So, let's get three things out of the way first:
1. The Life of Pablo was made available to stream on Tidal early Sunday morning. It, apparently, will not officially be for sale for another week. By the time you read this, it will be (at the earliest) Monday afternoon. Between then and now, I've listened to it somewhere between eight and 13 times. The first time was through my laptop while in a hotel room in Connecticut. The last time was while in my car. These were different experiences.
2. If you are reading this review of this 36-hour-old album from perhaps the world's most polarizing artist — a review written by someone you know will not be particularly objective — I presume that at least one of the following things are true:
A) You are here because you want to know how I feel about the album
B) You are here because you want a space to express how you feel about the album
C) You are here because you want to venture into the comments and read what others have to say about the album
D) You are here because you just enjoy reading what I write (If this is true, thanks!)
E) You are here because, well, you're just always here at VSB
Notably absent from this list? Reading this review to determine whether you should listen to the album. Which, ultimately, is the point of a review, to allow the reader to determine if the entity being reviewed is worth their time and money. Yet, I do not believe this will happen here. Because both the artist and the art being reviewed are so polarizing that anyone reading this has either already listened to it or made up their mind about whether they'll eventually listen to it.
3. In the weeks leading up to the release of The Life of Pablo, Kanye's behavior on Twitter has become increasingly erratic. Leading some to even suggest he's likely suffering from some sort of mental illness. Many of the Kanye-related pieces written this week will center themselves around that behavior. This will not. It's not that I don't care about that. I just don't care as much about it as many other people pretend to.
Anyway, although the ability to be objective about Kanye West's music is not a quality I possess, the ability to be aware of this lack of objectivity is one I do. Because of that, this song-by-song review of The Life of Pablo will actually be two reviews; one for those who are fans of Kanye West and his music, and one for those who are not.
The Life of Pablo begins with a track that is one of the five or six best songs to ever appear on a Kanye West album. It is worth watching the performance on SNL, listening to the studio version on your laptop or with your headphones, listening to it in a car, and listening to it in a club.
(My favorite part of this performance? How happy Kanye is during Chance's verse)
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes. There are so many elements here to enjoy that a person who does not find at least one is actively attempting to find reasons not to.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Are you fucking kidding me? I mean, did you hear Chance's verse???
"Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" and "Pt. 2"
Grouping these tracks together because they're the same song and there's no real reason for them to be split into two. Also, them inexplicably being split into two tells you everything you really need to know about them, because they feel, for lack of a better term, unfinished. This is the rough draft of a better paper instead of that better paper.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Probably not.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? You might not skip it, but it won't be your favorite song on the album.
Although it is far from The Life of Pablo's best song, it will be its most talked about. Because Rihanna covers Nina Simone on the hook. Because the Rihanna hook plus the beat, produced in part by Swizz Beatz, should make this a radio and club banger. And because it ends with with a psychedelic medley of "Bam Bam," Sister's Nancy's reggae standard.
But mostly because of the first four bars:
For all my Southside niggas that know me best
I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex
Why? I made that bitch famous (God damn)
I made that bitch famous
Why Kanye felt the need to include these lines in this song is perplexing. Because for a person whose entire post MBDTF-persona has been crouched in a frustration of not being understood and/or appreciated, this reference to Taylor Swift is a thumb in the eye of anyone attempting to understand and/or appreciate him. It's a boyfriend sincerely begging for forgiveness while texting his girlfriend from his side chick's phone.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? No. In fact, songs like this are probably why you're not a fan of Kanye West. You might love the beat and Rihanna's hook, but you will hate everything else.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes, but you will grow tired of defending it, which might make you not enjoy it anymore.
One notable thing about The Life of Pablo is that there are obvious creative allusions to each Kanye album preceding it. You hear some College Dropout here, some Yeezus there, some 808s here, some Late Registration there. "Feedback," for instance, harkens back to the electro stadium vibe of Graduation. It feels like a second cousin of "Stronger" or a prequel to "Flashing Lights."
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? I don't know with this one.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes, you will.
I do not know why this song is here. Not saying it's a bad listen, I just don't know why this song is on this album. If it were an intro to a better song — which is what it sounds like — I'd feel differently about it. But it is not.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? You might, actually.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Unless you are on one of those long road trips where you don't skip any songs, you will skip this.
This was the first song Kanye performed on SNL last weekend. I'm not going to bother embedding that performance because I hated it. The studio version, however, is cleaner, clearer, and better. This also feels like it could have been on Graduation, as it's ultimately an updated version of "The Good Life."
