Track-by-Track Album Review: The Life of Pablo by Kanye West
Written by Rupal Mehta on February 14, 2016
“Bars are worth more than money because it’s something the people can use everyday to feel inspired.” – Kanye West
The Life of Pablo is Kanye West’s seventh studio album. It was originally entitled So Help Me God, then SWISH, and briefly WAVES. On Feb. 9, West announced that the title would abbreviated as TLOP, later revealed to stand for The Life of Pablo (aka in honor of either Pablo Picasso, Pablo Escobar, or Paul the Apostle). The album premiered on Feb. 11 at Madison Square Garden and was live-streamed at hundreds of theaters across the world and music streaming service TIDAL. It was released for download and streaming exclusively on TIDAL on Sunday night. However, West announced that he would not release a purchase link for another week, since he is working on remastering the album’s track “Wolves.” Check out the in-depth analysis of each track from The Life of Pablo below:
Track 1: Ultra Light Beam (ft. Chance the Rapper, The-Dream, and Kelly Price)
The album starts off with popularized Natalie is Great’s Instagram post of her praising God in the car with her mother, which is fitting since this track is about Kanye’s faith in God. Whenever he’s down or feels he can’t fight anymore, he searches for the light and knows in God’s hands, everything will be just fine. After discussing this opening track with a friend (Hi Nabeel), we came to conclusion that this track also direct references Paul the Apostle and the centuries old story about him being hit with an ultra light beam, which was followed by him seeing a vision of the son of God, Jesus. The-Dream opens up the vocal section of the song with a gospel feel accompanied with West speaking on his struggles to “live out his dreams.” This could be referring to his difficulty during the Yeezus era. Since then, he’s been on a wave of success, or as he says, “an ultra light beam.” He married Kim Kardashian, produced a successful clothing line, and sold out the Yeezy Boost show; we can easily say West is on a roll. Chance the Rapper’s feature fits in perfectly with the vibe of the song’s production as he also speaks on how God has helped him get to where he is today. This track sets the album off on a great note, with 17 tracks to follow.
Track 2: Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1 (ft. Kid Cudi)
On the second track of TLOP, Kanye reflects on past and present relationships. He refers to Amber Rose at the beginning of the first verse before closing with thoughts on his current marriage with Kim. However, you can’t help but lose your marbles when you hear the beat drop after Atlanta rapper Future says “If young Metro don’t trust you I’m gon’ shoot y-” *INSANE BEAT DROP WITH KID CUDI* (see below).
Everyone's reaction to hearing "if young metro don't trust you, I'm gone shoot you" on Father Stretch my hands pt. 1 pic.twitter.com/5xTiPJNcET
— Jerrell Leeper (@DapperJ) February 14, 2016
Track 3: Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2 (ft. Desiigner)
The second part of “Father Stretch My Hands” details Kanye’s most personal moments—from not having time to call his wife due to work, to talking about his mother’s death—in just one verse and features a sample from G.O.O.D. Music’s newest signee, Desiigner. Hours before the album’s launch event on Feb. 11, Kanye revealed that his dad served as inspiration for the track, and that he was brought to tears during its creation. Desiigner’s vocals are sampled from his recent hit “Panda.” Personally, the beat drop at the 39-second mark of this track slams the song’s first drop, thanks to Desiigner. The young Brooklyn rapper was in attendance of the Yeezy Season 3 Event, where the album was first streamed, at which Kanye announced that he was the newest signee of GOOD Music. Congratulations to Desiigner and his success on this great track of TLOP.
Track 4: Famous (ft. Rihanna)
The album’s fourth track brings back Kanye’s overly-confident side as he looks at his life from his current perspective. Rihanna starts off the song by saying it’d be hard to love a girl like her, followed by a beat drop from producer Swizz Beatz. West talks about the 2009 VMAs incident with Taylor Swift and how his interruption of her acceptance speech that year made her famous. Whether you agree or disagree with his take on it, you have to admit that he might right. Even T-Swift herself mildly agreed with West! The Swizz Beatz gives this track a Late Registration type of vibe throughout, including a sample of Il Rovescio della Medaglia’s “Mi Sono Svegliato E… Ho Chiuso Gli Occhi” and dancehall legend Sister Nancy’s“Bam Bam.” The outro samples Nina Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do.”
