It was surrounded by high expectation.
It was Kanye West’s first album in three years.
It was released in pieces.
And it was botched.
There was a collective sigh from hip-hop and Kanye fans. How could an artist of his caliber release an album exclusively through an overpaid service? No physical copy, either? What in the world went through West’s head?
There were plenty of pirated copies, illegal streams and really, really piss-poor quality versions of TLOP flying around the internet. It ruined the experience and created bad first impressions.
I decided to hold out a tad bit of hope it would release on Spotify. I just want to give a fair listen to an album that’s been unfair to its listeners.
Shortly after its wider release, I felt good about the idea of remastered tracks — a clean slate.
Most of it is good, but there are voids left unfilled for it to be a great album.
There are plenty of good beats and the production is fun. From the gospel-inspired “Ultralight Beam” to the trap style of “Pt. 2.,” there’s a more diverse sound on each track. It helps to have Madlib (“No More Parties in LA”), Swizz Beats and Metro Boomin’ (“Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1”).
Having listened to most of the album before its final edits, I find the finished copy to be a huge leap in quality. Vocals are mixed more efficiently, there’s more clarity of drums and claps — it meshes together well.
Of course, there’s fat on TLOP that needed to be trimmed. I’m OK with the gospel theme to “Ultralight Beam,” but did we really need “Lowlights” to be an entire track dedicated to a woman passionately speaking about her faith over a simple beat? Was “Frank’s Track” necessary? No clue why Kanye West decided to isolate this instead of simply shifting it over to the end of “Wolves.” Also, who cares about “I Love Kanye”? It’s an interlude that tries to be clever and self-aware; it failed to make any drop in the water.
With all of the misses, there were more hits on this album. “Real Friends” is the standout single. The lyrics, while lazy at times, flow better on the somber, reflective beat aided by the vocals of Ty Dolla $ign. “No More Parties at LA” garnered the most attention with its Kendrick Lamar feature, and for good reason. Both of these tracks showed fans glimpses of the old Kanye, the one that wasn’t trying to hard to be different (i.e. “Yeezus”).
After finishing a handful of listens, I figured I could convince myself the album was worth all of the theatrics and circus acts leading up to its wide release. Clearly, no album is worth all this pandering.
But the album was worth listening to plenty of times if you’re a Kanye fan and open-minded hip-hop fan — open-minded because there are lyrics that can be head-scratchers (see: “FSMH Pt. 1”).
Best track: “Real Friends”
Worst track: “Freestyle 4”