I'll skip the contextual introduction and dive right in. The production here mostly stands out to me as very, very good, and there's no doubt that there are many elements on TLOP that remind fans of past Kanye records. I always saw him as a production genius who had just enough clever lines to get by; in 2016, I think he does more curating of his production rather than working hands-on. That's been basically confirmed after the liner notes came out and detailed his co-producing tracks with young prodigies like Metro Boomin, Southside, Hudson Mohawke. Hell, he blatantly borrowed Menace's "Panda" beat on Pt. 2, with some minor adjustments from Plain Pat... I didn't like that move. In all, there were 99 co-writers on TLOP as counted by the blog Pigeons and Planes; for someone who once was known for their production, that's pretty lame on Kanye's part, IMO.
Lyrics? Ye fluctuates between some pretty bad stream-of-consciousness stuff (Freestyle 4 is atrocious) and some lines that make you miss his old records (Real Friends in particular; FML sounds pleasantly 808s-like and Parties in LA would fit right in on Dark Fantasy). I've read some theories online about there being distinct "acts" on this album, shifts in mood; I don't buy that. Skimming Yeezy's tweets from the month of February would tell you that he had almost no strategy when it comes to this track listing. Each prior record in his discography had a theme that was at least somewhat evident. I've listened to TLOP for two weeks now, and I still can't figure out any kind of message other than his usual decadence and an even more magnified obsession with sex, especially in the first half. The second half of this album is really good and helps me forget about some of the earlier clumsy, look-at-me stuff.
Make no mistake, I truly enjoy Ultralight Beam, Pt. 2 (even if it is a blatant rip-off), Feedback, FML, Real Friends, Wolves, Parties in LA and Fade. That's 8 songs out of 18, and when I count 30 Hours, Highlights, Waves and Facts (without the generic Southside beat) as above average, you've got a solid 11 tracks and a nice little record. That's why I took the liberty of deleting Low Lights, Freestyle 4, I Love Kanye and Silver Surfer for an almost objective improvement of this album.
But it wasn't hard for me to decide immediately that Kanye has gone too far with his try-hard lyrics. I'm not even somebody who gets easily offended, but it's almost unbelievable that his remarks towards Taylor and Ray J made a major release. His "Go-Pro" and "Bleached Asshole" lines definitely go down as some of his worst ever. Big Ghostface did a hilarious review this week where he hits the point on the head: these lyrics are downright awful at times, and he would benefit from hiring his old ghostwriters back. If any other artist had this many BAD lines on their album, I'd never listen to them again. But here I am, a Kanye fanboy for over 11 years, feeling conflicted.
The most offensive/bizarre part of all the vulgarity is his language towards women, especially towards Taylor and Kim. I'm not a particular fan of either woman, but to call them both bitches (especially the mother of his children?) is pretty awful. Did Kim approve these lines? It's to the point where they downright ruin Famous and Highlights for me. He tweeted that he was going to fix Wolves... why not go back and take out the misogynist slurs?
Several people have told me that they think Kanye is suffering from either a mental illness or antidepressant withdrawal. I don't think they're far off... his behavior on Twitter has been reckless and certainly damaging, in my opinion. TLOP is also highly frantic and jarring at parts, so mental illness would make sense (you'd almost have to be insane to include a worthless voice mail from Max B on an album that's not even called 'Waves' anymore). Maybe it's because he knows he has owned hip-hop since 2004. Maybe it's the influence of the Kardashian family element. Regardless, I am in the camp of people who believe that this album could have been really special with another month or two of refinement, with some ghostwriters and without the extreme misogyny.
I consider TLOP a flawed 7/10. I removed four tracks to improve the version that's on my phone, and I'm about to add the old Wolves back in.
Favorites: FML, Real Friends, Parties in LA, Feedback, Ultralight Beam
Disliked: Freestyle 4, Lowlights, Silver Surfer
Pros: Production that is lush and beautiful at times as well as nuanced and hard-hitting. Features like Chance and Kendrick Lamar that provide actually good lyrics.
Cons: Kanye's worst and most offensive lyrics of his career, a few pointless interludes, a lack of cohesion.