The Life of Pablo

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The Life of Pablo
The life of pablo alternate.jpg
Studio album by
ReleasedFebruary 14, 2016
Recorded
  • 2010
  • November 2013 – February 2016
Studio
Genre
Length66:01
Label
Producer
Kanye West chronology
Yeezus
(2013)
The Life of Pablo
(2016)
Ye
(2018)
Singles from The Life of Pablo
  1. "Famous"
    Released: March 28, 2016
  2. "Father Stretch My Hands"
    Released: June 7, 2016
  3. "Fade"
    Released: September 20, 2016

The Life of Pablo is the seventh studio album by American rapper and producer Kanye West. It was released on February 14, 2016, through GOOD Music and distributed by Def Jam Recordings. Recording sessions took place from 2013 to 2016, in Italy, Mexico, Canada, and the United States. The production was handled by West and a variety of other producers, including co-executive producers Rick Rubin and Noah Goldstein, Mike Dean, Metro Boomin, Hudson Mohawke, Plain Pat, and Madlib. West also enlisted a wide array of guest vocalists for the album, including Ty Dolla Sign, Desiigner, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, and Post Malone.

The release of The Life of Pablo was preceded by several promotional singles, including the tracks "Real Friends" and "No More Parties in LA". During the months before release, the title and tracklist of the album went through several publicized changes, and West's erratic activity on social media became the source of several controversies. An early version of it was premiered by West at Madison Square Garden on February 11, 2016, as part of his Yeezy Season 3 fashion show in collaboration with Adidas. After several additional sessions and alterations, the launch occurred exclusively for streaming on Tidal three days later.

West explained prior to release that the music is both hip hop and gospel. Following the official streaming debut, West continued to make changes to The Life of Pablo, with Def Jam having confirmed his intention to continue making updates over the subsequent months. A largely updated version of it, including alternate mixes and other changes, was made available on other streaming services and for digital purchase on his website on April 1, 2016. The singles "Famous", the two-part "Father Stretch My Hands", and "Fade" were released in support in 2016. The album received generally positive reviews from music critics, with particular attention being drawn to the fragmented, unfinished nature of the composition and release. It was listed among the best albums of 2016 by multiple publications, including Complex, NME and Pitchfork, while named as West's best album by Inverse.

A nomination was received by The Life of Pablo for Grammy Award for Best Rap Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards, though the lack of a nomination for Album of the Year was deemed as a snub by numerous publications. "Ultralight Beam" and "Famous" both received nominations for Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Rap Song. Following Tidal's initial disclosure of its streaming data and release to competing streaming services, the album ultimately debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, becoming West's seventh consecutive number-one album on the chart and the first to reach the summit primarily through streaming. It also debuted at number one in Norway, while top ten positions were attained in Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

Background[edit]

In November 2013, West began working on his seventh studio album,[1][2] under the working title of So Help Me God for a 2014 release date.[3] The album was initially supposed to include production work by Rick Rubin and Q-Tip.[4] Early recording sessions resulted in several tracks that were released as standalone singles or given to other artists, including West's Paul McCartney collaborations "All Day", "Only One", and the McCartney and Rihanna collaboration "FourFiveSeconds".[5][6] In 2015, West announced the new album title as being SWISH, though he simultaneously clarified that this could still be subject to change.[7] West had changed the title of an album in the past, as his fifth studio album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010) was originally slated to be released under the title of Good Ass Job.[7] West announced in January 2016 that SWISH would be released on February 11, and released the new song "Real Friends" that same month simultaneously with a snippet of "No More Parties in LA".[8] This also signified a revival of the GOOD Fridays initiative in which West releases new singles every Friday.[8] On January 26, 2016, West revealed that he had renamed the album from SWISH to Waves.[9]

Chance the Rapper ::: Red Rocks ::: 05.02.17
Chance the Rapper contributed to several tracks, including "Ultralight Beam" and "Waves".

In the weeks leading up to the album's release, West released several changing iterations of the track list for the new album, while he became embroiled in several Twitter controversies.[10][11] In February, West posted a tweet seemingly asserting Bill Cosby's innocence in the wake of over 50 women making allegations of sexual assault directed at Cosby[12] and became involved in a short-lived social media altercation with American rapper Wiz Khalifa on Twitter that eventually involved their mutual ex-partner, Amber Rose, who protested to West's mention of her and Wiz Khalifa's child.[13] The feud involved allegations by Rose concerning her sexual relationship with West; though he didn't reply to her, West claimed that "Wiz lost 2 million followers" since the two feuded.[14] The track "Famous", featuring vocals from frequent West collaborator Rihanna and American hip hop recording artist Swizz Beatz, was met with scrutiny on social media for a controversial lyrical reference to American singer Taylor Swift, partially in relation to West's interruption of her acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.[15][16][17][18][19][20]

Several days ahead of its release, West again changed the title, this time to The Life of Pablo on February 9.[21] On February 11, West premiered an early version of the album at Madison Square Garden as part of the presentation of his Yeezy Season 3 clothing line.[22] Following the preview, West announced that he would be modifying the track list once more before its release to the public,[23] and further delayed the release to finalize the recording of the track "Waves" at the behest of co-writer Chance the Rapper.[24] He released The Life of Pablo for streaming on February 14, 2016, following a performance on Saturday Night Live (SNL).[25][26] Following its official streaming release, West continued to tinker with mixes of several tracks, describing the work as "a living breathing changing creative expression."[27] Although a statement by West around The Life of Pablo's initial release indicated that it would be a permanent exclusive to Tidal, the album was released through several other competing services starting in April 2016.[28]

Recording[edit]

Initial sessions[edit]

