Making A Masterpiece – The 3-Year Story Behind Kanye West’s Seventh Album ‘The Life Of Pablo’

In 2013, Kanye West became a father. In 2014, he got married. In 2015, he announced he’d be running for President. Now he’s calling his brand-new LP “the greatest album of all time”. Larry Bartleet asks how he got there.

June 15, 2013

Kanye’s fiancée Kim Kardashian gives birth to their first child, daughter North West, three days before the release of the 36-year-old’s sixth album ‘Yeezus’. It’s his best yet – a brutal, revelatory and self-contradictory game-changer that debuts at Number One on the iTunes chart in 31 countries.


A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

July 19, 2013


Angered by the presence of the press, Kanye grabs a paparazzo’s camera at LAX. The criminal charges include 250 hours of community service. The following month, in a televised interview with Kim’s mother Kris Jenner, he suggests fatherhood has changed his outlook. “With the press, it’s almost like an agenda to write me into a certain type of story… I have two people to live for – a family to live for. A whole world to live for.”

Oct 30, 2013

After six dates, Kanye’s ‘Yeezus’ tour – which includes a 50-foot mountain-turned-volcano, ‘snow’ flurries, troupes of masked dancers and a ‘white Jesus’ – is postponed after a truck carrying its 60-foot LED screen and custom-made video truss crashes. A statement says, “Kanye West will not compromise on bringing the show, as it was originally envisioned and designed, to his fans.” The tour later resumes in mid-November.

Nov 24, 2013

Kanye reveals that he’s already started work on his seventh album, hoping to put it out before summer 2014 – a deadline that will eventually be pushed back by more than 18 months. In that time Evian Christ, Malik Yusef, Travis Scott and P Diddy will claim involvement in its production.


Dec 4, 2013

At Miami’s Art Basel fair, Kanye discusses taking part in national art competitions aged 14. “Sometimes I actually forget that,” he says. “Except for when I tour and I look back at the stage and say, ‘Wait a second, I forgot this was the whole trick I pulled on everyone to make them think I was a rapper, a musician or celebrity when the entire time it’s all been a giant art project.’” He adds that he plans his seventh album to be as refined as ‘Yeezus’, with only eight songs. The final tracklisting eventually has 11 songs, divided into three ‘acts’.

Mar 25, 2014

Kanye announces, then almost immediately cancels, a European tour and later postpones his Australian tour from May to September – saying in a statement that the decision has been made to allow him to finish album seven, which is still “scheduled for a 2014 release”.

May 24, 2014

Kanye marries Kim Kardashian in Florence, Italy, almost a year after the birth of North West. The week-long proceedings include a pre-wedding party in Versailles, France, with a fairytale-style horse and carriage and a photobooth.

July 20, 2014

Kanye reveals that his priorities are constantly shifting between his family, his fashion line with Adidas and his music. Discussing the new album with GQ, he says, “I was thinking it could somehow come out in June, like ‘Yeezus’, and just kill it for the summer. But then I’m like, I have to work on Adidas and be with my child.”

Dec 31, 2014

‘Only One’, Kanye’s collaboration with Paul McCartney, is released – a message to North West from the perspective of Kanye’s late mother Donda. It’s Kanye’s first new song in 18 months.

Jan 24, 2015

‘FourFiveSeconds’, a guitar-led collaboration with Paul McCartney and Rihanna, is released as a single. Kanye announces he is executive-producing Rihanna’s eighth album, which he says ‘FourFiveSeconds’ will feature on. A week before the release of Rihanna’s album ‘Anti’ on January 28 2016, she tells a fan this is no longer the case, saying, “We’re both working on our own projects right now!” Over the next year, Kanye will be kept busy with his fashion line, his growing family and, of course, his own album.

Kanye is not executive producing on #Rihanna’s album ANTi anymore.

A photo posted by Rihanna Follows (@therih.up) on

Feb 12, 2015

At New York Fashion Week for the launch of his first footwear and clothing line with Adidas – Yeezy Season 1 – Kanye debuts ‘Wolves’, a yowling Sia/Vic Mensa collaboration that will go on to feature on his seventh album. He plays it again on SNL later that week. On September 16, at Yeezy Season 2, he reveals another album track – the house-influenced ‘Fade’.

Feb 20, 2015

The album is “80 per cent done”, Kanye says on US radio station Power 105.1. Its contents, he says, are “bars, songs, cookout music that just feels good. My last album was a protest to music… this album is embracing the music.” Just over a week later, Kanye tweets what ends up being the first of four album titles for his seventh record – ‘So Help Me God’.

Feb 25, 2015

At the BRIT Awards, Kanye debuts stand-alone single ‘All Day’ and puts the UK’s grime scene in the spotlight, surrounded by a 40-strong crew of British MCs including Stormzy, Skepta and Novelist. Writing for NME, Wiley praises his patronage: “Kanye came in and helped my scene make it.” The following week, while he’s in London, rumours circulate that Kanye has spent studio time with “King of Grime” Skepta, who he referred to by name during his BRITs performance.

