Patrick Basler

So maybe The Life of Pablo isn’t quite the album fans thought it would be — but it’s apparently the album Kanye West wanted to make. Which, after weeks of title changes, new songs and Twitter rants, must mean something.

It’s a record that carefully avoids the self-imposed categories of “old Kanye” and “new Kanye” despite the immediate attempts to make that delineation. But The Life of Pablo is a better album for the lack of distinction; every song on it seems to walk the line between great and intriguingly weird.

Every post-808s & Heartbreak Kanye album has a “What the fuck was he thinking?” moment, and TLOP appears to have one every other song — from lines about bleached assholes to soul samples tossed haphazardly onto the end of tracks. But any album that offers both soulful Madlib beats and Metro Boomin gospel-trap bangers, legitimately beautiful Kid Cudi hooks and doctoral thesis-length Chance the Rapper verses is doing something right.

And even if Kanye is still his own worst enemy on TLOP (what else is new?), he’s certainly pulling his musical weight — even with great guests and incredible production, it’s Kanye himself who serves as the strongest tie among the album’s 18 scattershot tracks. Songs like “Real Friends” and “30 Hours” feature some of his best writing in years, and his Auto-Tuned melodies compete admirably with rap and R&B’s top crooners, Young Thug and The Weeknd, on “Highlights” and “FML,” respectively.

As even a quick glance at his Twitter will show, Kanye West’s public persona is complicated — and on TLOP, so is his music. But as his newest album proves, both the brash and brilliant parts of Kanye are entertaining at worst and scarily close to genius at best.

Matt Schnabel

We’ve all got hang-ups. Maybe it’s a high-school ex, organic chemistry — hell, even Terrapins men’s basketball forward Jared Nickens sliding into your Snapchat only to flake a few days later. As for me, I’m still wondering what would’ve happened had I not shoehorned myself into a dying industry with about the same potential for upward mobility as the Hindenburg. (Also what would’ve happened had I not ordered that fifth gin and tonic at Bentley’s just before syllabus week, but that’s neither here nor there.) They’re painful to think about, but we’re masochistic motherfuckers and relish the hurt all the same.

Rarely, though, are our hang-ups as public and lucrative as those of Kanye West, who’s spent the better part of the past 12 years making a career off his insecurities, vanities and fantasies — beautiful, dark, twisted or otherwise. On The Life of Pablo, the paradigm-shifting rapper’s seventh solo release, we’re privy to a host of hang-ups that range from head-scratchers to head-shakers: the media, his weight, ex-girlfriend Amber Rose, Taylor Swift and the 2009 VMAs, Nike, the long-since washed-up rapper responsible for “Sexy Can I,” the thought of wife Kim Kardashian lying in the biblical sense with said rapper, the thought of wife Kim Kardashian having lain in the biblical sense with more or less anyone. The list goes on.

On TLOP and in his cross-platform screeds, West’s airing of grievances often skews toward the boorish — take the obvious example, the bit about Swift on “Famous,” or his digs at Rose on “30 Hours,” fully a half-decade after the couple’s split. Just as often, though, his emotional vulnerability lays ground for the iconic cultural shifts his discography has engendered, in particular since 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak. Without West, there’s no October’s Very Own, a camp virtually incubated in 808s‘ signature electronica. There’s no Chance the Rapper, equally steeped in the backpack rap and soul of West’s earlier releases. There’s not even Kendrick Lamar, if that’s not too much honesty for this audience to stomach.

Sure, they all owe their aesthetics in part to West’s ever-evolving sound, but they also owe them to his naked lyrics — his willingness to lay bare both the ugliness and purity of his soul. We’ve all got our own shit to deal with. At least West’s talking about it.

Danielle Ohl

Ya heard about the good news? Strung along by a thread of tweets no sane man but Kanye West could ever pull off without warranting psychiatric evaluation, we’ve finally arrived at our destination, The Life of Pablo. Now that we’ve all settled down for a long winter’s listen with our sketchy torrents and free Tidal trials (don’t forget to cancel that shit, fam), let’s talk about the South Side’s son and his latest LP.

What a blessed fucking mess.

