On Feb. 14, 2016, Kanye West released his seventh studio album. The Life of Pablo addresses the media’s perception of West and is an explanation of and response to West’s own actions. The result is a poetic mixture of remorse and blatant honesty.
Since this album is a hard-to-tackle 20-track masterpiece, I’m going to begin by delving into the impact that some of the individual songs have, starting with the first track, “Ultralight Beam”—a powerful prayer. It recognizes an everyday struggle to move forward when the world pushes you down. It speaks of making mistakes and feeling like you can never come back to right the wrongs; it tells of how the world “persecutes the weak”. “Ultralight Beam” acts as a beacon of light for all who have had injustice pervade their lives. It begs that we turn to faith and encourages our souls to keep moving forward even through times of distress.
The second and third tracks on the album, “Father Stretch my Hands pt. 1” and “Father Stretch my Hands pt. 2,” also bring with them heavy undertones. The lyrics of these songs speak volumes. West begs, “I just wanna be liberated,” as if he is speaking directly to the restraints on his soul. The track speaks to the issues surrounding West’s celebrity status; he reflects on how easy it is to forget that celebrities are also human. He also recognizes that people are always talking about him, to the extent where he says “I’d be worried if they said nothing,” as if to say that he is used to it by now. In the second half of the two-part song, West delves into his past and brings up one of the biggest reasons why he struggles: “Momma passed in Hollywood / if you ask, lost my soul.” With blunt, honest lyrics like this, West tackles his innermost issues.
The fifth track on the album, “Feedback”, is a blatant response to West’s own behavior. He says, “I’ve been outta my mind a long time / I’ve been saying how I feel at the wrong time / Might not come when you want it, but at least it’s on time”. With this track, West admits that he has not always acted sanely, and he goes on to explain these actions, saying that he’s just trying to convey how he feels, even if it does not always come out as planned. He does not just focus on himself, however; he also comments on a hard-hitting problem in our society: discrimination against people of color. He raps, “Hands up, we just doing what the cops taught us / Hands up, hands up, then the cops shot us,” exposing the police brutality epidemic plaguing our society by reminding us that many victims of police brutality are killed when they have done nothing wrong.
The last song on the album that I’m going to discuss is the thirteenth track, “Wolves,” a powerful musical depiction of feeling “lost and beat up” in the world and coping with loss. West raps, “If momma knew now how you turned out / You’re too wild.” The artist has struggled with the loss of his mother for a long time; this album—and this track, in particular—is largely an analysis of that loss and how it has affected him. The quoted line sums up the overarching idea that, as West recognizes and acknowledges his faults throughout the album, he begins to guiltily think that his mother might be disappointed in him if she could see him today.
Kanye West released The Life of Pablo with the intent to explain himself, but it does much more than that. While listening to this album I felt a range of emotions: loss, hatred, guilt and recovery through faith. I feel that Kanye West has created a work of art that not just speaks about his own issues, but also expresses many universal truths about pain and honesty.