Leave it to Kanye West to do things his way. He previewed his seventh album, The Life of Pablo, Thursday during a combination listening party and Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden. It was also live streamed via Tidal and at movie theaters throughout the world.
Supermodels Naomi Campbell and Veronica Webb, plus other models, simply stood in place on stage as West played the set.
While the 10-song album does not take as many creative risks as his last two sets – 2013’s Yeezus and 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy – he’s still musically miles ahead of his contemporaries.
Below, see our track-by-track review that highlights the lyrical content and sounds of the introspective songs that address everything from reflections on his past dramas with Taylor Swift to what his late mother would think of his antics. Also, West’s earlier claims that the record was a “gospel album with a whole lot of cussing” only applies to a few songs.
“Ultra Light Beams” – This opening track is one of the songs on The Life of Pablo that can substantiate West’s claim that the set is basically a gospel album. It opens with audio of a little girl praying, and West follows suit, praying for Paris and parents. Gospel singers including Kelly Price bring hopeful guttural messages over a bluesy, gospel track. Kirk Franklin preaches that the song is for those who think they are “not good enough.”
“You can never go too far,” he says, adding that everyone needs help. An incredibly moving choir closes the song.
(photo: Getty Images)
“Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1 & Pt. 2” – As one of hip-hop’s most introspective rappers, West is always willing to reveal his emotional struggles. On this easy R&B track, he touches on everything from having sex with models to his mother dying in Hollywood; and his pre-fame, near-death car accident.
“Freestyle 4” – In usual West fashion, he follows a somber moment with a return to his classic bravado. With experimental production reminiscent of Public Enemy, he rants, “Name one genius that ain’t crazy,” brags about being from Chicago’s south side, and takes a dig at his blogger critics before breaking into a comical, Flavor Flav-like skit where he proclaims to be the “ghetto Oprah.” He jokes that he’s gifting his audience with fur coats and private jets.
“Famous” – West recruits Rihanna to sing the sexy and sultry chorus for the song on the album with the most salacious diss. In the midst of asking his exes to be grateful for making them famous, he slips in an alarming dig at Taylor Swift. Though the two were reportedly on good terms last year when Swift presented West the Video Music Awards Video Vanguard Award, a make-good from West interrupting Swift’s first VMAs win acceptance speech in 2009, West makes a classless comment about Swift: “I think me and Taylor still might have sex / I made that b**** famous.”
“Highlights” – A woman’s testimony about God’s grace is a sophomoric attempt to add more “gospel” elements to the album. After she finishes, the song transforms into another hip-hop R&B record. Young Thug, The-Dream, and El DeBarge contribute vocals as West makes fun of his wife’s ex, Ray J, also the co-star in Kim Kardashian’s sextape. “I bet me and Ray J would be friends / If we didn’t love the same b****.”
“Feedback” – West is in “rap god” mode on the thematic, syncopated beat-driven song about sexploits and general fan reaction throughout his career. In the first verse, he raps about he and a woman exposing themselves to each other, and West asking her to have sex on a dinner table to shut down a party. In the second verse, he gloats about how he has intrigued fans with his style of dress, outlandish personality, and music. He raps, “Now I look and look around / And there’s so many Kanyes.”
“Fade” – Sonically, the hypnotic, house-ready “Fade,” featuring Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign, is the most distinguished song on the album.
“FML” – Again, West faces a moral internal struggle on the song that is an acronym for “F*** My Life.” In one lyric, he expresses his desire to change his ways, rapping, “God, I’m willing to make this my mission / Give up the women before I lose half of what I own.” But when the song’s pacing changes to the feel of a Blaxploitation theme, he quips that he’s from a “Tribe Called Check a Hoe.”
“Real Friends” – Though the song featuring Ty Dolla $ign is called “Real Friends,” it is actually about people who get on his nerves. He complains about people expecting him to remember details about their children (“Got my own junior on the way”), people who question him about his actions (“Please don’t pressure me with that bulls***”), and his cousin who allegedly charged him $250,000 to return the stolen laptop that contained videos of West having sex with women. West punctuates each scenario with a sarcastic, “I guess I get what I deserve.”
“Wolves” – Dark and moody, the final track takes on the sensitive topic of West’s late mother, Donda West, who died in 2007. An Auto Tune-heavy West sings a question that he has likely been asked: “If mama knew now / How you turned out / You too wild.” As the song continues, he asks others about regrets. He then argues to be conscientious of the company we keep and pontificates how Jesus Christ may have been impacted if his mother Mary had met her husband Joseph in a club. “We surrounded by the f***** wolves,” he sings. Far out hypothetical biblical theories aside; musically, the song is good and is heightened by refreshing background vocals from missing-in-action R&B favorite Frank Ocean.