Elizabeth Foster ’22
When Pitchfork released their list for the best albums of the past decade, Kanye West’s Yeezus and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy fell among the top 20, with the latter dubbed second only to Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Succeeded by his own prodigy, West’s influence in the industry throughout the decade is unmistakable.
However, an iconic moment missing from Pitchfork’s account of the best albums of the decade was Kanye’s The Life Of Pablo. The 2016 LP is far from the rapper-producer-mogul-etc’s magnum opus, but I’m here to make the argument that TLOP was far from a T-FLOP—and to highlight some of the iconic moments leading up to its release.
Let’s start where it all began: Kanye West plans for a 2014 release of an album titled So Help Me God following 2013’s Yeezus. Things fall apart and soon enough, it’s 2015 and Kanye tweets a track list for an album supposedly titled Swish. Soon enough, Swish transforms into Waves before finally becoming The Life of Pablo on Feb. 9, two days before the album’s release.
On Feb. 11, Pablo premiered at Kanye’s Yeezy Szn 3 show at Madison Square Garden. The exact moment Pablo dropped, I was settled into a couch in the arts magazine’s office of my high school. For the next two hours, the show, complete with the Kardashians decked out in feathery garments, enraptured me. “Feedback” and “Facts” quickly became my favorite songs and persist in my playlists to this day. As the album has aged, I’ve only grown to appreciate it more.
The record is filled with moments so weird they could be only Kanye-level brilliance. The sampling of Desiigner’s “Panda” on “Pt 2” not only was an absurd artistic decision, but also helped to skyrocket the G.O.O.D. Music signee’s career. Remember when you couldn’t escape Desiigner’s eclectic “GRRA!” noises? Me neither. And who can forget the gospel beauty of “Ultralight Beam” featuring Chance the Rapper in the prime of his career? In 2016, it truly was a God dream. Rihanna’s appearance on “Famous” and Young Thug’s crooning of “baby I’m back in town” on “Highlights” are two other stand out moments that bring a smile to my face every time I play Pablo on loop. A$AP Rocky and Tyler, The Creator’s remix of “Freestyle 4” is owed a shout out as well; the beautifully chaotic “WHAT THE FUCK RIGHT NOW” features a cacophony of noise mixing with the Wang$ap duo’s respective flairs and Tyler mumbling an iconic “Floopy goober, motherfucker, floopy fuckin’ goober.”
Kanye’s editing of the track “Wolves” also marked a moment from which the music industry would never return. The era of streaming had finally cemented itself, allowing mega artists like Kanye West to tweak their tracks, patching them like a video game update, until the pieces reached their full potential. In his tweeting “Ima fix wolves,” Kanye proved that the industry was more digital than ever. After adding, removing, and re-adding features from Sia and Vic Mensa, the song eventually stayed stagnant on the album. The final “Wolves” is a haunting track that’s become the backing track to countless memes, Tik-Toks, and emotional moments in my car.
The long term effects of Pablo last to this day as Kanye’s devout fanbase now knows to expect nothing but disarray during an album rollout. The Life of Pablo also marks a highlight of the rapper’s tribute to his religion as he stated that the highly anticipated Jesus Is King is also a gospel album. A Pitchfork album of the decade The Life of Pablo may not be, but an iconic piece of music, art, and Kanye-ness it most certainly is.