Kanye West showcases production skills, new direction on ‘The Life of Pablo’| Album Review

Kanye West’s seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo, can only be described as “very Kanye.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Kanye West preceded the release of this album with some borderline crazy Twitter rants, which stirred up a lot of controversy. West changed the name of his album three times, beginning with So Help Me God, which then transitioned to Swish, then Waves and, finally, TLOP, which was later revealed to be The Life of Pablo.

West finally premiered the initial release two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden during the fashion show for his Yeezy Season 3 collection. Martin Shkreli, owner of the $2 million Wu-Tang album (and, let’s face it, a generally awful human), offered Kanye $10 million for rights to the album, which delayed the release even longer. For days, fans waited for the album to be released in full only to find out that West planned to only drop it on Tidal, a $20-a-month streaming service owned by the likes of West, Jay-Z, Beyonce and more music industry elites. This inspired 500,000+ illegal downloads in just two days, and West’s legal team is now considering suing PirateBay for this.

Despite all of this nonsense, I gave The Life of Pablo a listen and I wasn’t disappointed. As a dedicated Kanye fan since the days of College Dropout, I was initially worried about this album. My favorite Kanye era is 2007’s Graduation, and though his style has changed, my love for his work has only appreciated.

With this album, West combined the industrial sound of his post-808s releases with the raw, old school rap style that made him famous. The Life of Pablo lands at a culmination of his career so far, while still advancing the genre of hip-hop musically, and it sets itself apart as a gospel album for the new age.

At the first listen, TLOP didn’t necessarily match my expectations for the direction Kanye would take. It’s an album that grows on you, and it helps create a deeper understanding between the listener and Kanye. Music is halfway what the artist intends it to be, and halfway what the listener interprets it as, and I feel this album was a really special experience in that way. It shows a darker side of West as slowly revealed over his past three releases.

The very first song, “Ultralight Beam,” may very well be the best track on the album. Its soulfulness transcends the listener by the first note and features verses from fellow Chicago artist Chance the Rapper, renowned gospel artist Kirk Franklin and a backup choir. West’s production really shines through and creates a spiritual experience for the listener. My favorite part was Kirk Franklin’s verse, with lyrics like, “you can never go too far where you can’t come back home again.”

The flow of the album is rather interesting; the first half progresses along nicely and is even somewhat thematically connected. At times, the second half seems a little incohesive, but it’s not distracting. The Life of Pablo isn’t intended to be a concept album, and its organization makes sense when one considers the hectic life Kanye has created for himself.

TLOP has a crazy amount of features, which may be more than any of his previous work. The Weeknd stood out as an important addition, as well as Kid Cudi and G.O.O.D. Music’s newest, Desiigner. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Rick Rubin and Cashmere Cat even helped in production. With this album, Kante showcased a large network of talent and ability to bring the industry together.

West went back to his roots with the beats on “Famous,” “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in LA” and juxtaposed them with the futuristic beats in tracks like “Feedback” and “FML.” TLOP shows off West’s full of range of abilities rather than honing in on one specific sound.

One of the album’s stranger moments comes with “I Love Kanye,” a track that’s created a lot of buzz on the internet. At first, it seems like a narcissistic rant, but at a closer look it’s more of an analysis of the “Kanye” persona, and how, through his fame, he’s created a character that’s been put on a pedestal. He almost pokes fun at himself while still injecting the cocky attitude he’s well-known for.

The album highlights were “Ultralight Beam,” “Feedback” and “Waves” followed closely by “Father Stretch Out My Hands Pt.2,” “Highlights,” “FML,” “Real Friends” and “Wolves.”

The beat on “Feedback” uses actual feedback and spins it into a Death Grips-esque sound. It’s proof Kanye West is still ahead of the game and doing things no one else has thought of doing.

“Waves,” a well-constructed and emotionally affecting track, follows the gospel theme of the album with hard-hitting beats and genius lyrics like “sun don’t shine in the shade, bird can’t fly in a cage.” Although the song only has one line, it represents the crossover of “old” and “new” Kanye.

“FML” is an extraordinary track, from Kanye’s verse to The Weeknd’s feature to the eerie beats at the end. This song in particular showcases the direction West seems to be taking with most of his new G.O.O.D. Friday releases and, hopefully, his future music.

The subtlety of the backbeat and backing vocals in “Wolves” really contrasts with Kanye’s bleak delivery of the verse. It’s strange and enticing.

“Freestyle 4” was my least favorite; it seemed a bit rushed, like a filler track that could have been left out.

The only truly disappointing parts to me were some of Kanye’s verses. As many clever parts as there were, there were also some unnecessarily sexist lines, such as his Taylor Swift diss, the part in “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” that I probably don’t even have to elaborate on for you and pretty much everything in “Freestyle 4.” Considering TLOP was otherwise prophetic, I couldn’t listen to those parts without being angry because they were unnecessary. West’s view on women is a separate topic, but I felt the addition of these lines took away from the integrity of the gospel album.

Overall, The Life of Pablo proves that Kanye West is still one of the most innovative artists of our time. It’s slightly confusing in nature, but it accurately reflects the head space West inhabited in the making of this work. In a way, this album is a self-portrait of Kanye West and a step towards the future for popular music. It’s a different direction for the artist, but it will go down as just as great of a work as anything else he’s released.

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To contact Lifestyles editor Tanner Dedmon email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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  1. February 26, 2016

    I think that releasing the album on Tidal was a bad idea. It seems like all of these big-name artists are getting behind Tidal and want it to work, but the truth is that a lot of people just aren’t going to pay for music streaming. Personally, I don’t want to sign up for Tidal because there’s not enough content on there for me to be interested in. I think that if Kanye West is actually in as much debt as he says he’s in, it’s because of investments like this. As far as the actual album – Some of it is a bit too much for me, but I really enjoyed 30 hours. The bittersweet lyrics and groovy beat go together very well. I also disliked Freestyle 4. It sounded a lot like some of the things that Kanye West likes to say on Twitter, and most of it was generally disrespectful. This is how Kanye West went from being a star to being a superstar. He did things to make people love him AND hate him. To summarize, I’m not surprised that Kanye is literally begging people to get Tidal, and I was somewhat pleased by this album.

    March 18, 2016

    I can’t really understand all the hype about this album. Kanye has taken so long to release The Life of Pablo, with so many release dates already pushed back, that this should be a top of the line album as opposed to a giant Tidal advertisement. I will admit that I did signup for the free month of tidal just so i could hear this album, but with that said I also made plenty sure to turn off the auto renew, as I already subscribe to Spotify premium and Spotify is a much better platform; but back to Kanye. The Life of Pablo sounded like a very sophomoric effort, and definitely not an album that has been many years in the making, so much so even that he might as well have released it as a mixtape on Datpiff. On top of all of that, parts of the album don’t even feel completed much less mastered, but Kanye’s surprised that over five hundred thousand people illegally downloaded it online! maybe if Kanye wants to get out of that fifty million dollar whole of debt that he’s accrued he should actually put out finished content on to a platform that people are actually willing to pay for, like a digital download, or vinyl, even just Spotify, but more importantly anything other than premierly and only Tidal. Maybe he should also stop investing in a clothing line that looks like he stole some clothes from a homeless person, and maybe Kanye can even start acting like the genius he touts himself to be.