The Life of Pablo: A track-by-track review

 

“Ultralight Beam”

Nick Bondi: Kanye seemed to be honest when he said that this would be a gospel album. The loud drums and fading sound effects are cool, and I think this track works as a good introduction to the album as a whole. And Chance’s verse is terrific, I like the allusion to earlier verses of Kanye’s.

Max Hill: This is straight 🔥🔥🔥. Everything about this track works for me — Kanye’s straightforward address of his faith, the choir, the production, The-Dream, Kelly Price — but the real star here is Chicago-born Chance the Rapper, who just about steals Kanye’s album from him before it even begins. That verse, man. This might even be the next Nicki Minaj in “Monster.” The album doesn’t exactly live up to the promise of this track, but man, it doesn’t even have to.

“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”

NB: Very laid-back intro, and then it just explodes into a beat produced by Metro Boomin. A lot of Auto-Tune used on this track, but I think it works. Not a fan of the “shock rap” verses that are at the very beginning, but I like the hook and chorus, and the general feel.

MH: An interesting mix of 808s & Heartbreak style vocals with chiptune soul samples à la College Dropout. That bleached asshole line is pure, distilled Kanye. Overall, though, it’s a bit forgettable, and overshadowed by “Pt. 2.”

“Pt. 2”

NB: Love the fast paced switch up that this song brings. Desiigner seems just like a poor man’s Future, so I’m not a big fan of that, nor of the random Daft Punk like interlude at the end. Part 1 is definitely better.

MH: I’m not really sure why Kanye decided to make these two separate tracks — they definitely feel like different parts of the same song. Desiigner’s verse is okay, though he just ends up sounding like a poor man’s version of Future. (I wouldn’t be surprised if most listeners thought he was Future.) There’s a lot to like here, especially Kanye’s heartbreaking first verse, but at two minutes it’s too brief to really get under your skin the way “Ultralight Beam” did. The outro is neat, though.

“Famous”

NB: Dare I say that this sounds like something off of MBDTF. The verse about Taylor is a perfect example of what Kanye’s lyrics have turned into — a line whose sole purpose is to shock people and get them talking. Rihanna’s hook is great as well.

MH: It’s a shame this song has been so overshadowed by Kanye’s instantly infamous (and admittedly misogynistic) Taylor Swift line. The production is absolutely on point, Rihanna’s vocal is fantastic, and the Sister Nancy sample might be the most straight joyful moment on the album. But I get it — Kanye’s just trying to get attention with that Swift diss, and let’s not forget that the worst-selling Swift album still sold more than Kanye’s best. Sorry, Yeezy.

“Feedback”

NB: Unfortunately this track sounds more like something off Yeezus, complete with random sound effects and empty lyrics. Perhaps the low point of the entire album.

MH: Y’all sleeping on me, huh, had a good snooooooooooze? This one feels like a deep cut off of Yeezus, which for me is a good thing. It’s the first song on the album not to feature a guest performance, and as a result it feels a bit more personal and reflective than the rest. There are references to Kayne’s self-doubt, his sense of place, and his fragmented mental state. He also makes a reference to how he’s a mix of Steve Jobs and Steve Austin — that’s the kind of thing that keeps me a Kanye fan, despite everything else.

“Low Lights”

NB: Just a standard interlude complete with nice piano chords and spiritual lyrics. A good segue to the next song.

MH: “I’m crying now.” This one is barely a song — more like an interlude — but it’s an interesting, female-centric ode to Christian faith that seems to stand in opposition to the womanizing excess that characterises the whole album (and hell, Kanye’s discography). Not sure who the performer is, but she nails the passionate delivery here.

 

“Highlights”

NB: I love this track. The piano combined with the simple bass and drum reminds of something off 808s, and I like the use of Auto-Tune on this track. And I love how he called out Ray J. Not a fan of how it changes tone halfway through the song, I think it would be better suited staying the course of the first half. We’ve had “Flashing Lights,” “Street Lights,” “All of the Lights,” and now we have “Highlights.”

MH: Young Thug is super divisive. I’m on the love-him side, so this song works wonders for me. Kanye wishing his dick had GoPro, that Ray J line, the Nation of Islam reference — this one has a lot to unpack. It’s nice to see Kanye just straightforward rapping for more than eight bars. This is also my favourite of The-Dream’s many features on the album. Overall, the song feels a bit like a response to “All of the Lights” from MBDTF.

“Freestyle 4”

NB: An extremely weird track. The strings and lyrics combined give off a very creepy vibe. This is an example of a song where I don’t think Auto-Tune should have been used, as it doesn’t really add anything to the song. Probably a song best left on the cutting room floor.

MH: Eh. This song is a bit of a letdown. The lyrics are lazy, the sample is shallow and repetitive, and Desiigner’s verse — again — sounds like a second-rate Future impression. This is one of the weakest on the album for me.

“I Love Kanye”

NB: I miss the old Kanye too, Kanye.

MH: This is the most Kanye song on any Kanye album ever.

“Waves”

NB: Maybe the best track on the album. It has such a majestic and heavenly feel, it sounds like a trap song that was made by an angel. Pretty unbelievable that this song was almost left off the album, and it took Chance the Rapper for it to make the final cut.

MH: So I guess this song is the reason the album is late. Chance fought tooth and nail to keep this on the record — if his and Kanye’s Twitter accounts are to be believed — and frankly, he was right to do so. This track rules. It would take a straight masterpiece to make me enjoy Chris Brown’s vocals, and yet here we are. Even though it doesn’t really gel with the rest of the album’s aesthetic, being much more poppy and radio-friendly, I think it’s a nice respite from the harshness of tracks like “Feedback” and “Freestyle 4.”

