Written by DeRa Brinson
This Sonic Breakdown will cover Kanye West’s new album, The Life of Pablo. I own every Kanye album except Yeezus, starting with The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation, 808s & Heartbreak, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and Watch the Throne. I will follow the same format, giving a breakdown of each track followed by a conclusion on the album as a whole.
A gospel vibe is felt from the very beginning sonically with the use of the organ and the clip of women shouting “we don’t want no devils in this house, we want The Lord, that is it” as others give confirmation. Kanye West sings/ talks about being a positive force and is accompanied by a chorus that not only pushes the gospel feel to the max but adds gravity. Then Kelly Price takes us to church with amazing vocals and content. She leads Chance the Rapper’s verse, who takes me back to “Sunday candy,” which he references with the line, “I made Sunday candy, I am never going to hell, I met Kanye West, I am never going to fail.” He has a very nice verse and provides a carefree tone and lightness that is exposed by the trumpets, which could possible by played by Donnie Trumpet from Surf toward the end (also an album reviewed last year). Chance keeps with the religious tone in his lyrics where he reference Lot’s wife during the exodus from Sodom and Gomorrah. This is an excellent song to set the tone for the album and provide context for what the album has in store. Kirk Franklin is heard toward the end promoting positivity and self-belief that serves as an exclamation point to the gospel theme, with his chorus closing out the track.
“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”
A Kanye classic soul sample is introduced here, still playing off some religious themes of power and divinity. This track is more grounded than the previous in hip-hop, with a strong bass line giving a bounce after a darker intro. Kid Cudi is perfect for this infectious hook and uplifts the song, but he is hindered by Kanye’s first verse that begins with a jarring line that he is known for throughout his career. The track sonically has an uplifting appeal that transforms to a more playful feel as a result of his lyrics. Mr. West’s content on the verse takes away from the production, diminishing the well-polished beat. He touches on more superficial topics and tries to make it lighthearted or humorous, but it just falls flat.
The transition to this song is effortless, and it might be hard to realize you’re on a new song if you’re not familiar with the album or didn’t look at the device playing the album. There is a fast-paced drum section that gets juxtaposed with a slower section, providing dynamics. He reflects on his start of being in a car crash to where and how he feels now. The lyrical content is better on this track compared to the previous song and is way more introspective. Desiigner, who I am not familiar with, sounds a lot like Future, who I am not the biggest fan of, but his voice sounds nice here and elevates the feel of the track.
Rihanna sets up this track before a hard-hitting Swiss Beatz production. Kanye has gotten a lot of publicity about the line revolving around Taylor swift: “me and Taylor might still have sex, you know why, I made that bitch famous,” which should be taken as hyperbole even if Kanye truly believes it or not. This beat takes me back to when Swiss Beatz was producing for DMX and Ruff Ryders. It is hard-hitting matched with a softer section with Rihanna. It ends with the nostalgic sample of “Bam Bam” by Sister Nancy, paying homage to Rihanna’s island roots. Then the great Nina Simone is heard on the outro.
A very futuristic sound reminiscent to tracks on Yeezus. The production has a contorted siren sound. Mr. West gives a hint to why the album is titled what it is, indicating that he is similar to Pablo Picasso, a genius creator that is misunderstood. There is no better example of this thinking than the through the line, “name one genius that ain’t crazy.” In addition to Yeezus, this song has elements that are reminiscent of “The New Workout Plan.” Shades of that workout-plan vibe are based on how Kanye sounds when he does his impersonation of Oprah.
Being accepted is the theme showcased on this track, behind a beat that is an elevated version of the production on 808s and Heartbreaks. Sandy Rivera’s voice is soothing yet has a sharpness and edge that provides reassurance by way of positive thinking.
An upbeat, high-energy feeling similar to “Good Life.” Kanye touches on multiple topics, but most surround the theme of family. One of the funniest lines is, “sometimes I wish my dick had go pro.” The cynic in me questions if he said it for product placement to get advertising money. On this track, he releases everything he and the social media world wanted insight on, from Ray J making the song “I Hit It First” and Rob and Blac Chyna. I believe the Dream and El DeBarge is featured on this track, providing a softer tone in contrast to Kanye’s. I do like his flow over the production more in the second verse than the first without Young Thug, making an overall good song.
A very gritty, dark, ominous toned production that evokes the imagery of a villain in a James Bond movie. The atmosphere is embellished by the violins and bass. Desiigner is again featured here. The lyrical content is pretty simple and nothing elaborate.
“I Love Kanye”
A humorous a cappella track that adds levity to the album, especially after such a darker previous track.
“Your Love is Fading”-Kanye West
The most R&B sounding song of the album, and it makes sense that Chris Brown is used for the hook. It is a very syncopated sound that does give the impression of waves. Kanye doesn’t lack any confidence, as is expressed through this track. It isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t one of my favorites and definitely not the worst.