Operating under the assumption that everything West proffers to our greedy mitts is of the utmost quality is usually a safe option, but man, is he pushing it. TLOP, while perhaps his most overstuffed and incoherent exploit to date, is Kanye West doing his darnedest to produce something really good. And for the most part, it is really good.

Let’s start with that. The opener, “Ultralight Beam,” approaches something religious both in content and in quality. It’s a soaring, reverent, aching track with a Chance the Rapper verse that deserves its own place of worship. Both “FML” and “Real Friends” embrace a slow-paced weariness made serviceable by additions from The Weeknd and Ty Dolla $ign. “No More Parties in LA” is a kick-back cruiser brimming with West’s looking-back-from-the-top honesty and a Kendrick Lamar verse to boot.

But the gems aren’t enough to forgive the absolutely batshit crazy lack of focus on this collection. It’s hard to separate the frenetic rollout from the work itself. There’s a hurried feeling on the album — a sense that West tried to be everything and lost his vision along the way.

I’m left asking innumerable questions. Is Kanye praising God or is he praising himself? Is he a beleaguered father or a cocky misogynist? Is he impervious to money’s charms or so desperate for cash that he’ll name-drop billionaires on social media? He sounds like the world’s most depressed sad sack and most bombastic self-promoter at the same time. It doesn’t make sense coming from a man who made three albums that followed the same general plot.

With production as spotty as its thematic content, TLOP feels less like a cohesive delivery and more like a social experiment. It’s an interesting ride through Kanye West’s creative subconscious, but I’m left wondering when he’ll wake up.

Michael Errigo

Unlike the sculpted, deliberate craftwork of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, in which every song fit a theme and the listener could spend time figuring out how, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo is sloppy and proud of it. Thinking of how the songs connect and what exactly Kanye had in mind in terms of that connection is almost useless. He just threw this handful of mess at us, and the best thing we can try to do is catch as much of it as we can.

Some of it can slip through the fingers. “Freestyle 4” just isn’t for me. Same goes for “Silver Surfer Intermission.” And the first half of “FML”? Nope. Yet there are moments in the 58-minute runtime that strike you as hard as anything Yeezy has given the world. That fourth listen of “Ultralight Beam.” The last 30 seconds of “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2” (“How can I find you?”). That smooth-as-hell beginning of “Fade.” That’s why we put up with the rest.

It’s an album on which nothing lasts. Not only are the beats in constant flux, so much so that it’s hard to tell when one song ends and another begins, but Kanye’s signature confidence also wavers. For every “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex” there’s an “I couldn’t tell you how old your daughter was.” It’s a beautiful mishmash of emotion, something that should be expected from a young father.

The Life of Pablo is by no means the perfect work some of us wanted it to be. But the album is, without question, both stirring in its complexity and beautiful in its flaws.

Joshua Needelman

Kanye West is a real friend. This past March, his Watch the Throne pal Jay Z purchased ailing music streaming service Tidal in the hopes of challenging industry titan Spotify. Jay’s business plan called for an artist-owned model with higher subscription fees. The endgame? Higher royalties for artists.

It didn’t work. Not until recently, at least. Not until Kanye stepped in.

The buildup to this weekend’s release of The Life of Pablo was outrageous, comical and downright silly. Kanye repeatedly changed the album’s name, advocated Bill Cosby’s innocence and blamed the album’s delayed release on Chance the Rapper. For some reason, #BlameChance became a thing.

Yet through it all, Kanye had us all in the palm of his hands. How many other artists could fill Madison Square Garden by simply plugging an AUX cord into their laptop? Kanye is a marketing genius, combining out-of-this-world talent with a well-fashioned knack for commanding attention, a product of his proclivity for the outrageous.

The saga came to an end in fitting Kanye fashion. After a stirring performance of “Ultralight Beam” on Saturday Night Live (starring Chance), Kanye frolicked from one side of the stage of the other, urging fans to head to and download Tidal with a frightening screech.

We all obeyed.

Soon, Tidal shot to the No. 1 most downloaded app in the App Store. Jay Z, sitting on a throne somewhere, probably flashed a smile.

“Real friends, how many of us? How many of us, how many jealous? Real friends.”

Of course, I didn’t purchase Tidal. I left that to my friends. Some real friends.