Though I’m not as big of a hip-hop enthusiast as many of my friends, I do claim to be a pretty big Kanye fan. The extent of my devotion is a bit more casual than most, and I’d be lying if I said I’d heard—let alone loved—every song, but I respect and admire him as a rapper and an artist, and I follow his undertakings rather faithfully.
So as you can imagine, I, like every other living and breathing human being with a taste in music, was incredibly eager for the release of The Life of Pablo, West’s seventh studio album. Even when he tweeted that Pablo would only be available on Tidal, a subscription-based music website that operates independently of literally every other streaming service I’m familiar with, I refused to lose faith and set right to work badgering my mom to let me use her PayPal account to set up a free trial (she finally conceded around two weeks after the album dropped, which should explain why this review is so late.)
Now, I can’t really speak for hip-hop heads (or music critics) everywhere, but I really, really liked Pablo. Best put by Rolling Stone, it was a “messy album that feels like it was made that way on purpose,” and although it was no My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, it was an enticing, unorthodox tour de force—a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
The Life of Pablo as a whole was a sharp contrast against West’s sixth album, Yeezus, which was all heavy bass line and abrasive autotuned electro-pop. Writhe with soulful chorales and a myriad of Biblical allusions, Pablo all at once manages to maintain West’s surly public persona while frequently juxtaposing it against intensely introspective vulnerability and emotional intimacy.
The first track, “Ultralight Beam,” features Kelly Price and Chance the Rapper and eases in with a sultry, gospel-choir feel, by far exceeding any preconceived notions I’d had. It was incredible, and I desperately wish I could go back in time just to listen to it again for the first time—yes, it was that good. It begins with what sounds like a mother in child in fervent, outreaching prayer, and broadens into West himself praying for peace and serenity, accompanied by musings from a gospel choir. Honestly, it was beautiful.
Almost, if not just as great, was track number 10, “Waves,” which is, in my humble and inexpert opinion, one of the best and most exquisite songs West has ever recorded. The chorus is sung by R&B artist Chris Brown, whom I have personally despised since somewhere circa 2009, but, God, if his performance isn’t incredible.
The song is only about three minutes long, so it’s of the sort that you can replay a couple of times without losing your desire to hear more—the first verse is a little aggressive, but the lyrics swiftly fade into a softer sense of what can almost be described as melancholy. It was ethereal.
Though “Waves” and “Ultralight Beam” are the two songs I’ve listened to most, the rest of the album was equally beautiful and striking, peppered with gems like “Famous” (the T-Swift name drop! oh my God!), Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1 (incredible! absolutely incredible!), and “FML” (I cried! I really did!) and featuring artists like Rihanna, Frank Ocean, and the Weeknd.
Overall, the album was a complete and utter revelation. It delivered the message that West himself has been trying to convey to the masses for years: he is an artist, he is more than his reputation, and, above all, he is human. I listened, I laughed, I cried, I understood. I loved it.