The Life of Pablo was recorded between 2013 and 2016, though recording for the track "No More Parties in LA" started in 2010, during the sessions for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.[29][30] Reports stated that the album was written and recorded in several locations; including Los Angeles, Mexico, the Isle of Wight and Florence, Italy. West's recording in Los Angeles was rumored to be at Shangri-La Studios, Rick Rubin, one of the executive producers of West's sixth studio album Yeezus (2013). The production in Mexico occurred with McCartney and Rihanna.[31] American rappers Pusha T and Consequence confirmed that they had ended their feud in order to work with West on music to be released by him, with Consequence saying in an interview: "Pusha and I deaded everything and we creatively vibed with Kanye for this new LP."[32]

In April 2014, during an interview with Self-Titled, English electronic music producer Evian Christ explained that despite West not always being musically clear, he just seemed "interested in pushing aesthetic boundaries as far into the Avant as possible. Kanye is the one dude who's like, 'This is not experimental enough. This is too poppy. Make something else.' The other guys are like, 'We don't get it.'" Christ said that West's "a dream to work with," adding that when it comes to creative freedom, no one is on the same level as him. He explained West's level of freedom, stating "When he wants you to work to a blueprint, the blueprint is: 'Don't make a rap beat. Anything but a rap beat.'"[33] In May 2014, in an interview with Billboard, James Fauntleroy of Cocaine 80s spoke of his recording sessions with West and said, "I went in there and did some stuff on that shit. I sang shit on there and left. We'll see how it turns out, when I went in it was early, [during] the early stages. I know there will be a lot more other people, a lot of interjections." In February 2015, while West was continuing to work on The Life of Pablo, he confirmed that the album had reached around 80% completion at the time. He went on to explain this, stating:

I'm trying to get it finished. I'm trying to get it to the people... Release dates is played out. So the surprise is going to be a surprise. There go the surprise... [It's] cookout music that just feels good. My last album was protest music. I was like, 'I'm going to take my ball and go home.[34]

Ty Dolla $ign in 2015
Vocals from Ty Dolla Sign are featured on the third single "Fade" and promotional single "Real Friends".

In March 2015, during an interview with MTV, Big Sean spoke about the multiple recording locations that involved The Life of Pablo, while promoting his own third studio album Dark Sky Paradise (2015): "We done did a couple, to like Mexico, like how we did Hawaii before and stuff like that. We work as unit for sure, that's all I'm gonna say I'm not gonna drop nothing else."[35] In an October 2015 interview with The Fader, Post Malone, who is featured on the track "Fade" alongside American musician Ty Dolla Sign, discussed his experiences with West:

I met Kanye at Kylie Jenner's party and Kanye was like, 'Let's make something.' So I went over to Ye's and we just started working and then we just started talking. And we just kept on going. I went in the studio with Kanye and we just recorded the scratch vocals and then I wrote over it... He was just a normal guy, like me, and super cool.[36]

On January 27, 2016, West revealed the update of the final track listing on his official Twitter account. This updated track listing also revealed a number of the unannounced potential collaborators, which included Earl Sweatshirt, The-Dream, Tyler, the Creator, The World Famous Tony Williams, Diddy, Danny!,[37] ASAP Rocky, Kid Cudi, Lil Uzi Vert, Drake, Teyana Taylor, Zoë Kravitz, Bibi Bourelly, Doug E. Fresh, How to Dress Well, and French Montana, as well as a return of his frequent production collaborators, such as Mike Dean, Hudson Mohawke, Plain Pat, Vicious, Anthony Kilhoffer, A-Trak, and Noah Goldstein.[38][39][40] Following his album's premiere at Madison Square Garden, it was revealed that Brooklyn-based rapper Desiigner contributed vocals to "Pt. 2" and "Freestyle 4".[41]

Post-release updates[edit]

Following The Life of Pablo's initial Tidal release, West declared his intentions to continue altering the music, declaring it a "living breathing changing creative expression."[42] On March 13, 2016, over a month after the album's release, West uploaded an updated version of "Famous", swapping out the lyric "She be Puerto Rican day parade wavin'" for "She in school to be a real estate agent," as well as making slight tweaks to the overall mix.[43] Three days later, West updated the album's Tidal track list with a reworked version of "Wolves", which included previously removed guest vocals from Vic Mensa and Sia, and separated the ending portion sung by Frank Ocean into a separate interlude under the title of "Frank's Track".[44] This reworking came one month after West proposed a fix to the song.[45] On March 30, the album received a major update, with at least 12 tracks appearing in altered forms.[42] Updates included prominent vocal additions, new lyrics, and altered mixes.[42] Def Jam confirmed this incarnation to be "a newly updated, remixed and remastered version," and clarified that the album would continue to appear with "new updates, new versions and new iterations" in the following months, calling it "a continuous process."[46] On April 2, a corrected version of "30 Hours" was quietly released, fixing the off-time vocals that plagued the March 30 reissue. Finally, on June 14, The Life of Pablo was updated to include an additional track titled "Saint Pablo" featuring vocals from British musician Sampha, with other miscellaneous alterations throughout the album.[47]

Discussing the album's continued alterations, Jayson Greene of Pitchfork wrote "at what point is a record 'over', and who gets to make the call?" He elaborated, claiming for West to be "seeing how far he can stretch the point right now, in a way no pop star has ever quite tried," describing West as "testing the shifting state of the 'album cycle' to see if he can break it entirely, making his album like another piece of software on your phone that sends you push updates."[48] Winston Cook-WIlson of Inverse described the album as "a fluid construct," writing that "as a way of holding the public's attention span, Kanye's choice to continue to tweak The Life is Pablo indefinitely is genius."[49] He elaborated, claiming: "It encourages people spend time processing an album that deserves it: a bewildering, sprawling, and controversy-courting piece of art."[49] The album's unconventional updates post release inspired other artists to do the same, with Future and Young Thug making similar alterations after the release of their albums.[50][51]

Musical style[edit]