“FML”

NB: I love the somber piano, and combined with lyrics such as “I would die for those I love” it gives this song a very serious, haunting feeling. A big contrast to “Waves.” And I love The Weeknd’s hook, lyrically (“They wish I would go ahead and fuck my life up/Can’t let them get to me”) and melodically.

MH: One of the best on the album, for sure. The Weeknd really brings it here, and he and Kanye are so on the same page that they feel like two sides of the same person. Where other songs on the album feel lazy and half-baked, this one feels finely tuned and pitch perfect. It’s also a sign that Kanye’s trying a bit harder lyrically, or at least going for a more subtle approach than he did on Yeezus. The cracked vocals at the end hit hard.

“Real Friends”

NB: A track that has been around for a while and hasn’t changed much, unlike some of the other tracks released before the album dropped. Kanye raps about his true friends who won’t leave him, a common theme of his. It was produced by Boi 1da, known for being one of Drake’s go-to producers, and it sounds honestly like something that would be off of Nothing Was the Same. And I really want to meet Kanye’s cousin who stole his laptop.

MH: Classic Kanye. The lyrics are tight, the sample is perfect, the Ty Dolla $ign collaboration is choice. It’s a shame he released it beforehand, as I think it would have hit harder had we not heard it before, but it’s still a highlight.

“Wolves”

NB: A beautiful, haunting track that gave me goosebumps when I first listened to it. I prefer the version with Sia that was leaked awhile back, but this is just as good. It fits well with the previous track, and it’s a seamless transition between the two songs. A fantastic song.

MH: Honestly, this song is overrated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, but it’s no “Runaway.” Here’s a hot take for you: I think pulling Vic Mensa and Sia from the mix was a smart choice, though I’ve seen a lot of fans angry at Kanye for shafting them on the album release. Frank Ocean’s verse at the end is fantastic, and for me it really makes the song. Where’s the album, Frank? WHERE IS IT?

“Silver Surfer Intermission”

NB: A conversation between Kanye West and Max B back when the album was called Waves. Just a standard interlude, don’t pay attention too much to it.

MH: Kanye called Max B in prison and had him record a testimony that, yes, it’s okay for Kanye to have used the term “wave” — one that Max B popularised, and that Wiz Khalifa called Kanye out on — just so he could have the last laugh in the thankfully brief Wiz-Kanye beef. Then he put it in the middle of his fucking album, which incidentally is no longer called Waves. Kanye is nothing if not petty.

“30 Hours”

NB: A very reflective track in which Kanye reminisces on past relationships and breaking in as a rapper. The vocals in the background have a very cool whirlpool effect, and it helps amplify the reflective theme throughout. I love the driving drums throughout as well.

MH: This and “No More Parties” feel like they’re of a piece — hifi production and old-school Kanye boasts abound. The Life of Pablo often sounds like a tug-of-war between the pre- and post-My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanyes, and this one is firmly in the pre camp. Which is okay by me. I can’t help but feel like this track is a bit of a waste of André 3000, though. I mean, come on, let the man rap!

“No More Parties in LA”

NB: The best track on the album. It’s as close to an “old Kanye” song as there is on the album, complete with multiple samples that work perfectly and great keyboard and drums. Kendrick’s verse is of course amazing, and Kanye’s second verse is his best in quite a long time.

MH: Madlib, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye. Need I say more? This song bangs. I could listen to it all day.

“FACTS (Charlie Heat Version)”

NB: A song that has been around for a while, and it’s just him going into Nike. The beat is pretty good, but unless you’re up on Kanye vs. Nike, you’re not going to get much out of this song.

MH: Why is this even on the album? The new mix is okay, but the song was weak when Ye released it two months ago and it’s weak now. The LP would be stronger without it.

“Fade”

NB: Everyone on Twitter was talking about “Waves,” but I think everyone slept on this one. It’s a fire dance track, complete with the rolling bass line and hand claps. Lyrics are simple and repetitive, but the beat alone makes this song.

MH: This is a good one. It’s grimy, the sample is strong, and the beat is one of Kanye’s most danceable. It’s relatively minor when compared to the album’s best tracks, but it’s an interesting note on which to end the record all the same.


 

The verdict

NB: If you were expecting the next MBDTF, you’re going to be disappointed, but it’s a definite step up from Yeezus. It’s not the type of album you’re going to play if you’re hosting a party, but I don’t think that’s the point. Maybe my main problem with it is that it doesn’t really have a consistent feel — it’s all over the place. Songs like “Waves,” “Fade,” and “No More Parties in LA” are great, but it gets bogged down by sub par tracks such as “Freestyle 4” and “Feedback.” The album combines some great elements of his previous work, but I can’t rank it above albums like Late Registration.

MH: The Life of Pablo is a hot mess. But somehow, that feels right. Kanye’s in a weird place right now — an unhealthy place, if former collaborator Rhymefest is to be believed — and the scattershot energy of the LP reflects that. I don’t think it’ll rank high in the Kanye canon (if I were to rank it right now, I’d say it’s his second weakest, after Graduation), but it’s about the best we could have expected, given how divided Ye’s attention is. Had he trimmed down the excess and paid a little more attention to the track sequencing, Kanye might have had another masterpiece on his hands, but for now we’ll have to settle for it just being very, very good.

1 COMMENT

  1. Good article…but just out of curiosity, do you realize that 30 Hours is actually a bonus track? He says it within the song. Which means the next three are also bonus tracks. Three of these four bonuses are great and make it tempting to want to consider them part of the album, but I don’t think they really are. The album proper ends with Wolves. So complaints that it’s bloated are unfounded. It’s just generous.