell Your Friends’ instrumental that Kanye contributed to his latest LP, with a hook about how “Even though I always f**k my life up, only I can mention it.” As Kanye delivers an argumentative verse recalling an altercation with a former lover. Next up is ‘Real Friends’ which has already been on rotation for the past month, the second Ty Dolla $ign-assisted cut on the LP sounding great in the album’s overall context.
The album’s closer is perhaps it’s strongest track, and definitely the most anticipated. The initial carnation of ‘Wolves’ was played at the end of the first YEEZY Season launch and featured Sia and Vic Mensa. He later played the song during an iconic performance on SNL, but with almost a year of tinkering the final version contains an additional rap verse about protecting his children from the world’s wolves, and an outro from the ever elusive Frank Ocean, which sends shivers down the spine.
With the album coming to a close, Kanye grabs the mic for a short speech, reminding people that pulling off such a feat as we’ve just witnessed doesn’t come easy, regardless of fame. “We don’t think that Kanye”, exclaims one enthusiastic heckler to a rupture of laughter. Kanye thanks Vanessa Beecroft for putting together the performance, and adidas for covering the costs, before playing updated versions of ‘FACTS’, ‘Fade’ and ‘All Day’, stopping in between to ask the crowd not to disrespect Michael Jordan (he Tweeted earlier this week that his beef isn’t with the legendary basketball star, but Nike CEO Mark Parker). He then quite literally passes the aux chord – cutting ‘Fade’ before it’s even through – to play some new Young Thug, and afterwards Vic Mensa has a go of sharing some new material with the world.
Before he wraps, he shares imagery from a retro video game he’s been developing over the past year around the song ‘Only One’ which depicts his mother ascending to the gates of heaven on a unicorn. Well aware of the comical side to the vision he’s just shared, he reminds the crowd “It’s not easy to do man, y’all acting like this shit regular. If you’re going to be an artist you just have to do what’s in your heart,” he trails off a little. “I mean, it’s the number one shoe. Number one Christmas present.” After thanking Kirk Franklin, Kelly Price, El DeBarge, Rihanna, The-Dream, KiD CuDi and Post Malone for their contributions. He leaves, handing the aux chord to Virgil Abloh to play the crowd out, without any word of when we can get copies of this magnificent new record.
While his last album ‘Yeezus’ took signature elements from throughout Kanye’s career ans minimised them to the point where we were just getting a tiny dose of what we wanted from each aspect, ‘The Life Of Pablo’ is going to please a lot more ears than the experimental electronic punk of it’s predecessor. Whether you love Kanye for the soul samples, the curation of sounds, the minimalism, the maximalism, the musicality, the controversy, the melody, the contradictions – it’s all there to be experienced on ‘The Life Of Pablo’.
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Words: Grant Brydon