The Life of Pablo was noted by Madison Vain from Entertainment Weekly for its "raw, occasionally even intentionally messy, composition" in distinction to West's previous albums.[52] In comparison to his pre-Yeezus work, Robert Yaniz Jr of Cheat Sheet viewed the album as what sees West "take on a less accessible, more self-indulgent sound."[53] Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield wrote that it sounds messy, though expressed the feeling that "it was made that way on purpose, after the laser-sharp intensity of Yeezus," stating that "It's designed to sound like a work in progress."[54] Carl Wilson of Slate suggested that "the point is that in the context of all this sonic landscaping, in West's kamikaze, mood-swinging way, Pablo now seems undeniably (not half-assedly, as I'd been about to conclude) like an album of struggle," adding that it created "strange links between Kanye's many iterations—soul-sample enthusiast, heartbroken Auto-Tune crooner, hedonistic avant-pop composer, industrial-rap shit-talker" while making use of bass and percussion lines "that are only the tail-end decay of some lost starting place, some vanished rhythmic Eden."[55] Writing for The Daily Telegraph, Neil McCormick claimed that the album "sounds almost like a work of hip hop abstraction" and noted the somewhat disjointed sound.[56]

Prior to the release of The Life of Pablo, West tweeted out that it was a hip hop album, as well as a gospel album.[59] Additionally, in an interview on Big Boy Radio, West stated "When I was sitting in the studio with Kirk, Kirk Franklin, and we're just going through it, I said this is a gospel album, with a whole lot of cursing on it, but it's still a gospel album," adding that the music is "The gospel according to Ye."[60] West elaborated, explaining that his gospel is somewhat different from what happened in the Bible, "but it's this story idea of Mary Magdalene becoming Mary."[60] Corbin Reiff of The A.V. Club claimed that the album only works "as a gospel record if, as a listener, you worship at his altar."[61] Similarly, Vain called The Life of Pablo "a gospel album that journeys through grief, a meditation on internal wounds, and an unapologetic assertion of where 'Ye believes his rightful place is in the world is."[52] In Uproxx, Steven Hyden dubbed the album as West's "ecstatically bleary gospel-rap excursion."[62]

Gavin Haynes from NME described The Life of Pablo as "an album on which, at a moment's notice, Kanye veers from futuristic beats on the likes of 'Feedback' to bog-standard modern trap – as when up coming rapper Desiigner turns up on 'Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2' – to vintage soul on 'Ultra Light Beam'."[63] Chance the Rapper and his instrumental collaborator Donnie Trumpet bring elements of soul revivalism into the track during Chance the Rapper's guest verse.[61] Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune contrasted Chance the Rapper's "gospel-informed hip-hop tracks" with West's take on that tradition, stating that "West's version of gospel touches on some of those sonic cues – heavy organ, soaring choirs – but seems more preoccupied with gospel text and the notion of redemption."[64] "Ultralight Beam", particularly, has been noted to feature several gospel elements, including "the sound of a 4-year-old preaching gospel, some organ," as well as a church choir singing the refrain of "This is a God dream."[58] Gospel elements similar to those of the song are included in "Low Lights", adding to the general gospel theme.[65] "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" was also noted for gospel music in its composition.[66]

Lyrics and themes[edit]

Ray Rahman of Entertainment Weekly noted the album's frequent meditations on matters of faith, family, and West's own role as a cultural figure while observing that "Pablo frequently (some might say abruptly) toggles between Sad Kanye and the bombastic and celebratory Kanye."[67] McCormick described West as "constantly veering between swaggering bravado and insecurity bordering on paranoia, smashing the sacred against the profane and disrupting his own flowing grooves with interjections."[56] He claimed for the interjections to sound as if "they are spilling over from another studio altogether."[56] Referencing West's lyrical performance, Sheffield wrote that he "knows he's got some issues to work on."[54] The Life of Pablo features "gloomy, doomy" discussions of trust issues, antidepressants, and familial problems on tracks such as "FML" and "Real Friends".[67]

Chance the Rapper explained that certain lyrics on his "Ultralight Beam" verse are in reference to Chance the Rapper's "own leadership of all other artists towards independence and freedom."[68] The song itself is focused around West's faith in God.[69] Miles Raymer from GQ wrote that "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" is "a gospel song about fucking models" and described it as transitioning into "a soul-baring confessional dance track" in "Pt. 2", which includes "two entire verses of an entirely different song about drug-dealing and cars" from Desiigner,[66] with his single "Panda" being sampled.[15] Raymer noted that after Desiigner's vocals, the song resolves "into a meditative piece for vocoder" from contemporary classical composer Caroline Shaw.[66]

The song "Famous" includes the controversial lyric "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous."[18] The lyric refers to Swift, whose acceptance speech West interrupted at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, and was heavily publicized and criticized by numerous publications and listeners.[64][58][66][70] Kot called the song "an example of just how brilliant and infuriating West can be at the same time."[64] Greene wrote that the lyric "feels like a piece of bathroom graffiti" and viewed its intention as being to "reignite the most racially-charged rivalry in 21st-century pop."[58] Throughout the song, West references the fame and wealth that he's gathered during his career, and he also showcases braggadocio.[71]

