By Taryn Kracinski
In his conflicted, self-proclaimed “gospel album”, the artist exercises his creative genius and revisits old techniques for a record that’s undeniably rogue and undeniably Kanye.
In an age where an artist’s persona is more powerful than their art, Kanye West has mastered the art of distracting the world from his creative process. His recent twitter tirades are as controversial as they come, his ongoing feuds with paparazzi make weekly appearances in the headlines, and his God complex is part of why your mother probably doesn’t approve of you listening to him. But however unpredictable his personal life may be, West never fails to deliver musically.
Pablo is the much anticipated follow up to 2013’s Yeezus, a project promised to make its debut more times than you can count. West’s most prominent song released in between the two albums was a collaboration with Paul McCartney in 2014: Only One, a lullaby sung to his daughter from the perspective of his late mother, exemplifies the unique song structure that West has become known for, a method he employs on his latest work.
The opening track, “Ultralight Beam”, was penned by West (the lead writer on every song) and Chicago’s Chance the Rapper, who delivers a standout verse. It is one of the finest tracks included on Pablo, not for West’s trademark arrogance, but for his humility. Perhaps more than anyone he knows that the name Kanye West is not synonymous with grand vocal ability, and he excels in a very specific brand of rap; in “Ultralight Beam”, and the great majority of his album, the artist allows singers of all genres, rappers, producers, and even pastors to contribute their voice. West’s lyrical genius is powerful, but with Chance’s effortless devil-may-care tone, Chris Brown’s crashing chorus on “Waves”, and Rihanna’s rendition of a Nina Simone hit on “Famous” among others, his words are taken to an other-worldly level.
Much like his previous work, West affirms his title of sampling maven, blending classic hooks like Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” on “Famous” and Whodini’s “Friends” on the melancholy “Real Friends”. The latter is the album’s most reflective and honest songs. Amid a dreamy piano riff and intermittent beat, West raps about his regrettable actions towards friends who maybe weren’t really friends after all (‘When was the last time I remembered a birthday?/When was the last time I wasn’t in a hurry?’), creating an ensuing musical dialogue with Ty Dolla $ign, who sings from the perspective of West’s former companions (‘Even when we was young I used to make time/Now we too busy just to make time/Even for my real friends’).
West’s latest work shows glimpses of the personality underneath his persona on “30 Hours” and “Pt. 2”, both of which contemplate failed relationships. Narrating the struggles of long distance (‘you had me drivin’ far enough to switch the time zone/ you was the best of all time at the time though/ yeah, you wasn’t mine though’), and owning up to less than admirable behavior (“up in the morning, miss you bad/sorry I ain’t called you back/same problem my father had”), West shares in the plight of his listeners, almost including them in his art.
Sure it has its vulgar moments and a fair share of autotune, but the creativity displayed on Pablo outshines the downsides. Maybe Kanye wasn’t wrong when he claimed “I may not be skinny or tall, but I’ll settle for being the greatest of all time as a consolation”.