It goes without saying that Kanye West is perhaps the most polarizing figure in modern music. Hailed as an innovator and a genius by some, and an annoyance by others, the rapper affectionately known as Yeezus has undeniable star power; his 21 Grammys and highly public marriage to reality star Kim Kardashian has kept him in the mouths of many over the course of his nearly two decade long career. Following the release of his 2013 album “Yeezus”, fans were left divided by a sound that departed heavily from the more recent cuts that West had dropped, ones that had risen him to prominence.
Those close to Kanye said he began writing his new album very shortly after the release of “Yeezus” and by the following year, he reportedly had enough songs written to release an album. But Kanye was not going to rush to get his next project out. Instead, he travelled the globe promoting his fashion line, became a father to two children, entered into a marriage that has only driven up the attention given to him in the media, and focused on creating the best possible album he could.
Throughout 2015, Kanye released a few singles, one of which called “Only One”, which featured Beatles’ frontman Paul McCartney, who praised Kanye’s work ethic, comparing him to John Lennon. In March of 2015, Kanye announced that his next album would be called “So Help Me God”, and released a single titled “All Day”, which featured Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom and McCartney.
As hype began to swell, Kanye took to Twitter in May to announce that he had changed the album title to “Swish”, but stated that the album title could change again. After announcing that the new album would drop Feb. 11, Kanye yet again changed the album title–this time to “Waves”. He coupled this by announcing the premiere of his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line the same night at Madison Square Garden. Just days before the reveal, he changed the album title one final time to “The Life of Pablo.”
After premiering ten tracks (which had been modified greatly from the original handwritten tracklisting he’d posted on Twitter just a few weeks earlier), fans begged Yeezus to release the album digitally. He announced the next day that the album was being mastered and would be available that night, and that he’d added seven new tracks.
That day came and went with no album, and Kanye blamed collaborator and fellow Chicago rapper Chance The Rapper for the delay, claiming that Chance was begging to get one final song (entitled “Waves”) onto the album. Finally, after a Saturday Night Live performance on Feb. 13, Kanye released the album in its final form overnight through Tidal, Jay-Z’s music streaming service.
“The Life of Pablo” is undoubtedly Kanye’s most concentrated effort to date. The combination of soulful, booming tracks and club-ready bangers with lyrics bragging about Kanye’s legend status makes for an odd straight-through listen, but one that is unforgettable. Yeezy’s lyrics are lackluster in places, but the production throughout the record is flawless. With features from Chance The Rapper, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Young Thug, Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar and more, Kanye brought a star-studded affair to the table on this one.
His thoughts are all over the place at times, showing both the doubt he’s had about his Christian faith, yet also an affirmation that he still is very much a Christian, along with doubts about his relationship with his parents (and guilt surrounding the death of his mother) as well as what some would characterize as paranoia regarding his friends and fame status. In all, Kanye just wanted to be Kanye on this record. A mix of the Kanye of old and the Kanye of new. This smattering of glorious production and wonky, yet charming lyricism and vocal delivery makes “The Life of Pablo” an instant classic, albeit not in the traditional sense of the term.