The back story of Kanye West's 2016 release, The Life of Pablo, is nearly impossible to put in a nutshell, but it involves an ever-changing album title, including one that offended Wiz Khalifa so much that a twitter war ensued. Then there was a "Bill Cosby is innocent" tweet, and a consensus among producers and insiders that this was the culmination of his career. There was the Season 3 release of West's fashion line, a coinciding event that seemed just as important to Yeezy as dropping this LP. More important, maybe, since the runway models all made their cues while The Life of Pablo missed its release date, and while the idea that this is Kanye's career in one album can be loosely applied, it's more an angelic-themed LP in the vein of 808s & Heartbreak, with another vicious, trite, spiteful, parasitic release nibbling at its host. The opening masterpiece, "Ultralight Beam," represents the angelic side, offering a complicated emotional ride with the Gospel of Kirk Franklin fueling the song's jaw-dropping climax. Then, on a smaller scale, there's "No More Parties in L.A." with Kendrick Lamar and Madlib as co-producer, plus samples of Junie Morrison and Larry Graham, all supporting a smooth, rolling soul song they never could've imagined -- one about dropping your own shoe line -- plus "sheets still orange from your spray tan." Add the gorgeous "FML" ("I will die for those I love/God, I'm willing to make this my mission"), which comes with the Weeknd, and a marvelous sample of post-punkers Section 25, and the vibrant The Life of Pablo circles the wagons around family and soul mates in a manner that makes this the most holy of endeavors. And yet, when "Real Friends" explores the flipside, the emotions are tweet-sized and click bait, because paying a cousin a quarter million just to get a laptop back, just because of ex-girlfriend nudes, seems like G-Unit bragging or yesterday's bossip. There's the much talked about Taylor Swift diss in "Famous," which is not only callous, trite, and illogical but sits on a sub-Yeezy beat, and yet "Waves" (sounds like Kraftwerk remixing Chris Brown), "Highlights" (Young Thug and Yeezy connect supremely, like Drake and Future), and "Low Lights" (nothing but bass and a woman testifying for pure perfection) are all captivating, and make Pablo a soul-filling, gospel-fueled alternative to West's vicious, industrial-powered LP Yeezus. The bleached anuses that ruin expensive t-shirts in "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" just don't seem as interesting in this context, but the other way to look at the erratic Pablo is as an "instant" LP, one that was mastered at the last minute and debuted via streaming. On that count, it's a fascinating, magazine-like experience with plenty of reasons to give it a free play, and with "Feedback" adding "name one genius that ain't crazy" to the mix, Pablo excuses itself from the usual criticisms, although it could have been tighter.
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
Benji Benstead / Ronald Carroll / Mike Dean / Stephen Garrett / Noah Goldstein / Cornelius Grant / Sam Griesemer / Tyrone Griffin / Larry Heard / Eddie Holland / Anthony Kilhoffer / Harold Matthews / Robert Owens / Austin Post / Jerome Potter / Eric Seats / Rapture Stewart / Barbara Tucker / Little Louie Vega / Ryan Vojtesak / Kanye West / Norman Whitfield