Kanye West — The Life of Pablo ANALYSIS & REVIEW
Melody was Kanye West’s true domain within the entire scope of this album’s production, and it was easily the poorest aspect. Most of these melodies were downright awful. Rhythm was practically all that was needed, but West made no noticeable effort to put forth any intriguing rhythm to his lines. They were all very flat and predictable with no strong rhythmic feeling. The melodic lines never enhanced the beat, never had any sense of build, and never made me want to listen to the songs ever again. Songs such as “Feedback”, “Highlights”, “FML”, “Real Friends”, and “Frank’s Track” had melodic lines that were so rhythmically plain it was quite unbearable. His rhyming patterns were instantly obvious and dull to the point where the songs became truly annoying.
His rap style on this album reminded me of Jon Lajoie, a comedian who has written several rap parody songs with stupid rhymes and very plain rhythms for his melodies. Lajoie uses the plainness and stupidity of his melodies for great comedic effect. West’s approach to melodies is very comparable, but he is obviously not trying to be funny. When a so-called serious musician fails this much at their craft, it results in one big face-palm, as well as some laughter. I must admit that I did not grow up with rap, nor do I consider myself an expert on the genre’s nuances.
That being said, as an outside musician, I still feel safe in expressing my belief that Kanye West simply can’t rap. His lack of melodic musicality in The Life of Pablo makes me believe even further that he is not in the right professional field. One cannot simply rhyme every other line on the same metric beat and then repeat everything just to try and sound important. He may have had something important to say, but it was lost in the stupidity of his deliverance.
What I found interesting is that when West gave way to other featured musicians in the melody, most notably in “Famous” and “Fade”, there were actually signs of melodic shape and attraction. I will get into this next point later on, but if this album was made exactly the same way but without any influence from Kanye West, it would have been much better. West kept the role finding melodic intrigue to himself, and it completely ruined this album.
If it were not for the many musical collaborators West brought on to help with this album, it surely would have turned out to be utter garbage. Thankfully, there were many different hands involved in laying down the structure of the track to actually inject some creativity into this album. Indeed, I also see West’s decision to collaborate with many other musicians as a sign of weakness on his part. That fact that he needed all of these people to come together to create what he had in his head shows that he didn’t have the musical talent to do it himself. With all that is done to help him out, though, as a listener I must respect this decision.
Harmonically, this album was musically sound and appropriate. The harmonies were mostly understandable and supportive at the most basic level while offering a bit of surprise here and there. The downfall of these harmonies was the consistent static motion. Overall, the harmonies didn’t move or help progress the music, nor did they break from their repetitive pattern. In most cases, though, the patterns were engaging and helpful in providing a musical identity, which was crucial since the melody did none of this. “No More Parties in LA” had a solid and respectable bass line, and “Saint Pablo” had a cool and unique progression, albeit a dull harmonic rhythm. Did West have a say in these harmonic decisions? I would guess not, but I’m sure he approved them to a degree. Throughout The Life of Pablo, the harmonies provided consistent basic support through simple chord structures, but never played a big role in giving any true sense of musicality to the listener.
More often than not, the timbres on this album contrasted and muddled with each other to the point where the listener couldn’t fully engage. There was never one consistent mood that all of the sounds worked towards. For example, in “Low Lights”, there were great uses of both upright piano and electronic bass, but putting those uses together came off as odd and without purpose. Throughout the album, there was some terrible use of autotune in a few vocal lines that completely detracted from the genuineness of the music.
Another recurring facet of the timbre was short, complete breaks where everything dropped out except for the spoken melodic line. Since the melody was offering no intriguing substance whatsoever, this was a bad timbral decision. The use of strings was a unique idea but got old and uneventful rather quickly in “Freestyle 4”. What The Life of Pablo got right most of the time was the attention to the beat itself, and more specifically bringing it out. The beat was a little weak in the first couple of the songs on the album, but started to come through well in “Famous” and “Feedback”.
Overall, the beats were solid and did what they could to lay down a good musical foundation for the artist, being West, to then work with. I have no doubt in my mind that West left most of the timbral decisions to other people, and he simply let others know what he liked and didn’t like throughout the process. The result wasn’t too bad; there were nice beats, neat backup vocals, and cool uses of acoustic instruments. That being paired with the more electronic timbres that seemed to move in the opposite direction did not have a very pleasant result. Still, the bits and pieces were there to get something great out of the music. That never happened. The foundation was present, but nothing else was, thanks to West’s very ineffective contributions. As I said earlier, West should have been left out of this album completely.
I hate to say that the reason behind Kanye West’s popularity is that listeners these days are attracted to dumb music that they can easily comprehend and therefore enjoy. They want music spoon-fed to them so that no brainpower is required to be able to listen to the full intentions of the music. It certainly does not take a genius to figure out what Kanye West is doing in his music. There’s no smoke and mirrors to his stuff; it’s all too easily straightforward, making me believe that this album’s best audience would be grade school students had his lyrics not been so vulgar. West is a main contributor to the de-sensitizing of music that is happening today. If I had the power, I would stop West from ever writing a single piece of music ever again. After eight albums, if you still sound as unbelievably plain and uninspiring as this, it should be obvious that music isn’t right for you.
Granted, he does seem to have a true artist’s mind. He is creative, outspoken, and driven to bring his thoughts to life. Perhaps he should be a fashion designer, or a fiction-based author, or a film director. In listening to his creation The Life of Pablo, I’m not convinced that he a true musician. Sadly, many people are, and even grovel at his very feet. Since its release, this album has been widely talked about and shared. Whether I like it or not, it’s ingrained in our music world, mostly due to West’s enigmatic self rather than its music. While it sounds like a novice rapper’s first attempt at music, it is actually a stand-alone representation of today’s culture, which merits some heavy influential power.