Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (7.8/10)
Kanye West’s seventh and latest album, The Life of Pablo, feels rushed, slapped together, mismatched, and disjointed. However, only Kanye West could make an album that deserves all those adjectives and yet is still considered a great work.
Kanye album’s up until this point have followed a few central themes. College Dropout was about persevering and following your dreams; Late Registration was political and reminiscent; Graduation was about stadium status success; 808s and Heartbreak was a break up album; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was about the rise from personal downfall; and Yeezus was about art and minimalism. Pablo draws from all of this, yet it also is a mix of disconnected thoughts.
It’s hard to tell how long ‘Ye worked on Pablo. “Wolves,” and “Fade” came out last year at Yeezy Season 1 and 2 fashion shows. (“Wolves” originally had Sia and Vic Mensa, which, depending on your opinion, is better or worse than Frank Ocean and Pultizer-Prize-winning vocalist Caroline Shaw). Other songs, like “Waves,” and “30 Hours,” could have been made hours before the album’s release at Madison Square Garden.
That’s been an issue since songs like “Runaway” or “New Slaves” are masterly crafted songs that feel like Kanye finessed and sharpened into final products. Previous Kanye success is about him as a master craftsman of hip-hop production and songwriting. Production on TLOP feels absent of the Kanye touch for the most part. Lyrically, some verses are phenomenal, while others are childish jabs at Taylor Swift and Ray J. “All Day,” a massive hard-hitting single from a year ago, is sadly missing from this album.
Yeezus had minimal, largely unknown features; TLOP is chocked to the brim with newcomers and Grammy-winners. Kanye cornerstones like Kid Cudi and Frank Ocean appear; huge stars like Rihanna, The Weeknd, and Chris Brown help Kanye out, and rising stars like Chance The Rapper, Ty Dolla $ign, Young Thug, and Post Malone appear too.
With Kanye all over the place, he is free to explore different sounds instead of production themes that previous albums used. On the opener, “Ultra Light Beam,” Kanye uses purely gospel sounds. The closer, “Fade,” is a pure old-school 80’s house track, which Kanye drops maybe four total lines. (There are several songs where Kanye appears minimally to other artists).
Overall, Kanye is like your friend who did the first block challenge and still managed to get the best grade in your FYE. Even when his first priority isn’t making great music, because Kanye’s focus is apparently fashion right now, he can still use his reputation, popularity, controversy, friends, skill, and ear to piece together a great work.
Best Tracks: “Fade” (featuring Ty Dolla $ign & Post Malone), “Ultralight Beam” (featuring Chance The Rapper, Kelly Price, The-Dream & Kirk Franklin), “Waves” (featuring Chris Brown & Kid Cudi)
Rihanna – ANTI (7.1/10)
Rihanna has rewritten the rules. ANTI, her eighth album, went platinum in a day because she gave it out for free on Tidal, the Jay-Z owned streaming service. TLOP is also being distributed on this overly expensive service. However, ANTI is Rihanna’s least likely album to be a hit.
The Barbadian singer is a pop phenomenon second to Beyoncé, but more prolific. A hit single promoted each Rihanna album until now. Loud was preluded by “What’s My Name”; Talk That Talk, “We Found Love,” and Unapologetic had “Diamonds.” Rihanna had hit singles leading up to this album that didn’t make the cut, “FourFive Seconds,” and “Bitch Better Have My Money.” ANTI lacks a massive Rihanna pop hit.
Rihanna is a pop star, but ANTI is an R&B album. She draws from current R&B successes of Beyoncé and Frank Ocean and old school doo-wop and soul. Fans of Rihanna’s Top 40 pop hits would be shocked by the toned-down sign of ANTI.
Rihanna’s last two albums were party-starters with loud production from Mike Will Made-It, Calvin Harris and David Guetta. This time she takes on minimalist production from Noah “40” Shabib, DJ Mustard, Timbaland, No I.D., and rumored boyfriend Travi$ Scott. She also directly covers Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Ol’ Mistakes,” replacing Kevin Parker’s vocals with her own, but keeping the same instrumentation.
ANTI is unexpected. It was accidentally surprise-released. That was probably a good move. Hype for this Rihanna album could have destroyed it. This is an album Rihanna needed listeners to go into with minimal expectations. Curiosity to hear the new Rihanna album was necessary to hear the new Rihanna sound.
Best Tracks: “Higher,” “Love On The Brain,” “Yeah, I Said It”