Track 5: Feedback
The beginning of this track features a fitting sound of microphone feedback to introduce West’s unapologetic ode to success. He flaunts his money, trashes his haters, and reps his humble beginnings. This sounds like the Kanye we all know and love (or hate), but he wears this attitude well. In the second verse, Kanye draws comparisons to Pablo Escobar, which is a reference to the TLOP tracklist notepad which had the words “which one” scribbled near the title, implying West was drawing inspiration from more than one famous Pablo. The rhythmic and catchy beat make for a great follow-up to “Famous.”
Track 6: Low Lights
The sixth track off TLOP works as a prequel to the next track “Highlights.” West took to his Twitter followers to explain the reason why this track made the final tracklist of the album.
This recording is sampled from the Kings of Tomorrow mix “So Alive (Original Mix).” The recording seems to have been made by an uncredited vocalist who was hired by Sandy Rivera. Since the vocalist was uncredited, Rivera owned the rights and is credited on TIDAL.
Track 7: Highlights (ft. Young Thug)
With Young Thug featured in this track to slow down the pace of the album, Kanye states that he only wants to put out great work; he only wants to make the highlight reels. As a leading example, when tweeting about The Life of Pablo, West named it the “greatest album of all time.” He also states that him and Ray J could have been friends if they didn’t love the same person (aka Kim Kardashian). The Mike Dean and Kanye West produced track adds some charm to the album, but does not seem to be a standout.
Track 8: Freestyle 4 (ft. Desiigner)
This track represents a sex-craving intoxicated Kanye, who raps about the fast life and participating in crazy acts at fancy dinners and other events. The title itself is representative of the inner conflict he is having with himself, meaning his words are just flowing out without filter. He describes being out of control and throughout the verse he highlights his drug abuse, thus causing a distorted reality, much like the feedback of an amplifier. The string sample from Goldfrapp’s “Human” adds an eerie harmony to the 2-minute long track combined with an instrumental “woop” sound; no surprise when you find out Hudson Mohawke co-produced the track.
Track 9: I Love Kanye
At the halfway mark of the album, this song takes on a satirical vibe in reference to the “Kanye Loves Kanye” meme, using this track to talk about himself from the third person. Not much to say about the a Capella track, other than the self-love West shows on this track and many others on TLOP.
Track 10: Waves (ft. Chris Brown)
When Kanye shared the first version of The Life Of Pablo‘s tracklist (then called SWISH), “Waves” was originally part of it. The song was scrapped when Kanye revealed the final album title. After the Yeezy Season 3 presentation/album listening event in Madison Square Garden, the album release was delayed because Chance The Rapper insisted that “Waves” should be on the album. After listening to this track, we’re glad Chance convinced Kanye to keep it on the album. Chris Brown’s R&B vocals uses waves as a metaphor for his career by saying “waves don’t die.” This track definitely landed a top spot on my TLOP favorites. Don’t be surprised if you hear this track taking over radio waves over the next few weeks. Thank you, Chance.
Track 11: FML (ft. The Weeknd)
Winding down towards the end of TLOP, West uses this track as a chance to speak on his relationship with his spouse, Kim Kardashian. The abbreviated title “FML,“ is short for “F*** My Life,” but also “For My Lady” as seen in the first verse. It’s a a spoken prose of the difficulties West faces as he tries to control himself and stay truthful to his wife and children. The Weeknd perfectly compliments the track with a simple hook on the track by saying critics always analyze his work in an attempt to tarnish his career. However, Tesfaye knows he’s only responsible for himself; nothing else matters. Tied altogether, this track makes for a sweet and solemn tribute to his beautiful family.
Track 12: Real Friends (ft. Ty Dolla $ign)
Originally released on Jan. 8 as a relaunch of West’s 2010 G.O.O.D. Fridays series, “Real Friends” is an introspective look at Kanye’s relationship struggles with his friends and family. The song samples Whodini’s 1984 classic “Friends.” As a father, husband and artist, his hectic lifestyle has caught up to him and he blames himself for broken bridges. Ty Dolla $igns’ lyrics come from the perspective of Kanye’s former friends, who have betrayed him or haven’t made time for him.
Track 13: Wolves (ft. Caroline Shaw & Frank Ocean)
This Cashmere Cat produced track starts off with a high-pitched backing vocals with West’s auto-tuned entrance. “Wolves” explores a plethora of emotions, including depression, addiction, suicide, fear, hope and love. An earlier version was first released at the Yeezy Season 1 launch event on Feb. 12, 2015, featuring Vic Mensa and Sia. About a year later, the final version of the song was released with new verses from Kanye and an outro by Frank Ocean, but without Vic and Sia’s contributions. A memorable few lines that West repeats in his verse include: “I know it’s corny b*****s you wish you could unfollow, I know it’s corny n****s you wish you could unswallow.” The minute-long outro of this song paints a masterpiece for any aspiring producer.
