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Kanye West is a glorious mess of contradictions in The Life Of Pablo

Kanye West is a rapper, singer, producer and fashion designer.
Kanye West is a rapper, singer, producer and fashion designer.PHOTO: REUTERS

Kanye West sings and raps about his love, family and celebrity lifestyle in his seventh album, The Life Of Pablo

Which Pablo is he comparing himself to in the title of his seventh album - art icon Picasso, drug lord Escobar or, as he's hinted in his tweets, Saint Paul the Apostle (Pablo is Paul in Spanish)?

This is the type of hubris that one has come to expect from West, but the phrase also seems like a dare to the listener, to choose between the contradictions that have come to define the American rapper, singer, producer and fashion designer.

He is the spiritual man who would sample a pastor on Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1, but in the same song, explicitly allude to carnal relations with a former lover, Amber Rose.

He sings and raps about staying faithful to reality star Kim Kardashian and their two children ("I will die for those I love") on Highlights, but on Famous, makes rampant, misogynistic statements and insinuates that his nemesis- turned-friend Taylor Swift owes him sex because he "made that b**** famous".

These disparities make West, quite possibly, one of the most interesting hip-hop artists of all time.

The Life Of Pablo is musically sprawling, a patchwork of styles cobbling together everything from soul-stirring gospel choirs to Chicago house basslines to an assembly of sterling guest verses and hooks from the likes of Rihanna, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar.

  • HIP-HOP

  • THE LIFE OF PABLO

    Kanye West

    Good Music/Def Jam Recordings

    4.5/ stars

Lamar, for instance, trades rapid-fire, complex rhymes with West as they highlight the bogus celebrity lifestyle on No More Parties In Los Angeles.

As a producer, West and his collaborators have the ability to incorporate samples from jazz diva Nina Simone's Do What You Gotta Do and dancehall doyenne Sister Nancy's Bam Bam in one single tune (Famous) and make it irresistibly danceworthy.

He is good and he knows it. His ego runs rampant all over the 58-minute album, which he once tweeted as "the best album of all time" before backpedalling and changing it to "one of the greatest albums, not the greatest, just one of".

Making it more fun is the fact that he is not entirely without self-awareness.

On a cappella rap I Love Kanye, where he refers to himself in the third person, he goes deliciously meta: "What if Kanye made a song about Kanye/Called 'I Miss The Old Kanye', man that would be so Kanye."

When he dials down on the self-aggrandising, the results can be poignant.

On Real Friends, he questions if the people around him are genuine and admits that he hasn't exactly made much effort in cultivating friendships ("I guess I get what I deserve, don't I").

Wolves is even more moving, as he recounts traumatic moments such as his mother's death that balance out the peaks in his creative career and he vows to cover his two young children "in lambs' wool" to protect them from the "wolves".

Dedicated family man, vindictive ex-lover, shameless braggart - in West's world, it's better to be talked about in any way than to be ignored.

As he raps on Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1: "Everybody gon' say something/I'd be worried if they said nothing."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'It's fun when egos run wild'. Print Edition | Subscribe