For over a year and a half, Kanye West has been teasing the release of his upcoming project, originally titled So Help Me God. Anticipation for the album began far before the initial knowledge of its’ original name (later undergoing the titles’ Swish and Waves, before finally settling on The Life of Pablo), going back to when West was promoting Yeezus, when in multiple interviews he said that he wanted his next project to be released the following summer - citing “All Day” as its’ lead single.
Summer came and went, as did any solid information about the project. West seemed to shift his focus onto fashion, and the only shimmers of light fans received were miscellaneous singles, such as “Only One”, a heartfelt ballad to his deceased mother and newborn daughter, “Wolves”, a dark and moody electronic single (which did not receive a studio release), as well as finally “All Day”, an intended club banger with a whopping 20 credits, that did not do the damage that he obviously intended it to. On top of that, instrumentals and songs that supposedly were being used for the album were showing up on other artists’ projects, with The Weeknd’s “Tell Your Friends”, Travis $cott’s “Piss on Your Grave”, and Rihanna’s “FourFive Seconds” all originally intended to be on the release. With all of these songs sounding completely different, West’s passion not seemingly on music, and intended release dates passing by, it seemed like the album ever coming out was up in the air.
Of course, that now is not the case, with the big focus on Mr. West right now being his recent outbursts on twitter and otherwise, degrading Wiz Khalifa, publicly asking Mark Zuckerbeg for $1 Billion to fund his company Donda, and allegedly proclaiming Bill Cosby as innocent. I am going to do everyone a favor and not talk about any of this. The focus here is the music. It is the album. The album is what we have all been waiting for.
To begin with, the album’s opening track is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard from West. The song holds a steady, warming chord progression that carries you throughout the duration like you’re being swaddled by a loving mother. The percussion gently adds a rhythm, without becoming overbearing as West and a powerful gospel choir bring positivity and strong good vibes as well as Chance the Rapper brings a calming yet motivating verse. It’s a very, very solid song, and brings out the fact that Ye is 7/7 on his track intros.
However, immediately, the next track, “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”, is what I am both disappointed and pleased to say is the worst track on the project. The song contains probably the worst set of lines Yeezus has ever bestowed upon us, “Well if I fuck this model, and she just bleached her asshole, and I get bleach on my t-shirt, I’ma feel like an asshole”. Yeah, I know. I know, I know, I know. The instrumental even takes a breather at this part, giving West room to draw more attention to what he’s saying. Sometimes it’s hard being a Kanye West fan. Some days, you wake up in the morning and you question everything you know, and who you are and why you’re doing this. What is the point of everything? Why does the sun rise in the morning and what is existence? Am I stuck in some sort of Matrix-like program run by Ye in the future that is constantly testing us to see if we will stick with our supreme leader?
If you’re looking for bangers from West to play at your next sweaty frat party so you can flex everyone’s existence away, he definitely came through for you on these next few tracks. I don’t mean to say that in a negative fashion, of course I’m going to bump these songs, but facts are facts (Actually, a great track on this project just for that very thing is called “Facts”). From “Famous” to “Waves”, Ye comes through with several tracks that will make your head nod and your whip at least 200% more rideable. The most cohesive of these, “Famous”, is a track featuring Rihanna that has a solid foundation, and sticks to it. The song could even be a radio single, despite the fact that West has made it very clear that he no longer cares about hits. On this track, West comes through with a series of clear, hilariously cocky bars over a shimmering synthetic beat with the welcome addition of a nice breakdown towards the third act of the song. In Waves, Kanye raps over an astoundingly beautiful synthetic vocal instrumental, handing the mic off this time to Chris Brown for the occasional hook. Another welcome addition to this track is Kid Cudi, who as usual, excels at moaning for a minute and a half in the background.
The energy comes to a quick halt (after a few breaks inbetween those songs, such as “Lowlights”, a two minute love letter to God, and “I Love Kanye”, a hilariously charming skit in which Kanye finds tons of different ways to rhyme with his own name) with “FML”, a Weeknd featured track that slowly builds tension throughout with another dark, brooding synth beat. The song actually reminds me quite a bit of “Hold Your Liquor”, one of the standout tracks from 2013’s Yeezus. The song is a spectacular, cohesive listen, one of my favorites from the album.
The next two songs, “Real Friends” and “Wolves” both seem to have their own sound as well, with the former sounding like it could have fit snugly onto 2007’s Graduation, and the latter really not seeming to have a home outside the album. The CDQ of “Wolves” ended up being radically different from the previewed version heard a year ago, removing Vic Mensa and Sia’s verse, both large additions to it before, and replacing their sections with a long verse, and a very welcome outro sung by Frank Ocean.
From here, we are taken to another intermission where Ye seems that he needs to prove to everybody that Max B was okay with the album being called Waves, and then we arrive at what is to me, the most polarizing track of the album, “30 Hours”. The song starts out with a very groovy, boom bap type beat and Ye simply spitting a few nostalgic bars, which all lead into the second half, which in my opinion is an absolute waste of time. Kanye West just ad libs random sentences throughout, calls on Andre 3000 just to harmonize in the background, and then he even answers his phone at the end. I’m not saying that I’m 100% sure Andre 3000 would have killed a verse here, but I’m at least 99% sure, and all West did was use him in the background. The song just becomes boring, honestly. Especially after such a promising first half...
And that takes us to the final two tracks, “Facts (Charlie Heat Version)”, and “Fade”. The former, of course, already being released, but this version includes the welcome addition of a nice booming, buttery beat that Ye lays his flow all over. Even though the lyricism isn’t anything to write home about (which is the case with a lot of songs on this project), it really is just nice to listen to. The latter, “Fade”, holding a nice groovy bass line and insane percussion breakdown in the third act as well, making it one of the best album closers I’ve heard from West.
Overall, I think that Kanye West came through with another solid project that will be listenable for a long time. Kanye makes songs that don’t get tired quickly (unless you do that service for yourself), making his albums really stand the test of time. Though it’s not my favorite of his (that award going to 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), I think that it is definitely a solid listen and there’s probably something for everybody in this. There are of course, moments that will turn many off from the project (“Freestyle 4”’s Ghetto Oprah intermission, "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1"), but I really do think that it is worth a listen. If I had one major gripe about the project, it’s that he really does seem to focus on sex far too much. There doesn’t seem to be one song where he doesn’t at least mention something to do with sex. We get it Kanye, you’re married. With that being said, if you’re not sold on Ultralight Beams, then I honestly don’t know what music would possibly be good enough for you.
By Adam Sputh