Def Jam

Everyone knows Kanye West is one of music’s most polarizing figures. Sure, he types shocking tweets and makes absurd statements. He’s obsessed with fashion and has married into reality show royalty. And it seems like his arch-nemesis at this point is a perky blonde pop star who just won the Album of the Year award at the 2016 Grammys (congrats Taylor Swift but we really think Kendrick Lamar deserved it). Despite all of that, true music fans know, Kanye makes great music. That’s sometimes his actual saving grace.

So it’s understandable that expectations have been set high for Kanye’s seventh solo effort. The album was first announced in early 2015 as So Help Me God, then the title changed to Swish, then to Waves before finally landing on The Life of Pablo (or Paul -- depending on Kanye’s tweet at the moment). Just over two years later, ’Ye finally dropped the Def Jam/G.O.O.D. Music release after many early leaks, rumors and inside info from the man himself.

T.L.O.P. isn’t as tightly constructed or littered with huge hits in the same vein as Yeezy’s Graduation (2007) or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) LPs and isn't wildly bold compared 808s & Heartbreak (2008) but it's still a very strong album. Executive produced by Kanye and co-executive produced by Rick Rubin and Noah Goldstein, The Life of Pablo features writing, production and guest appearances from some of hip-hop’s most revered with a heavy creative infusing of eclectic music and vocal samples. The final product comes off as a compilation of songs made out of fragments of beats, lyrics and samples that are threaded into full pieces based on different points of Kanye’s career.

As a result, there's a record for everyone on The Life of Pablo, no matter which era of Yeezy they prefer. One of the best tracks, “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2,” -- produced by Kanye, Menace and Rick Rubin and co-produced by Plain Pat -- shows a reflective Kanye where he opens up about his personal mistakes and fatherhood like, “Up in the morning, miss you bad/Sorry I ain't called you back/Same problem my father had” and includes a snippet from the fast-growing popular debut song from G.O.O.D. Music’s newest signee, the Future-sounding, Desiigner.

On the ’Ye and Havoc-produced and Noah Goldstein, Charlie Heat and Andrew Dawson co-produced record “Famous,” Kanye has Rihanna take on Nina Simone's iconic “Do What You Gotta Do” as he flips Sister Nancy's “Bam Bam,” creating a stadium-size banger that's both insane and exciting. (The track includes the controversial and unnecessary line about Taylor Swift, “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous.”)

Looking for bars? The Kendrick Lamar collabo “No More Parties in L.A.,” crafted by Kanye and Madlib, will make any true hip-hop head’s heart melt. The Auto-Tune-heavy “Wolves” is haunting, with ’Ye painting the image of himself and his wife, Kim Kardashian, as Mary and Joseph with, “I said baby what if you was clubbin’/Thuggin’, hustlin’ before you met your husband?/Then I said, ‘What if Mary was in the club/When she met Joseph around hella thugs?’”

The joint features melodic beat work from Kanye, Cashmere Cat, Sinjin Hawk and Mike Dean. Kanye has some of his most honest and human moments on the record “FML” with lines like, “I will die for those I love/God I'm willing/To make this my mission/Give up the women/Before I lose half of what I own/I been thinking/About my vision/Pour out my feelings/Revealing the layers to my soul, my soul.” The Weeknd’s shrill hook matches up with Kanye’s heartfelt rhymes and heavy drum and keyboard beat produced by ’Ye and Mitus and co-produced by Metro Boomin, Noah Goldstein and Mike Dean.

Another sincere record is “Real Friends,” which features Kanye at his saddest while he describes his loneliness, even around family, with lines like, “But how many honest? Trust issues/Switched up the number, I can’t be bothered/I cannot blame you for havin’ an angle/I ain’t got no issues, I’m just doin’ my thing/Hope you doin’ your thing, too/I’m a deadbeat cousin, I hate family reunions.” The song’s laid-back beat by Yeezy and Boi-1da with co-production from Frank Dukes and Havoc mix well with the soft vocals from Ty Dolla $ign on the hook.

The album’s opening record and probably its best cut, “Ultralight Beam” is the sum of all of that and more. Over halting and haunting production from ’Yeezy, Mike Dean, Chance The Rapper and Swizz Beatz and co-production from Rick Rubin and Derek Watkins, The-Dream and Kelly Price croon flawlessly, Kanye sounds his sincerest, the choir is perfection and Kirk Franklin’s words of inspiration are the cherry on top but it’s Chance’s performance that stands out as arguably the best verse on the whole LP.

With additional contributions from Chris Brown, Young Thug, Post Malone, Southside, Hudson Mohawke, Anthony Kilhoffer and more, the album also offers notable tracks including “Fade,” “Waves” and “Highlights.” However, the song order on T.L.O.P. is a bit questionable. Uplifting “Ultralight Beam” transitions to Kanye rapping about screwing models with bleached assholes on “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1,” which feels awkward. The Andre 3000-featured “30 Hours” is a good enough song until the latter half of the record when it becomes Kanye randomly chatting about ultra light beamin’ while offering shout outs to his team -- almost mixtape style. The song is better served as the outro, not the fourth to last cut, and it’s even called a bonus track in the song itself.

T.L.O.P. does the perfect job of showcasing what makes Kanye brilliant -- excellent production mixed with creative samples and his Quincy Jones-esque ability to get the best work out of some of music’s most talented artists. ’Ye’s rapping is good, filled with creative and honest lyrics, funny barbs, outright disses, his occasional take on pop culture and politics and the traditional Kanye bragging plus a few unnecessary lines that can make some listeners wonder he would even say them. But that’s ’Ye.

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