Well, it’s finally here. After three years of intense anticipation from his fans, rapper Kanye West released a live stream of his new album being played live in front of a stuffed audience at Madison Square Garden, “The Life of Pablo,” through the music streaming service Tidal Thursday afternoon. If you’re not a West fan, you’re probably asking how an artist can literally sell out a stadium to fans who want to watch him…listen to his own music. Believe me when I say it’s worth it.
Although the stream started about 30 minutes late and suffered through a few moments of needing the page to be refreshed, “The Life of Pablo” draws from both the rising darkness found in modern hip hop production, along with the edginess of 2013’s “Yeezus” and the cold atmosphere of “808s and Heartbreak.”
The final product: something that’s simultaneously frantic like The Weeknd, contemplative like Theophilus London, but with West’s typically self-aware and in-your-face delivery.
It’s hard to keep evolving from sound to sound, as West has done from each album he’s released, but somehow “The Life of Pablo” has a unique blend of claustrophobia, livelihood and rawness to it. The album combines the strengths of 2008’s “808s and Heartbreak,” “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” “Yeezus” and the darkness of the Weeknd (who makes a feature appearance on “FML”) to make such a visceral, memorable and different experience from everything else you’ve ever heard – and you’ll love it.
“Freestyle 4” in particular showcases West at his finest, with both an industrial heartbeat-like backing track complementing his fast, cocky vocals much like a more raw, but minimalist “Black Skinhead.”
That’s not the say the album doesn’t have convincing, relatable or even vulnerable moments. “Real Friends” and “Wolves” – the album’s closing tracks – transition into each other quite beautifully and perfectly encapsulate the simultaneous feelings of bliss, anxiety and foreboding that comes with being a high profile figure.
The latter song also features a memorable cameo from Frank Ocean. You don’t even have to get far in the album to be hooked: “Ultra Light Beams,” a gospel-meets-cool house intro track, featuring a slick verse from Chance the Rapper, is one of West’s most memorable beginnings to an album.
Sometimes West’s message doesn’t come across in the most flattering way. Take how he talks about his wife in “Highlights,” when he says, “I think me and Ray-J might have been friends, if we didn’t love the same bitch.” Even if lines like these are supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, it’s still pretty deplorable that he’d refer to his wife so possessively like that.
It’s practically cringeworthy on “Famous,” when West declares, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex. Why? I made that bitch famous,” referring to when he infamously interrupted her acceptance of an award at the VMAs in 2009. We may not ever hear the same kind of socially conscious West that we heard a decade ago talk about the evils of materialism in “The College Dropout.”
Moreover, “The Life of Pablo,” as what was released through Tidal, is a fairly brief album, with just about 30 to 40 minutes worth of content. Fans looking for something akin to “Late Registration” or “The College Dropout” will be disappointed, as the songs go by really quickly.
This slightly diminishes the album’s enjoyability, especially because many are already disappointed with its exclusion of the well received “All Day” and “No More Parties in L.A.” (which had Madlib and Kendrick Lamar). Nonetheless, only time will tell if the Tidal listening party version of the album is actually its final version or not.
“The Life of Pablo” has so much to discuss that I can’t really give it a complete grade based on how it compares to the rest of West’s material. It would take me weeks until I could give a fair review, though my first overall impression is that while I still immensely enjoyed the tracks, the album is probably on the more experimental side, akin to “Yeezus.”
That said, it’s sure as hell is a good sign that even 12 years after he released “The College Dropout,” Mr. West has still got this die-hard fan wanting to hear more.