Kanye West is a man.
Despite his god complex, and its translation into his music (particularly on Yeezus) the most compelling of his music, and his persona, remains that he is terribly human. While in past albums, disparate aspects of Kanye’s have manifested with stunning coherence, The Life of Pablo presents Ye at his most discomfiting, irreprehensible, confusing, and captivating. There is a method to his madness, hard as it may be to see at times.
The soundscape on TLOP is the beauty in the insanity here; it brims with the diversity and magnificence Kanye perfected on MBDTF. Sounds rise, meld and fall within the same song, and across the album. A highly simplistic description of the interplay of music here would be that it accentuates the electronica of Yeezus with the grand atmospherics of Graduation, and then injects the concoction with the gospel qualities of College Dropout. Kanye is evidently a still-eager student of music. In its intricacies, TLOP balances aggression with harmony; tempers stadium sounds with gorgeous melodies. Much like the man himself, the music is restless and dynamic, pausing only to reveal the scale of Ye’s vision in a few stunning minutes. The shifts in sound are distinct, tailored with an attention to detail that, in the hands of less gifted orchestrators, would succumb to incongruity. Chaos is prevalent on The Life of Pablo’s production, but not contradiction. It’s scattershot, but rarely messy.
It is in the lyrics themselves that the many cracks in Kanye’s mind, and possibly soul, present themselves most evidently. More so than any of his previous work, the tears in Kanye’s ego are showing. The more bombastic and irreverent his boasts get, the more obviously are his insecurities revealed. Most evident on Real Friends and 30 Hours, Kanye retreats further and further into his anxieties while shielding himself from himself with almost-repulsive narcissism. His now-infamous misogynistic brag on Famous, (“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous”) sheds light on a complicated equation with Taylor Swift; his demonization following his first encounter with the ‘victimized’ Swift still plays on his mind, and he’s desperately clutching at straws to prove her apparent relegation to secondary character status. It’s impossible to sympathize with his sentiments, but overlooking the deeper layers to this seemingly-straightforward lyrics is a disservice to the complexities of Kanye’s music.
Simultaneously, Ye is music’s foremost purveyor of disarming honesty. He openly shares his failings, his boasts an enforced foil to his grapplings with the self. Particularly on the second half of the album, Kanye is at his vulnerable best(or is it worst?). FML and Real Friends are some of the most candid he’s been about his mistakes and anger. You can hear the frustration in his voice, tinged with odd resolve – he could fuck his life up, but he won’t ever conform. This adamance, this perceived arrogance, is what has made him a much-reviled figure. But there is something admirable about a man who creates incredible music through his trials; someone so sure of his craft that the noise of a million dissenters does not drown out his own thoughts.
As the final track on the album, Fade, plays, the vocal sample asserts that “your love is fading” in a masterstroke of meta-reference. Kanye is aware of his image in the public eye, an image even his staunchest fans can’t always defend. And that’s his reality. The Life of Pablo is the rawest manifestation of Kanye’s abstraction. It is his worst, and his best, grating each other and swirling in terrible splendour in turns. This projects cements Kanye’s status as the most fascinating musician alive; the opposite of manufactured marketing, and an almost solitary spark of exciting conversation in music. It brings together every such part of Kanye, and presents it to the listener with no pretense.
The Life of Pablo is unadulterated auditory insanity. It’s Kanye off his Lexapro, yet still somehow in control. And I fucking dare you to look away.