On ‘Feedback’, Kanye West raps that he is like “Steve Jobs mixed with Steve Austin”. His frequent self-made comparisons to Steve Jobs are widely known, but to devotees, Kanye West is more like the Steve Austin of music.
The Life of Pablo is undoubtedly daring in its deliberate incohesion: songs end abruptly and samples are used unaltered. In ‘Father Stretch My Hands’, “bleached assholes” and Kid Cudi coexist in a remix of underground trap hit ‘Panda’ by Future Disciple before concluding to a sound akin to a cassette malfunctioning mid-song.
At times, this scattershot approach lends itself well to displaying Kanye’s insecurities. The braggadocio of ‘Feedback’ and ‘Freestyle 4’ are undermined by being cut short. They also make the most unforgiving lines even more pathetic than they need to be. When Kanye raps “I bet me and Ray J would be friends if we ain’t love the same bitch” on ‘Highlights’, and that he feels that he and Taylor “might still have sex” on ‘Famous’, there’s no sticking it to the man, only gross celebrity shock humour.
Thankfully, both songs are salvaged by impressive and dynamic sonic details. Lush strings, jazzy piano and woozy synths elevate ‘Highlights’ to a perhaps undeserved grandeur, and a playful dancehall outro transforms ‘Famous’ to being the most carefree that a Kanye West song has sounded since ‘Watch the Throne’.
During the coda of ‘FML’ he attacks the toxicity of celebrity culture with an aquatic autotune wailing “they don’t wanna see me love you”.
West has likened his music to sonic paintings, and in this instance he sounds like Picasso’s The Old Guitarist as his voice cracks, sounding aged, but the guitar is replaced with autotune, and the subject of the painting is himself.
If we are to take the title as Kanye’s duality, part-Picasso, part-Escobar then it’s evident that when the cover asks us “which one?”, he doesn’t pick a side. He’s happy to play the role of both brilliant artist and the hateful figure simultaneously, and hence it’s only fitting that the album is a stylistic mess which more resembles a mixtape.
It’s a bloody good one though.