"Feedback" features West responding to his critics, with the song including him using the lyric "Name one genius that ain't crazy" to do so.[67] Raymer wrote that the lyric is confirming the two frequent major criticisms of West "that he's an egomaniac and that he's mentally unwell."[66] God and his connection to spirituality are referenced within "Low Lights", with the vocals coming from an unknown woman delivering a sample of Sandy Rivera's performance on the a cappella version of "Save Me" by the duo Kings of Tomorrow.[65][72] West raps about the newfound fame and fortune in his life after marrying Kim Kardashian in "Highlights".[73] Sexually explicit lyrics are used by West to describe his fantasies and dreams on "Freestyle 4".[74] The interlude "I Love Kanye" features self-aware a cappella lyrics referencing West's changing image with the public.[61] The track "Waves" is "uplifting," including braggadocious lyrics being mixed with those of a darker tone that reference death or the ending of relationships.[75] Within "FML", West raps about maintaining his loyalty to Kardashian, and the title stands for "Fuck My Life" as well as "For My Lady," as both phrases are mentioned in the song.[76] Raymer claimed that the lyric "You ain't never seen nothing crazier than this nigga when he off his Lexapro" is confirmation of West's major sources of criticism.[66] West touches on trust issues with his family on "Real Friends", which includes lyrics about a cousin blackmailing him.[67]

Saint Roch chapel at Fonteklaus in Lajen 17th century
On "Wolves", West compares his wife Kim Kardashian and himself to Biblical figures Mary and Joseph.[58]

"Wolves" sees West show fear of being possibly viewed as a guilt-ridden son.[54] The song features the lyrics "Cover Nori in lamb's wool/We surrounded by/The fuckin wolves," used by West to offer an image of him and Kardashian as Mary and Joseph.[58] The interlude "Frank's Track" consists of Frank Ocean crooning depressing and dark lyrics.[44][77] American rapper Max B delivers a voicemail about "good vibes" on "Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission", which is followed by fellow rapper French Montana blurting out the phrase "silver surfer" repeatedly on the interlude, until the phrase is repeated by Max B.[78] The song "30 Hours" includes West delivering the "real life commentary" that he has become known for.[79] West unapologetically declares his greatness within "No More Parties in LA", while fellow rapper Kendrick Lamar adds to the backdrop of the song.[80] "Facts (Charlie Heat Version)" is a Nike diss track that features West bragging about the success of his Yeezy shoes.[75] Forrest Wickman from Slate wrote that "Fade" is where "West, R&B singer-songwriter Ty Dolla Sign, and 'White Iverson' singer Post Malone alternate verses," with Wickman viewing the lyrics as being centered around "trying to hold on to a love that's fading."[75] West raps in a self-reflective way on "Saint Pablo", which also includes him rapping with political edge, humor and a logically clear through-line.[47]

Promotion and release[edit]

West marked his first release of music since "All Day" with the release of the promotional single "Facts" on December 31, 2015.[81] A new version of the song was released on The Life of Pablo under the title of "Facts (Charlie Heat Version)".[75] On January 8, 2016, Kardashian announced via Twitter the release of "Real Friends", which simultaneously initiated the return of West's GOOD Fridays;[82] West had previously done this as a weekly free music giveaway leading up to the release of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.[8] "Real Friends" was released the day it was announced via West's SoundCloud account, simultaneously with an announcement of the album's release date, and the song features vocals from Ty Dolla Sign.[8][83] Alongside debuting the song, West shared a snippet of the forthcoming GOOD Friday release, titled "No More Parties in LA", which features vocals from Kendrick Lamar.[84] On August 16, 2019, "Real Friends" was certified silver in the United Kingdom by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for selling 200,000 units.[85] "No More Parties in LA" experienced its proper release the following week, also through SoundCloud. The song was produced by Madlib and West, and contains a sample of "Suzie Thundertussy" performed by Walter "Junie" Morrison.[80] It was certified gold in the US by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for sales of 500,000 units on August 15, 2018.[86] On January 25, 2016, West claimed for his album to be "the best album of all time."[87] After a number of delayed premieres,[58] West premiered The Life of Pablo at Madison Square Garden during his Adidas Yeezy Season 3 fashion show event on February 11,[22] two days after having revealed his album to be titled as such.[21] On February 12, 2016, West released a new track, titled "30 Hours", as part of his GOOD Fridays series.[79] The song features vocals from American musician André 3000.[15]

On February 14, West performed "Highlights" and "Ultralight Beam" on SNL.[26] That same day, The Life of Pablo was later released for streaming exclusively on Tidal through GOOD Music, distributed by Def Jam Recordings.[88] It was made available for purchase at the price of $20 for a few hours, though reverted to streaming-only afterwards.[88] West announced that the album would be available outside of Tidal a week later,[89] however, on the following day, West claimed that he would never release the album outside of Tidal, encouraging his fans to sign up for the service.[90] On the same day, Pigeons & Planes detailed that the version of the album, which was made available for streaming on Tidal was not its final version.[91] After an active weekend, during which he was finishing his album, he stated that he was $53,000,000 in personal debt and called for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to invest $1 billion in West's ideas. He also called on other tech billionaires to help him.[92] The album's premier and launch won the awards for Innovation and Integrated Campaign, respectively, at the 2017 Clio Awards.[93][94]

Streaming and commercial release[edit]

The album initially received an exclusive Tidal release on February 14, 2016. West urged the public to download the application to hear the album, which resulted in it temporarily reaching the number one spot on the US App Store.[95] West later tweeted that he "was thinking about not making CDs ever again," and stated that he would never release The Life of Pablo outside of Tidal.[96] The album's initial exclusive release on Tidal resulted in a large increase in subscribers to the service, 250 million streams in the first 10 days, and 400 million streams in the first six weeks before its release to other streaming platforms.[97] Following the Tidal exclusive release, it was announced that "Famous" would be sent to radio stations in the United States on March 28 as the lead single from The Life of Pablo; the song was exclusively released for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music on the date.[98] It peaked at number 34 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and lasted for 34 weeks on the chart.[99] The song was certified double platinum in the US by the RIAA for selling 2,000,000 units on March 7, 2018.[100] The song reached number 33 on the UK Singles Chart and remained on it for 16 weeks.[101] On January 19, 2018, "Famous" was certified gold in the United Kingdom by the BPI for sales of 400,000 units.[102] "I Love Kanye" was the next song from the album to be released on streaming services other than Tidal on March 30, 2016, also being made available on Spotify and Apple Music.[103]

