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Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

18 February, 2016 — by Christopher Ratcliff0

It’s getting harder and harder to remain a Kanye West fan. You have to put up with so goddamn much. And it’s not just you putting up with him, his presence is so pervasive that it’s the whole world and your mum who has to sit and listen to his various stupid comments and form their own understandably negative opinion of him whether they’ve listened to any of his music or not.

On record Kanye has never been less than brilliant. Delivering soulful production on Jay-Z’s best work and mastering solid-gold seductive hip-hop on his own records before moving on to the way-ahead-of-its-time electro-pop of 808s & Heartbreak, the peerless majesty of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the abrasive anti-pop of Yeezus. The man has made some of the most interesting, vulnerable and crowd-pleasing records of this century.

And in life outside the recording studio, Kanye has never been anything less then entertaining. My favourite quote: “My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live.” His most brilliant moment: standing next to Mike Myers and straight-up saying “George Bush doesn’t like black people.” His worst moments: where to even begin? The Taylor Swift interruption, telling a music critic to kill himself, countless 10-minue long tirades that grind almost every single one of his gigs to a halt.

Love him or hate him, the world would be a much less interesting place without Kanye. It’s just a shame he’s the person on Earth most fully aware of this fact.

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Over the last 10 years you could happily separate the man from the music, ultimately because his music was just so damn good, and for all intents and purposes every album wiped the slate clean.

But lately? Holy hell, Kanye is testing the patience of the most ardent Kanye apologist.

Forgetting the farcically botched release of his new album The Life of Pablo, this is what you’ve had to put up with over just the last few weeks: a proclamation that Bill Cosby is innocent, begging Mark Zuckerberg to spot him $1 billion so he can become this generation’s Disney, deriding San Francisco entrepreneurs for building schools in Africa instead of supporting his schemes, telling white people they can’t talk about his music anymore, positing that ‘bitch’ is an endearing term in hip-hop…

It’s getting harder to separate ‘public Kanye’ from ‘creative Kanye’. On the run-up to the release of The Life of Pablo it felt like nothing could undo the damage of his current press cycle. Even those publications that saw past his horseshit still couldn’t review it as glowingly as Kanye could himself…

Even putting all of the above aside, when finally sitting down and actually listening to The Life of Pablo there’s still so much you have to be ‘okay with’ in order to appreciate it… let alone actively enjoy it.

  • – You have to be okay with subscribing to Tidal.
  • – You have to be okay with Kanye’s obsessive tinkering. The Life of Pablo is an exclusive to Tidal (apparently forever) and may never be released in a physical format, so you can be sure that the tracks you know and listen to right now will be reworked and re-uploaded whenever the whim takes him.
  • – You have to be okay with Kanye West taking credit for and wrongfully undermining Taylor Swift’s success in one of Kanye’s more ill-advised lyrics of recent years, “I feel like me and Taylor could still have sex, why? I made that bitch famous.” It’s an asshole comment and totally unfounded.
  • – You have to be okay with the way he talks about women. As much as Kanye back-pedals and suggests that “bitches is a term of endearment” this does not wash, and it’s certainly not up to Kanye West to decide what women should and shouldn’t be offended by.
  • – You have to be okay with the way he talks about his own wife, “I bet me and Ray J would be friends if we didn’t love the same bitch. Yeah, he might have hit it first. Only problem is I’m rich.” It’s a fat-headed, arrogant comment that’s remarkably only the second most quease-inducing moment on the album.
  • – You have to be okay with a lot of auto-tune. Standard.
  • – You have to be okay with Kanye’s use of a Nina Simone sample. I don’t personally believe that some artists should be more sacred than others, but if you’re the sort to rail against his recent Bowie comments than this won’t do your blood pressure any good either.
  • – You have to be okay with the presence of Chris Brown. This is the foremost quease-inducing moment.
  • – You have to be okay with Kanye talking about himself incessantly. Standard.
  • – You have to be okay with there being no major bangers, just lots of interesting samples and production that take time to wheedle their way into your head.
  • – You have to be okay with a lyric about Young Thug wishing his dick had a GoPro so he could “play that shit back slo-mo.”
  • – You have to be okay with 18 tracks of this. Probably more (or less) by the time you’ve finished reading.

So if you’re totally cool with all of the above and you can put it all inside a box marked ‘Imma let Kanye have one more break’, then there is some endlessly fascinating work on The Life of Pablo. I’ve listened to it constantly since its release last weekend and I’ve found it utterly compelling; far more than anything else in my current playlist. It just makes everything else seem so bland.

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The Life of Pablo sways between movements with a restless energy, that somehow feels completely logical. ‘Freestyle 4’ with its sexually histrionic lyrics spat over a gorgeous Goldfrapp sample, slips beautifully into the a cappella ‘I Love Kanye’ which proves he’s far more self-aware than anyone gives him credit for and is followed by Kanye’s most accessible track for years, the euphorically captivating ‘Waves’.

‘FML’ is a beautifully considered tribute to his wife, and you can mock all you want but Kanye West loves the shit out of Kim Kardashian. The track also features The Weeknd’s gorgeously intoned support and a tuneless distorted demonic voice straight out of a Dario Argento soundtrack. That’s when it gets really good.

This is followed by another sumptuously produced, heartfelt work ‘Real Friends’, and then by ‘Wolves’. Holy shit, ‘Wolves’ is good. The sample of the angelic voice oscillating wildly in the background is the oddest thing ever and I am totally on board with it. ‘Feedback’ is another smash, clearly indebted to Kendrick Lamar’s brand of poetic swagger. It’s rich, crunchingly aggressive and ends with a frankly hilarious imitation of Oprah.

The production and arrangement of The Life of Pablo is phenomenal, there’s no denying it. Kanye’s vocals are never less than interesting especially when pushing the limits of what’s tolerable, and holy hell can Kanye surround himself with excellent collaborators, who he always manages to get the very best from.

It’s not for the faint hearted, or the easily offended, or the casual hip-hop fan or even the casual Kanye fan (of which I imagine there aren’t many left). In this respect it’s similar to Kendrick Lamar’s all-conquering To Pimp a Butterfly in the way it does its own goddamn thing without a care for what you think of it. It’s Kanye uncensored and vulnerable. It’s magnificent. It’s fascinating. And as tempting as it is to say “for the love of god, Kanye, will you just shut the fuck for one minute” I think deep down I don’t really want him to.

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