If “Yeezus” was a compilation of Kanye West’s most intense and angry beats yet, “The Life of Pablo” could be said to reveal his innermost fears, hopes and struggles. A self-reflective and thoughtful collection of both melancholy and triumphant songs, “TLOP,” when closely examined, gives listeners insight on the mysterious life of Kanye. The most poignant lines from the new album shed light on a few serious topics.
Kanye has touched on the issue of racism and inequality before in “Yeezus” in “New Slaves,” “Black Skinhead” and “Blood on the Leaves.” He returns to this ever-pressing issue in “TLOP” in “Feedback,” where he evokes similar symbols: “Rich slave in the fabric store picking cotton.” In “New Slaves,” he proclaims, “They wasn't satisfied unless I picked the cotton myself,” alluding to his 2011 fashion collection that was harshly disparaged by fashion critics. In his new album, Kanye takes it a step further by referring to himself as a slave to the industry even though he is a wealthy individual. West also alludes to the tumultuous events of the past few years later on in “Feedback,” commenting on the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri: “Hands up, we just doing what the cops taught us / Hands up, hands up, then the cops shot us.” “Hands up, don’t shoot!” has become the rallying cry of many protests, and Kanye brings to light the frustration of black activists in their conflict with the police. Kanye affirms that even the rich and powerful population among the black community can feel disempowered.
“TLOP” opens with the euphoric “Ultralight Beam,” which is heavily reminiscent of gospel music. He describes his current fame and success as a “God dream” and compares it to being on an “ultralight beam,” which may be a biblical allusion to a heavenly beam of light. Kanye seems to be tapping into his religious side, harking back to his spiritual stance on “The College Dropout” in contrast to Yeezus’s comparisons of himself to a god. He has even described “TLOP” as a gospel album, though this seems inaccurate to say the least. Chance the Rapper makes a significant appearance on this track, referring to his recent song “Sunday Candy,” which is dedicated to Chance’s own love for God: “I made Sunday Candy, I'm never going to hell / I met Kanye West, I'm never going to fail.” The verses after this line strongly evoke “Sunday Candy” vibes.
“FML,” unexpectedly, is an endearing dedication to his wife Kim Kardashian West. The name of the song invokes a double meaning, standing for both “fuck my life” and “for my lady,” both of which are phrases used by Kanye and The Weeknd in the song. He reveals his commitment to Kim, saying, “God, I'm willing / To make this my mission / Give up the women / Before I lose half of what I own,” coming a long way from the call “We want prenup!” in “Gold Digger.” He continues to remain faithful to his wife even though critics “wish [he] would go ahead and fuck [his] life up.” Kanye also makes an interesting analogy in the somber “Wolves,” comparing Kim to Mary, suggesting the possibility that Mary could have acted immorally before she was visited by God. He acknowledges that Kim was “clubbin' / Thuggin', hustlin' before [she] met [her] husband,” undoubtedly referring to her infamous sex tape with Ray J. An additional layer of this analogy relates to Kanye’s continual reference to himself as a god or holy figure.
Trust and fame
The most somber-sounding track on the record is “Real Friends,” in which Kanye laments his hectic lifestyle and how he often forgets friends’ birthdays and to call them, leading him to lose many of his real friends. Due to his fame, he feels that all the friends that surround him are not real, but in fact fake friends that only “want [their] tickets when it's gametime.” He remembers an incident where he “had a cousin that stole [his] laptop,” leading to Kanye paying “250 thousand just to get it from him,” referring to a 2015 incident in which Twitter user @kanyelaptop threatened to leak a song from his laptop for $100,000, something that obviously hurt Kanye, reflected in his voice as he sings this line. Kanye returns to this topic in the “No More Parties in LA,” in which he samples his own lines from “New God Flow.1.”
Upon first hearing “I Love Kanye,” one might be turned off by its over-the-top self-referential quality. But Kanye is surprisingly self-aware, and this thought is exactly what he addresses in this song. He makes a mockery of our characterization of him through Internet memes and phrases like, “I love you like Kanye loves Kanye” by saying them himself. Coming out of his mouth it sounds much more ridiculous, which he makes clear through his self-deprecating laugh at the end of the song. Most may not listen to this skit on a regular basis. It is more of a statement than a song, but it provides a humanizing look at Kanye’s perception of his public image.
Whatever “The Life of Pablo” may mean, to stop speculating about the name of the album allows us to delve deeper into the meanings of individual songs that provide unexpectedly interesting and deep introspections of Kanye West.