On April 1, 2016, West released an updated version of The Life of Pablo for streaming on Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play. He also made the album available for purchase on his official website.[98][104] Though "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" and "Pt. 2" were released as separate tracks on the album, both parts of the song were serviced to radio stations across the United States as the second single, "Father Stretch My Hands", on June 7.[57][105] On the US Billboard Hot 100, "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" charted at number 37 and spent 23 weeks on the chart.[106] The song was certified double platinum in the US by the RIAA for sales of 2,000,000 units on March 7, 2018.[107] It peaked at number 54 on the UK Singles Chart and stayed on the chart for three weeks.[101] The song was certified silver in the UK by the BPI for pushing 200,000 units on October 20, 2017.[108] "Pt. 2" reached number 54 on the Billboard Hot 100 and lasted for three weeks on the chart.[109] On February 1, 2018, the song was certified platinum in the US by the RIAA for selling 1,000,000 units.[110] The song reached number 70 on the UK Singles Chart and remained on the chart for three weeks, tying the chart stay of "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" on the UK Singles Chart.[101] "Fade" was released as the third and final single to radio stations in the United Kingdom on September 9, 2016, while sent to US radio stations on September 20.[111][112] On the Billboard Hot 100, the song peaked at number 47 and spent 13 weeks on the chart.[113] It reached number 50 on the UK Singles Chart and lasted for eight weeks on the chart.[101] On May 12, 2017, "Fade" was certified silver in the UK by the BPI for selling 200,000 units.[114]

Lawsuit[edit]

West performing on the Saint Pablo Tour in 2016.
West performed the Saint Pablo Tour in 2016 for support of the album.

The release on to other streaming platforms along with West's claims that the album would remain as a Tidal "exclusive" caused a lawsuit to be filed on April 18, 2016 by law firm Edelson PC.[115] It was filed against West and Jay-Z, the latter of which was involved due to being the owner of Tidal, with the two of them being sued for $5 million.[115] The lawsuit was filed on behalf of California resident Justin Baker-Rhett, with accusations of false advertising.[115] Seeking class-action status was the level of the lawsuit, which claimed that Tidal and West never intended to have the album as a Tidal limited exclusive forever, but decided to say so in an attempt to boost Tidal's struggling subscriber growth; the subscriber numbers tripled at the time.[116] It was also claimed within the lawsuit that "Kanye has the power to send one tweet out into the world and get 2 million people to act on it" and suing West "is about holding him accountable when he abuses that power."[115] In January 2019, it was reported that the lawsuit had been settled under undisclosed terms, and that the class action lawsuit would not proceed.[117]

Tour[edit]

In August 2016, West embarked on the Saint Pablo Tour in support of The Life of Pablo, two months after announcing it.[118][119] The performances featured a floating platform, marking the first time that West had used one in his career.[120] West postponed several dates in October following the Paris robbery of Kardashian.[121] The remainder of the tour was later canceled on November 21, 2016, following controversy over comments made by West that week regarding his support of president-elect Donald Trump and public criticism of other artists, with fellow rapper Snoop Dogg speaking negatively of West's critical comments.[122] West was admitted for psychiatric observation at UCLA Medical Center later that month.[123][124] Prior to cancellation, the Saint Pablo Tour was set to run until December 2016.[125]

Artwork and title[edit]

On February 11, 2016, West revealed the artwork for The Life of Pablo via Twitter, which was designed by Belgian artist Peter De Potter.[126] De Potter's level of fame at the time was not as high as that of artists who had previously designed cover art for West, such as George Condo and Takashi Murakami.[127] As De Potter had collaborated with fashion designer Raf Simons in the past and West had cited him as an influence, it was heavily speculated that Simons was the reason that the two became involved with each other.[127] The artwork was called a "post-modern cover" and it displays the album's title in all caps, as well as featuring a small family photo in the bottom corner.[128] West also shared another cover for The Life of Pablo on the same date with the phrase "which one" on it that was included on the notepad of the final track list, and a cropped photo of British model Sheniz Halil that shows her bottom;[129][130] this artwork was used for the official release.[25] Kim Kardashian reportedly chose Halil to be on the artwork and after the information was revealed of her being on it, Halil's Instagram popularity increased.[131] In response to being selected for inclusion on the artwork, Halil stated in an interview with the New York Daily News that she "couldn't be more flattered and honoured," giving thanks to both West and Kardashian.[130]

By titling his album The Life of Pablo, West confused people as to which person named Pablo he was referencing with the title.[132] Pablo Escobar, Pablo Neruda, Pablo Picasso and a kid named Pablo who famously shouted his support of West for president at the 2015 VMAS were viewed as potential people that West titled the album after.[133] MTV pointed towards the title being in reference to Picasso, as West said during a 2015 lecture at the University of Oxford that if he "was going to do art, fine art," then he would've aimed "to become Picasso or greater."[133] By writing "Which one?" on his notepad, West hinted that he might not remember the meaning of the title that he chose.[132] West eventually revealed during an episode of American talk show Kocktails with Khloé in April 2016 after being asked "Who the fuck is Pablo" by his sister-in-law Khloé Kardashian on the show that the title was inspired by Escobar, Picasso and Apostle Paul, since Paul translates to Pablo in Spanish.[134] Writing for The Guardian, Jonathan Jones drew an artistic comparison between West and Picasso, claiming that West's sampling of music, "reworking old songs" and "mixing it all up" is similar to the way in which Picasso "first put bits of the real world into modern art."[135]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
AnyDecentMusic?7.4/10[136]
Metacritic75/100[137]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic3.5/5 stars[57]
The Daily Telegraph3/5 stars[56]
Entertainment WeeklyB+[67]
The Guardian3/5 stars[138]
NME4/5[63]
Pitchfork9.0/10[58]
Rolling Stone4.5/5 stars[54]
Spin8/10[139]
USA Today3.5/4 stars[140]
Vice (Expert Witness)A−[141]