A somber atmosphere is expressed by the soft, slow production with a reflective, introspective flow from Kanye. He rides over the beat as if he is talking to himself and touching on the deepest thoughts that we all have regarding different things but are too scared to allow anyone to hear or know. The song seems like therapy for him, to release his thoughts in a safe place. The Weekend is featured, adding a haunting quality. A rock-song feeling comes in toward the end with guitar distortion that is led in by a drum solo. Kanye’s crooning adds to that vibe. This rock feel makes sense because the band Section 25’s song “Hit” is sampled here.
That eerie, reflective vibe is carried over here with a more classical hip-hop sounding beat. Kanye’s lyrical skills are showcased here on more relatable content matter. We all can relate to having people in your life that you thought were real friends only to find out that they didn’t show that level of respect and honor to reciprocate that title. He doesn’t only illuminate the flaws in others trying or pretending to be friends with him for gains or to take advantage, but his own downside of working so much that he doesn’t foster relationships with his real friends. Ty$ complements the song effortlessly. The track ends with a calming yet somber tone, giving the impression that he understands and accepts the situation, even though it isn’t resolved and nothing has changed.
Layers of the previous track are slowed and made heavier, giving a gloomy environment. This is similar to “Pt.1” and “Pt.2,” making the changing of tracks seamless, adding to the cohesive feel of the entire album. Kanye begins singing with the use of auto-tune, adding to the doldrums atmosphere, touching on how his mother might view his behavior. He again touches on the religious theme or the premise of the Virgin Mary and Joseph-type relationships in our times and is expressed through the line, “what if Mary was in the club when she met Joseph around hella thugs.” Mr. West gives the impression that he is comparing his family life to that of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. Some might say this fits the idea and might be a well-deserved notion that Kanye see or believes that he is a divine being. There is an animalistic quality in the production, and toward the end, the layers are pulled back, leaving an electric keyboard and Frank Ocean, making it more intimate.
“Silver Surfer Intermission”
Max B gives Kanye his blessing to use the sound that he created, and Kanye gives the impression that the love is reciprocated.
This is a driving track, based on the energy it gives off. The flow takes me back to the old Kanye and doesn’t disappoint with the content. He is not hitting with anything extremely deep, but it is fitting for the production. Andre 3000 is heard as background vocals that elevate the smoothness of the beat. This has a “Last Call” feel as he talks about random things toward the end and lets us take in the production.
“No More Parties in LA”
Another soul sample from Junie Morrison is heard here, followed by the production that has a 90s feel mixed with some ODB and Wu-Tang ad libs. Kendrick Lamar is featured on this song in the first verse, where he uses his higher-pitched voice and a fast-paced flow. This isn’t Lamar’s best rhyme, but it doesn’t disappoint either. Kanye provides insight to his experience of LA life from traffic to the nightlife. He again gives a more classic Kanye flow, and this is one of the better verses on the album.
This is the trap song of the album. Kanye is back to his braggadocio style, reminding us of his exploits from everything to his shoes to his clothing line. The style he uses has hints of Drake, and I’m not sure exactly why. This is a track I can see people listening to and turning up on the way to a club or party.
A 808s and Heartbreak-type of production that has a hint of soul with some EDM and a splash of hip-hop. The theme of the song is stated in the first words of the song, “your love is fading.” The most important aspect isn’t that the love is fading, but that is how he feels when he is alone. This might explain what drives him to keep striving to be better and more creative. Ty$ is heard on the bridge and shows his diversity. Post Malone is also heard on the third verse with nothing special lyrically, but he sounds nice on this production. This was a fitting song to end the album.
This album has a very high production value that is equivalent to or exceeds my favorite Kanye album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. This confirms that he is an adroit producer. The elevated production quality is a gift and a curse because it draws attention to the fact that the lyrical quality isn’t equivalent. The instrumentation sounds like a mix of the MBDTF and “Good Life.” There is a strong religious presence that oozes throughout the entire album, and that is something I wasn’t anticipating. It isn’t detrimental or advantageous, just an observation. It can add reasoning or justification for the whole God complex that Kanye has been projecting the last couple of years. It might also explain why he doesn’t seem to be able to or want to capitulate to social norms, even in the eccentric world of celebrities.
Overall, the album is really enjoyable audible art that shows Kanye West’s growth with sound and validates his proclamation of being a great producer. If his lyrical skills matched his production ability, this might have been one of the all-time great albums. The instrumentations are so vast and expansive, with hints of previous works by Kanye, that it gives you a sense of familiarity but with a new experience. He has a lot of features, but the features don’t encumber the verses, which how I felt with Compton. The featured artists are used more like instruments to add layers to the production rather than to add content. Again, this was a very good project and lives up to the standard set by his previous works.
The next Breakdown will cover Rihanna’s Anti deluxe album.