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? If you liked the "The Good Life," you might like this.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? "The Good Life" is my least favorite popular Kanye song. But, I recognize that other Kanye fans seem to enjoy it, so I'll say yes. It will not be your favorite song, though. If The Life of Pablo is a bottomless brunch buffet, "Highlights" is the vegetable medley.
Although Kanye has never been the best lyricist, there is one aspect of lyricism that he might actually be one of the best ever at. He is funny. Consistently and legitimately (and, often, darkly) funny. Sometimes this humor is due to a surprisingly clever turn of phrase. And sometimes it's because the clever turn of phrase expressed a idea or an image so ridiculous you couldn't help but laugh. And sometimes it's because of his unhinged lucidity; often articulated through non sequitur.
Yet, this humor remains underrated. Because, unfortunately, much of it is focused on women or sex in some way. And this type of attention — which, at this point in his career, is disturbing — consistently obscures his best lyrical quality. Humor gets less humorous if the same thing is the butt of every joke.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? No. You will hate it, actually.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes. If you're still a fan of Kanye West in 2016, you very much enjoy these types of songs, but you also wish you wished he'd stop making them.
"I Love Kanye"
Re-read everything I just said. But now imagine that, instead of women, he jokes on himself, how he's perceived, and the people possessing certain perceptions of him.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes.
The third and last instance of the Graduation-ish stadium music — also, it feels like a much happier version of Yeezus's "Hold My Liquor" — "Waves" is a soaring, vigorous, and exuberant track featuring like three seconds of Kanye and the best I've ever heard from Chris Brown.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? If you like this type of music, yes.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes. It'll be one of your favorite songs.
If you loved Yeezus, you'll love this. If you didn't, you probably won't. But you still might.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Maybe if it were performed by someone other than Kanye West, but I think this is a tad too esoteric and inaccessible for those who aren't fans to plow through. Especially the last minute of the song.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? It depends on how you felt about Yeezus.
If My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and 808s and Heartbreak had a baby, and that baby was babysat by Drake, this would be it. It's probably the album's easiest song to relate to and enjoy. This is the Kanye you let your parents and your accountant listen to.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes, probably.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Eh. Maybe? I don't know. I mean, you will, but it wouldn't be one of your favorites.
I've been waiting to hear a studio version of this song for a year now. And now I'm disappointed it doesn't include Sia. I still love it, though.
Also, related, this song confirms Kanye's status as a high fashion hotep.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? No. It might even give you nightmares.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Again, it depends on how you felt about Yeezus. I loved that, so I love this.
"Silver Surfer Intermission"
Certain things need to be left in the 90s: Karl Kani belts. Ford expeditions. The Clinton family. Stacey Dash. And interludes from people in prison on rap albums is one of them.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? This isn't even a song.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? This isn't even a song.
For those who believe this album still needs some seasoning, this song is your best evidence. It's actually a good song, but it's a song that needs to conclude an album, not one you make the 15th track on an 18 track album. This isn't an Easter egg after the credits, it's the credits rolling with 17 minutes left in the movie.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes, but you will be confused about its placement.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes, but you will be confused about its placement.
"No More Parties in LA"
This is about as boom-boppish a track as you'll ever find on a Kanye album. Not only does it feature a recycled Ghostface hook (he used it already on Cruel Summer's "New God Flow"), but it actually sounds like it could live on a Wu album. Both Kendrick and Kanye kill it. And Kanye even brings back some of the Late Registration-ey "I'm going to spaz just to prove to people I can actually rap" Kanye.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? If you love "real hip-hop" you will enjoy this song.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes.
I hated this song so much when I first heard it that I devoted an entire piece to it. But between then and now, it had a makeover. And not just a "new shoes and a makeup tutorial" makeover. But a Rachel Dolezal to Rihanna makeover. I know that seems ridiculous — no one in the history of history has ever transformed themselves that drastically — but that's how much better the production on the album version of "Facts" is. I can not wait for the summer to get here. Just so I can listen to it, loudly and obnoxiously, everywhere I go.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Yes. If you like beats that fucking bang and kinda, sorta make you want to fight someone, you will love this. Trust me. Actually, don't trust me. Go and listen to it.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Hell fucking yes.
Kanye concludes The Life of Pablo with a song that seems to try to congeal every single genre of music. It's a song that plays on the intercom of a vintage comic book store open during a gallery crawl. Or perhaps during a movie about the 80s that was produced in 2016.
Can a person who is not a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? If you feel like it, I guess.
Will a person who is a fan of Kanye West enjoy this song? Same.
In summary, The Life of Pablo is an unevenly and messily amazing album that fans of Kanye West will love, and includes parts that people who are not fans can, if they choose to, love too.