The Life of Pablo was met with generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, the album received an average score of 75, based on 35 reviews.[137] Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave The Life of Pablo 7.4 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.[136]

Sheffield dubbed it both a mess and masterpiece: "This is a messy album that feels like it was made that way on purpose."[54] He elaborated, writing that "West just drops broken pieces of his psyche all over the album and challenges you to fit them together."[54] Reiff opined that The Life of Pablo "feels far different from any of the tightly constructed, singular works of West's past," asserting instead that "as a beautiful, messy, mixed-up collection of 18 songs, it's a brilliant document."[61] Writing for The New York Times, Jon Caramanica stated that West "has perfected the art of aesthetic and intellectual bricolage, shape-shifting in real time and counting on listeners to keep up," concluding that "this is Tumblr-as-album, the piecing together of divergent fragments to make a cohesive whole."[142] In a highly positive review, Greene wrote that all of West's work is animated by "a madcap sense of humor," and claimed that "The Life of Pablo has a freewheeling energy that is infectious and unique to his discography," finding that it manages to come across "as both his most labored-over and unfinished album, full of asterisks and corrections and footnotes."[58] Robert Christgau of Vice found the record "wittingly casual and easy on the ears," writing that, "unlike Yeezus, it won't top many 2016 lists—it's too blatantly imperfect, too flagrantly unfocused. But that's also its charm, and I prefer it."[141] Greg Tate of Spin wrote that "even if Mr. West feels (for now, at least) that his best years as a rap superstar are behind him, there's still hella great beats roaming around that dazed and befuddling noggin per The Life of Pablo for dang sure" and described the album as "long on musical confidence and short on inspirational verses," though viewed the "plaintive vulnerability and alienation" expressed by West as at least seeming "cathartically crafted."[139] Writing for USA Today, Patrick Ryan claimed that even though the album "may not deliver on West's promise of being 'the album of the life,' it's undeniably the work of one of music's most boundary-pushing artists and will give fans plenty to unpack."[140]

Rahman was less enthusiastic, calling The Life of Pablo "an ambitious album that finds the rapper struggling to compact his many identities into one weird, uncomfortable, glorious whole." He elaborated, claiming that "Like the man himself, the album is emotional, explosive, unpredictable, and undeniably thrilling."[67] Alexis Petridis expressed further criticism in The Guardian, finding the album "at turns, rambling, chaotic, deeply underwhelming, impressively audacious, and completely infuriating," suggesting that it "appears to have had ideas thrown at it until it feels messy and incoherent," despite concluding that "when The Life of Pablo is good, it's very good indeed."[138] McCormick wrote, "The Life of Pablo is certainly rich in musical scope, chock a block with inspired ideas," but also felt the work to be "so self-involved it crosses over into self-delusion, marked by such a tangible absence of perspective and objectivity."[56] In a mixed review, Kot expressed the viewpoint that "The Life of Pablo sounds like a work in progress rather than a finished album," though he claimed that "West comes off as a man with hundreds of ideas in play all at once," and Kot described him as lacking any filter.[64]

Accolades[edit]

The Life of Pablo appeared on year-end lists of the best albums of 2016 by multiple publications. Dummy ranked the album as the best of 2016, claiming that "it delivered some of the hugest musical moments of the year," noting elements of songs such as "Ultralight Beam" and "Pt. 2".[143] Caramanica also named The Life of Pablo the best album of the year and called the album: "A grand, caustic album about grace: finding it, praying for it, falling from it."[144] Time Out London was among the three publications to list The Life of Pablo as the best album of 2016, writing that "the incredible, exciting and daring 'The Life of Pablo' really does show Kanye as a restless, Jobs-esque genius, with a flair for convening talented people and getting exceptional work out of them."[145]

As well as ranking at number three on the Pitchfork Readers' Poll: Top 50 Albums of 2016, the album was voted by readers at the position of fifth for both the most underrated and most overrated album of the year, respectively.[146] On the Top 50 Songs of 2016 poll, "Ultralight Beam" ranked at number one.[146] "Real Friends" and "No More Parties in LA" also appeared on the list as the 13th and 16th best songs, respectively.[146] In February 2016, Inverse named The Life of Pablo as West's best album.[147] Matthew Cook-Strauss of the website mostly praised the sonics of the album, which he viewed as being reminiscent of a number of West's previous albums.[147] Cleveland.com listed The Life of Pablo as the 97th best album of the 2010s, with Troy L. Smith of the website viewing it as "all over the map."[148]

Year-end lists
Publication Accolade Rank Ref.
The A.V. Club The A.V. Club's Top 50 Albums of 2016
18
Billboard Billboard's 50 Best Albums of 2016
2
Complex The 50 Best Albums of 2016
4
Dazed The 20 Best Albums of 2016
5
Digital Spy 20 Best Albums of 2016
7
Dummy The 25 Best Albums of 2016
1
Entertainment Weekly Best Albums of 2016
11
Esquire The 30 Best Albums of 2016
5
Flood Magazine The Best Records of 2016
8
For the Win The 50 Best Albums of 2016
9
The Guardian Best Albums of 2016
4
HotNewHipHop Hottest 20 Albums of 2016
2
Idolator The 10 Best Albums of 2016
3
The Independent Best Albums of 2016
10
The Irish Times Top 10 Albums of 2016
7
Laut.de The Hip-Hop Albums of the Year
2
Les Inrockuptibles Les 50 Meilleurs Albums de 2016
6
The New York Times The Best Albums of 2016 (Jon Caramanica's list)
1
The New Zealand Herald The 20 Best Albums of 2016
4
NME NME's Albums of the Year 2016
2
Paste The 50 Best Albums of 2016
11
Pitchfork The 50 Best Albums of 2016
5
Pitchfork Readers' Poll: Top 50 Albums of 2018
3
Rap-Up Rap-Up's Best Albums of 2016
2
The Ringer The Best Albums of 2016
4
Rolling Stone 50 Best Albums of 2016
8
Slant Magazine The 25 Best Albums of 2016
2
Spin The 50 Best Albums of 2016
13
Splice Today Top 10 Records of 2016
2
Stereogum The 50 Best Albums of 2016
9
Time Out London The Best Albums of 2016
1
Uproxx The 20 Best Albums of 2016
10
Us Weekly Best Albums of 2016
5
The Village Voice Pazz & Jop Critics Poll of 2016
10
Vulture The 15 Best Albums of 2016
5
The Wire Top 50 Releases of the Year
13

