“A gospel album with a whole lot of cursing on it” is how Kanye West described his seventh studio album, The Life of Pablo, which was released on Feb. 14. This sparked excitement amongst the many fans that favor West’s first album The College Dropout, an album known for its soulful feel. Though reminiscent of the spiritual sound associated with earlier West, the final product is something much more than anything a younger, College Dropout-era West could have made. The album is a beautiful mess. It opens with one of West’s best songs ever, “Ultralight Beam,” which features Chance The Rapper and a full chorus. This song is reminiscent of “Jesus Walks” from The College Dropout.
Following “Ultralight Beam” are what can only be described as gospel-trap songs titled “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2,” produced by Metro Boomin. This pivot in musical style foreshadows the rest of the album.
After its upbeat beginning, the album moves into a more somber tone with “FML” featuring the Weeknd, “Real Friends” and “Wolves” featuring Frank Ocean. Each of these songs retain the album’s gospel feel, but also focus on heavier subjects such as failed relationships, bad friendships and depression. An intermission titled “Silver Surfer Intermission” and four bonus tracks—with guest appearances from artists such as Kendrick Lamar and André 3000—follow.
Though the gospel vibe remains constant throughout the album, West layers this with other music styles and with lyrics that reflect his own personal experiences with the pitfalls of fame and past relationships—which some people consider to be controversial and misogynistic.
With the release of his sixth studio album Yeezus in 2013, West offered a new, minimalistic sound that won over many listeners who were initially skeptical about this sound. Making musical departures has been commonplace for West, as he excels at making music that is sonically ahead of the game. The Life of Pablo is no different.
West took the non-traditional tactic of inviting the public into the creative process that led up to the release of TLOP. West changed the album’s title multiple times and tweeted out multiple track lists, then added and removed songs seemingly at will.
On top of this, West—unafraid to speak his mind—unleashed a Twitter tirade on fellow rapper Wiz Khalifa and Amber Rose—West’s ex-girlfriend and Khalifa’s ex-wife—after Khalifa tweeted his displeasure at one of the previous album titles.
An early version of the album was unveiled during a fashion show at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 11, where West also launched his third clothing line. Following an erratic performance on “Saturday Night Live,” the full album was released for streaming to eager consumers three days later on Tidal.
While the changing styling from song to song on TLOP can seem as if it is haphazardly thrown together, it’s almost certain that this was an intentional move by West. Ever the perfectionist, West continues to tweak the songs daily on Tidal.
With its sonic highs and lows, The Life of Pablo perfectly encapsulate what seems to have been West’s mindset when making the album. Religion ties together the offerings, whose themes range from depression to pure elation.
With Paul the Apostle—a teacher of Christianity in the first century—as the album’s namesake, West seems to signal that he, too, is bringing Christ’s teachings to the modern world in his own strange, beautiful and twisted way.