Track 14: Silver Surfer Intermission (ft. Max B)
“Silver Surfer Intermission” is a phone conversation between rappers Max B and French Montana from back when Kanye’s seventh album was titled WAVES. The title comes references the Silver Surfer from the Marvel franchise, which paralleled with West’s at-the-time album title; Kanye would be riding the wave of the album and its musical genius.
Track 15: 30 Hours (ft. André 3000)
Winding down to the end of TLOP, this track finds Kanye reflecting back on a past relationship—likely with Sumeke Rainey—from the point of view of his present relationship with Kim. West and Rainey dated for seven years and broke up in 2004. The title refers to the long drive from Chicago (his hometown) to Los Angeles—around 30 hours. In the early 2000s, Kanye moved to Los Angeles to break into the music business and record The College Dropout (the track sends out nostalgic vibes from the seamless record). During this time, he traveled back and forth to Chicago often to visit Rainey. Kanye calls on 3 Stacks (aka André 3000) to help him with the outro of the track, which both accomplish with tact. In case you were wondering, this track samples Arthur Russell’s 1986 track “Answers To Me.”
Track 16: No More Parties in L.A. (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
This track is the first collaboration between Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar. The L.A. based artists swap stories on “No More Parties in L.A,” playfully venting their frustrations with “rich people” problems and highlighting Hollywood’s greatest production: the fake celebrity lifestyle. According to multiple sources, West’s verse has drawn parallels to his sophomore album, Late Registration. The intro was produced by Kanye West, sampling Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Give Me My Love.” The main portion of the beat was produced by Madlib, sampling Junie Morrison’s “Suzie Thundertussy.” This part of the production was originally made at least 6 years prior to the release of “No More Parties in LA,” when Madlib gave Kanye five of his best beats for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Track 17: FACTS (Charlie Heat Version)
Originally released on Dec. 31 as a New Year’s Eve gift to Yeezy fans everywhere, “Facts” celebrates Kanye’s Adidas Yeezy Boost line and denounces his affiliation with competitor Nike. Considering the topical content, most fans have cited this as a fun track to start off the new year. The first version was produced by Metro Boomin and Southside. The intro and outro both sample Father Children’s song “Dirt and Grime.” The sample parallels perfectly with West’s bars as he mentions his accomplishments (“look how far we are”) and laughs at all of the obstacles he has encountered in the past (“they story of my lifetime”). During the live presentation of Yeezy Season 3 and The Life of Pablo at the Madison Square Garden on Feb. 11th, West premiered an alternative mix of the song, featuring re-recorded vocals and production by Charlie Heat, which is the version that made the album. One of my favorite lines from the track include: “I stuck to my roots, I’m like Jimmy Fallon.”
Track 18: Fade (Post Malone & Ty Dolla $ign)
West premiered this song during his Yeezy Season 2 runway show at New York Fashion Week in Sept. 2015. “Fade” is built off of a distinct bassline, sampled from one of the earliest Chicago house tracks – Fingers Inc.’s “Mystery of Love (Club Mix).” Rappers Ty Dolla $ign and Post Malone come collaborate with West on the track to talk about how they feel as though they are needles in a haystack of the hip-hop world. Even though the production is up to par, I personally think it shouldn’t have been the track to close out this masterpiece of an album.
Kanye West shows his true colors and finds his voice with The Life of Pablo. In past projects, West sometimes had a hard time finding his “sound” and sticking with it, which is why some people call him an experimental artist. Although we appreciate different kinds of sounds from West, it’s nice to finally see West come into his own with this album and show an array of excellent production mixed with quality wordplay and lyricism. It’s hard to choose a favorite project by Mr. West (MBDTF still claiming the top spot), but this album comes pretty damn close to it.
Songs you’ll have on repeat: “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2,” “Waves,” “FML,” “Wolves,” “FACTS (Charlie Heat Version)”
Songs to skip over: ….why is this even a category?
Listen to the album via TIDAL here. According to Yeezy, the album may never be released outside of TIDAL. Stay tuned for more information in the coming days.
By Rupal Mehta