Industry awards[edit]

At the 2016 BET Hip Hop Awards, The Life of Pablo was nominated for Album of the Year.[181] The album received a nomination for Best Rap Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards, ultimately losing to Chance the Rapper's third mixtape Coloring Book.[182] At the same ceremony, "Ultralight Beam" and "Famous" were both nominated in the categories of Best Rap/Sung Performance and Best Rap Song.[182] West's failure to win any awards gave him a streak of losing 16 Grammy nominations in a row.[183] Despite The Life of Pablo being more successful in terms of Grammy nominations than Yeezus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and West's fourth studio album 808s & Heartbreak (2008), several publications viewed the lack of a nomination for Album of the Year as being a snub.[184][185][186][187] Writing for Bustle, Sam Rullo called West not receiving a nomination for the award "so disappointing," though claimed that "the snub can't be deemed surprising, because it follows in a long tradition of the awards show shying away from his more experimental albums."[184] Rullo also claimed that other tracks from The Life of Pablo should have been nominated in award categories as well as "Ultralight Beam" and "Famous".[184] West skipped the 2017 Grammy Awards, though his mother-in-law Kris Jenner explained that this was due to him debuting Yeezy Season 5 at New York Fashion Week.[188] The Life of Pablo was nominated for Best Album at the 2017 NME Awards.[189] At the 2016 Soul Train Music Awards, the album earned a nomination for Album of the Year.[190]

Sales and commercial performance[edit]

After being made available solely on Tidal, The Life of Pablo failed to chart initially due to West declining sharing the streaming numbers with Nielsen Music.[191] The album was reportedly subject to over 500,000 illegal downloads within 24 hours of release, becoming the most illegally downloaded album ever and causing a resurgence in torrenting of music.[192][193] This cost West $10 million in sales since he originally planned to offer album downloads for $20 each, which would have equated to $10 million if 500,000 purchases had been made.[192] Despite West requesting Tidal to withhold streaming numbers for The Life of Pablo in February, the service revealed in March 2016 that the album was streamed over 250 million times within ten days of being released.[194] In May 2018, Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv published a report investigating the streaming numbers being faked by Tidal.[195] The report claimed that "listener numbers on Tidal have been manipulated to the tune of several hundred million false plays," and the service responded by questioning Dagens Næringsliv, claiming they "expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies and falsehoods."[195]

On April 9, 2016, it was reported by Billboard after The Life of Pablo had been released to services other than Tidal that the album was set to debut atop the US Billboard 200 and had sold 90,000 album-equivalent units at the time.[196] The Life of Pablo ultimately experienced a chart-topping debut on the Billboard 200, giving West his seventh consecutive number one album in the United States and selling 94,000 album-equivalent units.[197] By doing so, the album blocked American singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton's debut studio album Traveller (2015) from the top spot, which sold 73,000 units.[198] 28,000 of the album-equivalent units for The Life of Pablo were pure album sales, many of which came from pre-orders, while the remaining 66,000 units were streaming equivalent albums that equated to over 99 million streams and accounted for 70% of the units.[197][199] This stood as the first time that an album had topped the Billboard 200 with the majority of the units coming from streaming equivalent albums, surpassing the previous benchmark of 44.6% set by Rihanna's eighth studio album Anti (2016).[197] The Life of Pablo's 66,000 streaming equivalent albums stood as the second highest streaming sum behind the 67,000 of Canadian singer Justin Bieber's fourth studio album Purpose (2015).[197]

In its second week on the US Billboard 200, The Life of Pablo descended three places to number four and pushed 47,000 album-equivalent units, experiencing a 50% decline from the first week sales.[199] The album dropped 95% in pure album sales, selling around 1,000 copies.[199] However, when official numbers were distributed for album sales for the first half of 2016, The Life of Pablo was revealed to have sold only around 30,000 CDs and physical downloads, and that added to units from streaming brought the total sales to 339,000.[200] The album ranked as the 27th most popular album of 2016 on the Billboard 200, while ranking at number 88 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart for that year.[201][202] On April 4, 2017, The Life of Pablo was certified platinum in the US by the RIAA for sales of 1,000,000 album-equivalent units,[203] 798,000 of which had been sold up to January 1.[204] Though it had been confirmed that the RIAA don't break out the components of any certifications, West's label Def Jam gave confirmation that the album was certified from streaming-only.[203] This made it stand as the first streaming-only album to go platinum in the US and also gave West his eighth album to achieve an RIAA certification of platinum or higher.[203]