March 15, 2015

Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is released – an inventive examination of race and class in America. The next day Kanye tweets, “KENDRICK IS AN INSPIRATION. THANK YOU FOR THE VIBRATIONS AND THE SPIRIT. YOUR MEANING, MESSAGE AND EXECUTION ARE GIFTS TO THE WORLD.” Some interpret this tweet as a sign that Kanye is rethinking the release date of ‘So Help Me God’.

April 25, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner, who was married to Kim Kardashian’s mother Kris from 1991 to 2015, comes out publicly as transgender. She reveals how instrumental Kanye was in helping her stepdaughter Kim accept the transition. Kanye later calls the event “one of the strongest things that have happened in our existence as human beings”.

May 3, 2015

Kanye alters the title of his seventh album to ‘SWISH’. “I might change it again,” he tweets, “but that’s the name now”. Almost eight months later, he renames it ‘Waves’ a fortnight before its official release – but when wife Kim conducts a Twitter poll in February 2016 about the potential album names, first title ‘So Help Me God’ comes out on top, with 46 per cent of nearly 500,000 votes.

June 27, 2015

Kanye headlines Glastonbury. Just five days after the announcement in March, 100,000 people had signed a petition to remove him from the bill. The set is big and bold and the only props are a briefly-used crane booth and a stage-wide lighting rig that moves around as he performs. Mid-set, he’s interrupted by prankster Lee Nelson.

August 31, 2015

Six years after interrupting Taylor Swift’s MTV VMAs acceptance speech, Kanye is presented with the Video Vanguard Award by Swift. He says, “I have decided in 2020 to run for President.” Hillary Clinton later says she wouldn’t rule out his being her Vice President.

Dec 13, 2015

Just over a week after the birth of his son Saint West, Kanye tweets, “I’m asking everyone DON’T ASK ME FOR ANYTHING TILL AFTER I’M FINISHED WITH MY ALBUM. I’m finishing my album and my next collection.” Two months later he’ll debut the album, still known as ‘SWISH’, at the launch of his new fashion collection, Yeezy Season 3.

Jan 8, 2016

Kim Kardashian announces the return of Kanye’s weekly music giveaway G.O.O.D. Fridays. Only two tracks are released this way: ‘Real Friends’, on January 8, and ‘No More Parties In LA’ on January 18. The latter is delayed because Kanye has to attend a fitting for his fashion line in Italy, Kim says in a series of tweets: “He flew [producer] Noah [Goldstein] out with him so he could finish “No More Parties In La” & wrote 90 bars on the plane there!!!”

Jan 25, 2016

Kanye reveals the tracklisting for ‘SWISH’, and a day later changes the title to ‘Waves’. He tweets, “So happy to be finished with the best album of all time. This is not album of the year. This is album of the life.” Rapper Wiz Khalifa accuses Kanye of nabbing Max B’s signature term ‘wavy’. Kanye then hits out at Wiz and his ex Amber Rose, mother of Wiz’s son. Rose responds with allegations about Kanye’s sexual preferences, using the hashtag #FingersInTheBootyAssBitch; Kanye denies it. A few days later, Kim and Amber Rose post a shared selfie. Kanye says he’s made up with Wiz, tweeting “Great convo. All positive”.

Tea anyone?

A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

Feb 2, 2016

Kanye tweets to mitigate his “album of the life” claim, acknowledging the giants whose shoulders he stands on. “Out of respect for Q-Tip, Puff, Hov, Lauren, Pharcyde, Mary, Stevie, Michael, Hendrix, James, Pete Rock, Pac, Marvin,” he writes, “this new album is ONE of the greatest albums not the greatest just one of… So many musicians touch my life and made me who I am. I want to make something great to honor my idols.”

Feb 4, 2016

Enthusing about his new album, Kanye writes on Twitter, “It was always a dream to have a listening party at Madison Square Garden. It was always a dream to show my collection at Madison Square Garden. On February 11th these dreams come true.”

Feb 7, 2016

Kanye changes his mind about the record’s name again, tweeting, “There may be a new secret album title.” The next day he tweets a clue – ‘T.L.O.P.’ Then he asks not to be disturbed.

Feb 10, 2016

Kanye reveals what appears to be the final tracklisting along with what appears to be the record’s final title: ‘The Life of Pablo’.

Feb 11, 2016

A few hours before the debut of Kanye’s seventh album, at the Yeezy Season 3 launch with Adidas, Kanye publishes its artwork. The event itself is a mad, 90-minute fashion show-cum-listening party with eagle-dressed Kardashians and an appearance from Naomi Campbell. People all over the world watch it in cinemas or via a stream on Tidal.


Feb 12, 2016

Kanye responds to controversy about his lyrics for ‘Famous’ (“I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/ I made that bitch famous.”) Later today he restarts G.O.O.D. Fridays with new track ’30 Hours’; immediately afterwards he reveals that the album is in the process of being mastered and will be out before the end of the day. He simultaneously provides a fifth, presumably final, tracklisting, including new additions ‘Lowlights’ and ‘Silver Surfer’.