And so, on the fourteenth day of the second month of the year 2016, Pablo laced up his custom Yeezys, booted Chance the Rapper out of the studio and finally – finally! – made his long-awaited entrance into the world.
Dropping into our Tidal inboxes like a gift from the heavens in the early hours of this morning (it apparently won’t be out on other formats for another week), Kanye West’s long-awaited seventh album must have felt, for some, like a Valentine’s Day gift from Yeezus himself.
Initially premiered on Thursday night at his extravagant yet often-shambolic fashion show/album launch at Madison Square Garden, it’s taken three more days for ‘Ye to declare ‘The Life of Pablo’ fit for public consumption. And, while we’ve already heard 12 of the 18 final tracks, which we reviewed on a first-listen basis right here, the finished product contains five new offerings – plus the already-revealed tongue-in-cheek freestyle ‘I Love Kanye’, which earns its own place on the much-anticipated tracklist. Oh, and there’s a final update to the cover art too, which features a certain Mrs. K-West herself.
But where do these new tracks fit into TLOP’s mad genius? Here’s NME’s first-listen verdict.
A relatively short offering at 132 seconds, ‘Low Lights’ was initially the intro to the Young Thug-featuring ‘High Lights’. An uncredited female voice takes centre stage here, with her echo-y monologue rich in religious reference, tying this track to the wonderful gospel opener ‘Ultralight Beam’. Some will of course highlight ‘Low Lights’ as playing to Kanye’s obvious God complex – although, in comparison to ‘Yeezus’, he has reigned in the kind of outrageous claims that were scattered all over his last offering. Does Kanye still consider himself to be a God?
Musically, a few bass-y synth notes break up the sermon, briefly threatening to turn the celestial atmosphere into the dark and murky instrumentation that gave ‘Yeezus’’s ‘New Slaves’ such punch. But, alas, it’s just not to be.
Guests: No listed guest feature, but NYC house DJ Sandy Rivera earns a co-writing credit.
“Someday the sky above will open up and he will reach out his hand and guide me through, oh yes he will”
“I’m crying right now, it feels so good to be free, to be accepted for who you are and loved no matter what”
“I love him so much because he’s done so much for me”
‘Silver Surfer Intermission’
Like ‘I Love Kanye’, this is a vocals-only addition that doesn’t make it to a full minute. But, sublimely, this intermission features vocals from the incarcerated rapper Max B, who, as you may recall, was one of the key figures in the Kanye and Wiz Twitter bust-up that blew up the internet two weeks ago.
But, rather than Max B being as aggrieved as Wiz apparently was over Kanye’s use of the term ‘Waves’ – which was once set to be TLOP’s album title – this track demonstrates that the former is firmly in Ye’s corner. Calling directly from the New Jersey State Prison where’s he serving a 75-year sentence for murder conspiracy and robbery, Max clarifies that he’s fine with Kanye “taking the wave” from him.
The ‘Silver Surfer’ tag, for those wondering, refers to Max’s 2008 mixtape ‘Public Domain 2: The Rise of Silver Surfer’.
Guests: Max B on the phone, whilst French Montana pitches in with the “silver surfer” comment
“You a wavey dude anyway, so you already know [it] ain’t no problem, man”
“Max B shoutout to Yeezy – what’s good, I see you, it’s love, appreciate it, it’s honour, appreciate it”
“And keep it loopy, I know you’re going to keep it loopy man”
Sampling the late experimental artist Arthur Russell – Kanye’s record collection is far superior to yours – ’30 Hours’ is an intriguing addition lyrically due to his decision to address a past relationship.
And no, it’s not with the notorious Amber Rose – it in fact deals with his ex Sumeke Rainey, who dated Kanye for seven years up until 2004 (think back to the lyrics for ‘Never Let Me Down’ off his debut ‘The College Drop-Out’: “So I promised to Mr. Rainey I’m going to marry your daughter…”). The strongest evidence for this claim comes with the fact that it takes about 30 hours to drive from Los Angeles to Chicago, where Rainey lived while they dating. Kanye used to make such a trek to see his girl whilst making music in LA in his pre-solo days – and so, with that bit of context in place, it shines a bright light on the rest of what Kanye has to say here. Considering how universally famous his relationship with Kim Kardashian is, it is a little surprising that Kanye is looking back on a time that must now seem like a million years ago.
Guests: Andre 3000 pitches in a criminally-small vocal contribution towards the end of the track
“Yep, I make myself a smoothie / Yeah, then me and wifey make a movie”
“I’m drivin’ with no winter tires in December / Skrrt skrrt skrrt like a private school for women”
“My ex says she gave me the best years of her life / I saw a recent picture of her, I guess she was right”
‘No More Parties in LA’ (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
So, we’ve known about this one for weeks – ever since Kanye tagged the opening 65 seconds of the track onto the first SoundCloud upload of ‘Real Friends’, to be precise. The Madlib-produced beat goes ridiculously hard, and its placing in the tracklist helps TLOP end on something of a bang as Yeezy and Kendrick, two of the best in the business, get a full verse each to show off their lyrical prowess. “Scary… SCARY”.
Guests: Kendrick Lamar; production by Madlib
Key (Kanye) lyrics:
“Any rumour you ever heard about me was true and legendary”
“I be worried ‘bout my daughter, I be worried ‘bout Kim / But Saint is baby ‘Ye, I ain’t worried ‘bout him”
“I know some fans who thought I wouldn’t rap like this again / But the writer’s block is over, MCs cancel your plans”
‘FACTS’ (Charlie Heat Version)
As we’d already heard this Nike-bashing diss track a few weeks ago, its inclusion on TLOP is a little surprising – but, the main question will be: who the hell is Charlie Heat?
Well, he’s part of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint, working primarily as a producer – he’s already worked on beats for the likes of Madonna, Vic Mensa (last year’s ‘You Mad’) and Pusha T. And, judging by his take on ‘FACTS’, his work is one to keep a keen eye on in the future: turning Metro Boomin/Southside’s rather-simplistic original beat into a fat, juicy trap affair, its booming mix of horns, bass and drums make such an impression that ‘Ye’s lyrics somewhat fade into the background.
Guests: None on the track, but Drake, Future and producer Metro Boomin are all included as co-writers
“Yeezy Yeezy Yeezy just jumped over Jumpman”
“Yeezy Yeezy Yeezy, they line up for days / Nike out here bad, they can’t give shit away”
“10 thousand dollar fur for Nori, I just copped it / Your baby daddy won’t even take your daughter shoppin’”
And so, there we have it – ‘The Life of Pablo’. It’s a huge, uncontained Goliath of a project that’ll probably upset anyone not willing to sit with it for more than a solitary listen, so it’d be wise to give it time and a few listens – given that this’ll be the final version, of course.
Check back here this coming week for NME’s official verdict on ‘Ye’s possible masterpiece.