The world has distracted from Kanye West’s creative process – except, as he shows on The Life of Pablo, distraction is his creative process. This is a messy album that feels like it was made that way on purpose, after the laser-sharp intensity of Yeezus. It’s a labored-over opus that wishes it were a mixtape, trying hard to curate the vibe of a sprawling mess, and that’s because it’s made by an artist who feels like a mess and doesn’t care to hide it. “My psychiatrist got kids that I inspired” is the most brilliant line on the album: Ye can’t even go to the shrink without getting his ass kissed about what a big shot he is, so he has to go to the studio instead. And dude knows he’s got some issues to work on.
Pablo is an album he kept tinkering with, even after he gave it an official debut at Madison Square Garden – in the most stunning track here, “30 Hours,” Ye congratulates himself on how well the Garden premiere went. It’s designed to sound like a work in progress. “Ultralight Beam” sets up a gospel theme with Kirk Franklin, Kelly Price, The-Dream and Chance the Rapper. But West rarely stays in the same mood too long. He brings in Rihanna to sing a Nina Simone hook, then duets with Chris Brown a few tracks later. For “No More Parties in LA,” he puts Kendrick Lamar, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Larry Graham on the same track. High-profile guests play the role of Yeezy’s sick conscience, whether it’s the Weeknd in the marital-blues slow jam “FML” or Young Thug in “Highlights.”