The Life of Pablo debuted at number one on the Norwegian Albums Chart and remained on the chart for 62 weeks, giving West his first chart-topping solo album in Norway as well as his longest-charting album in the country.[205] The album peaked at number two on the Swedish Albums chart, standing as West's highest charting album in Sweden.[206] In Denmark, The Life of Pablo attained the same position on the Danish Albums chart.[207] The album ranked as the 12th most popular album of 2016 on the chart.[208] On November 12, 2018, The Life of Pablo was certified double platinum in Denmark by IFPI Danmark for shipments of 40,000 copies.[209] The album debuted on the Finnish Albums (Top 50) chart at number 12 and climbed seven places to number five in its second week on the chart.[210] On the Canadian Albums chart, The Life of Pablo entered at number six and ranked as the 40th most popular album of 2016 on the chart.[211][212] The album reached number eight on the Dutch Album Top 100 and ranked as the 72nd most popular album on the chart in 2016.[213][214] The same position was attained by The Life of Pablo on the Irish Albums Chart.[215] On the UK Albums Chart, the album charted at number 30.[216] It stood as West's eighth top 40 album in the United Kingdom and spent 47 weeks on the chart.[216] The Life of Pablo was certified gold in the UK by the BPI on March 3, 2017 for sales of 100,000 album-equivalent units that were the results of streams, becoming the first album to ever do so in the country.[216] Official Charts data reported that the 100,000 units required for being gold accounted to each song being streamed an average of 10.5 million times and that the album equivalent streams amounted to 100,316.[217]

The same week that The Life of Pablo debuted on the Billboard 200, 12 of the tracks appeared on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, with "Famous" charting the highest at number 13.[218] However, since the song had debuted on the chart a week prior, only 11 of the 12 tracks entered the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs that week; the entry of "Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1" at number 14 stood as the highest debut.[218] Eight of the tracks debuted on the US Billboard Hot 100, with "Famous" having the highest entry at number 34.[218] The tracks appearing on the charts lead to West reaching a new peak of number three on the Billboard Artist 100, which was the first time that he reached the top ten of the chart.[218] On the UK Singles Chart, nine of the tracks charted upon the album's release, with "Famous" having the highest debut by opening at number 33.[219]

Track listing[edit]

This track listing reflects the final June 14 version. Credits adapted from West's website[15] and Tidal.[220]

No.TitleWriter(s)Producer(s)Length
1."Ultralight Beam"5:20
2."Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1"
2:15
3."Pt. 2"
  • West
  • Menace
  • Rubin
  • Plain Pat[a]
  • Shaw[b]
2:10
4."Famous"
3:16
5."Feedback"
  • West
  • Brown
  • Goldstein
  • Young
  • Darius Jenkins
  • K. Rachel Mills
  • Marcus Byrd
  • Bennett
  • Ardalan Sarfaraz[f]
  • Manouchehr Cheshmazar[f]
  • West
  • Charlie Heat[a]
  • Goldstein[a]
2:27
6."Low Lights"
  • West
  • DJDS
  • M. Dean[b]
2:11
7."Highlights"
3:19
8."Freestyle 4"
2:03
9."I Love Kanye"WestWest0:44
10."Waves"
3:01
11."FML"
3:56
12."Real Friends"4:11
13."Wolves"
5:01
14."Frank's Track"
  • West
  • Cashmere Cat
  • Sinjin Hawke
0:38
15."Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission"West0:56
16."30 Hours"
5:23
17."No More Parties in LA"
6:14
18."Facts (Charlie Heat Version)"
  • West
  • Metro Boomin
  • Southside
  • Charlie Heat
3:20
19."Fade"
3:13
20."Saint Pablo"
  • West
  • M. Dean
  • Ritter[a]
  • Goldstein[b]
6:12
Total length:66:39

Notes

  • ^[a] signifies a co-producer
  • ^[b] signifies an additional producer
  • "Frank's Track" features uncredited vocals by Frank Ocean[44]

Sample credits[15]

Personnel[edit]

Credits adapted from West's website[15] and Tidal.[220]

Technical

  • Andrew Dawson – engineering (1–8, 10, 11, 13, 16–20)
  • Mike Dean – engineering (1–8, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18–20), mastering (all tracks)
  • Noah Goldstein – engineering (1–13, 16–20), mixing (9, 14, 15)
  • Anthony Kilhoffer – engineering (1–8, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18–20)
  • Mike Malchicoff – engineering (1, 7)
  • Nathaniel Alford – engineering (7)
  • Dee Brown – engineering (7)
  • Alex Tumay – engineering (7)
  • Tom Kahre – engineering (8, 10)
  • Ty Dolla Sign – engineering (12)
  • French Montana – engineering (15)
  • MixedByAli – engineering (17)
  • Manny Marroquin – mixing (1–8, 10–13, 16–20)
  • Kez Khou – mix assistance (7, 13)
  • Chris Galland – mix assistance (12, 17, 20)
  • Jeff Jackson – mix assistance (12, 17, 20)
  • Ike Schultz – mix assistance (12, 17, 20)
  • Kuk Harrell – vocal production for Rihanna (4)
  • Zeke Mishanec – vocals recording for Swiss Beatz (4)
  • Marcos Tovar – vocals recording for Rihanna (4)
  • Shin Kamiyama – vocals recording for The Weeknd (11)
  • Joe Balaguer – vocals assistance for Rihanna (4)

Musicians

Design

  • Virgil Abloh – assistant creative direction
  • Peter De Potter – album artwork design
  • DONDA – art direction
    • Joe Perez
    • Mark Seekings
    • Justin Saunders
    • Nate Brown
  • Ryan Dwyer – photography
  • Sheniz H – photo model
  • Kanye West – creative direction

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Denmark (IFPI Denmark)[209] 2× Platinum 40,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[233] Gold 100,316[217]
United States (RIAA)[234] Platinum 1,000,000double-dagger

^shipments figures based on certification alone
double-daggersales+streaming figures based on certification alone

Release history[edit]

List of release dates, formats, and label
Region Date Format Label Ref.
Various February 14, 2016 Streaming (Tidal exclusive) [25]
April 1, 2016
  • Streaming
  • digital download
[104]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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