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The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Life of Pablo Drowns in Shallow Meaning

    Kanye West’s newest album is deep, but not deep enough. Throughout “The Life of Pablo,” Kanye attempts to lay himself on the line and take responsibility for both his good and bad sides, but he fails due to a confused production and lack of inspiration.

    In his newest album, Kanye reverses the feel of the highly polished and produced, “Yeezus” by creating what feels like something that’s supposed to feel like a mixtape. That is, the album is a potpourri of tracks and textures that come off feeling messy and unrefined, but in a disturbingly deliberate way. “Pablo” is fast, slow, electric, gospel and R&B all at once. It has a a careful disregard for organization. This album is meant to feel raw and underground—something like Chance the Rapper’s “Acid Rap,” which remains the best mixtape of the last five years—but its overall effect is underwhelming, especially by Kanye’s standards.

    The rough quality of the album is reflective of the rough, manic content of the album’s songs themselves. On “30 Hours,” Kanye sings, “You was the best of all time at the time though/Yeah, but you wasn’t mine though,” seemingly talking to himself. This sentiment is layered throughout “Pablo,” and it winds up feeling like Kanye’s faith in and love for Kanye is fading, or at least changing.

    “I hate the new Kanye,” he sings on “I Love Kanye,” a poetic interlude about halfway through the album. The track points out the artist’s perceived egomania and contrasts it with the “sweetness” his fan base saw in him at the beginning of his career before pointing out that his egomania is what has made him appealing in the first place. “What if Kanye made a song about Kanye/ Called ‘I Miss the Old Kanye’/ Man, that’d be so Kanye!” This track is just so self aware and meta it’s ridiculous. I mean, Kanye rapping about Kanye rapping about Kanye… and (he’s right) it is SO Kanye.

    The whole album is Kanye’s attempt at revealing Kanye’s humanity. He talks about his issues, notes them and gives them visibility—he is vulnerable of the album—but he stops short of crafting something that feels authentic. As aforementioned, the album’s construction is meant to be scattered and incongruent. It’s meant to feel like a mixtape, but it fails because, well, it’s not. It’s a well produced album that is not meant to sound that way.

    Still, the album has elements of genius because it is different from most other Kanye West albums. Kanye’s albums have always revolutionized rap, from “College Dropout” to “Watch the Throne” to “Yeezus,” Kanye’s work has always done something to the music industry that alters it from the point of its release onward (I mean, “Graduation” basically executed 50 Cent’s career). “Pablo,” however, does no such thing. It does not change the game, it will inspire no new movement within the genre. “See, I invented Kanye, it wasn’t any Kanyes, and now I look and look around and there’s so many Kanyes,” he says on “I Love Kanye,” indicating that he is tired of inspiring change in his own image.

    The best song on the album is “30 Hours,” a flowing, undulating reflection on a long distance relationship. The song winds up feeling like a combination shout out track and a reflection on Kanye’s relationship Kanye. When he says, “You was the best of all time at the time though/Yeah, but you wasn’t mine though,” it’s a reflection on the artist’s greatness and status as a celebrity—he has always been a public figure, despite how much he seems to dislike the public. Lines like these add to the idea that “Pablo” is illustrative of Kanye’s psyche in present time and space; it is fractured and vulnerable.

    The album has been received with some hesitation and confusion by that public that both loves and hates Kanye, the same way Kanye both loves and hates himself. “Pablo” might have seen a warmer reception had it not been released at a time when Kanye was back making headlines. Because “Pablo” was released while Kanye was in the middle of a Twitter storm and an announcement that he is $53 million in debt, the album received a lot of attention, but for the wrong reasons. The album is a work of art that should have come out to less fanfare, because, again, it feels like an underground production—a mixtape—rather than a chart topper.

    Like all of his work, the production quality of “Pablo” is better than the quality of the raps themselves, given that Kanye is a better producer than he is a rapper—and the production still isn’t amazing. That said, this album is good and would probably be considered better if it were made by a younger, less credentialed (or conceited) artist, but it was made by Kanye and thus has a higher bar to measure up against. “The Life of Pablo” is Kanye’s psyche splayed across an album, but the pieces don’t all fit together.

    Will may be reached at [email protected]

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