So that's the end of the Pablo saga, right? Wrong! Def Jam tells the New York Times in a statement, “In the months to come, Kanye will release new updates, new versions and new iterations of the album." It's referred to as "continuous process.” Hold on to your butts.
Stream The Life of Pablo:
July 2014: The first news of Kanye's follow-up to June 2013's Yeezus comes via an in-depth Q&A with GQ's Zach Baron. 'Ye touches on everything from wife Kim Kardashian to what fish in the ocean he'd be. When asked about his new album, Kanye paints a vague picture for when we'd hear the new tracks:
"I don't know, man. I hope I can get one of these songs out in the next couple of weeks, just to have something up and running. ... I think most likely September. I go back and forth. Like, should it be September or should it be October? Should it be November? When Beyoncé was working on her last album, she took a while. I was thinking it could somehow come out in June, like Yeezus, and just kill it for the summer. But then I'm like, I have to work on Adidas and be with my child."
September 2014: During Paris Fashion Week, news surfaces that Kanye played the full entire album three times during a party "in a dark room of 20 people," according to Theophilus London, who adds that it had the group "moshing drunk."
New Year's Eve 2014: 'Ye drops the Paul McCartney-assisted "Only One," the first of a flurry of cuts—"FourFiveSeconds" (with Paul and Rihanna), the still-not-officially-released "Wolves" and the summer single "All Day"—that will appear in the following months.
February 2015: "Wolves" is revealed at the Yeezy Season 1 fashion show; at the time it's said to be the first song on the album. Kanye tells Power 105.1's Breakfast Club that the album is "80 percent done." (In retrospect...come on, man.) Asked what to expect, he says:
"Bars. Songs. Y'know, cookout—music that just feels good. My last album was a protest in music. I was like, 'I'm gonna take my ball and go home. If y'all ain't gonna let me play what I wanna play and do clothes and do this…' But this album's just embracing the music, embracing joy, and just being of service to the people. ... I'm trying to get it finished, I'm trying to get it to the people as soon as possible. ... 100 percent: Release dates is played out. So the surprise is gonna be the surprise. There goes the surprise."
March 2015: Kanye tweets the album art (at left) and the title, So Help Me God.
May 2015: Kanye tweets, "I’m changing my album name to SWISH. I might change it again but that’s the name now."
June 2015: Just before the launch of Apple Music—the company's entry into the music streaming market—word bubbles that the album might premiere exclusively on the service. Kanye's involvement with Tidal—his bro Jay Z's own streaming service—leads to alternate exclusive release rumors.
August 2015: Theophilus London pops up again to say 'Ye once more played the album for a night club, this time in Toronto on repeat. Theo's verdict: "its HI Key over for everybody. Everybody."
September 2015: Kanye speaks to Vanity Fair about his Yeezy Season 2 fashion show, where he premiered "Fade." (See MUSIC section below.) He says Swish is...
"...like a sonic landscape, a two-year painting. ['Fade'] has been a year and a half in the making and it may be still a year from being complete. But it was to let people get a glimpse at the painting."
The final answer on the album's due date, whether it'll come in 2015? "I'm not sure. I’m not worried about the years. I’m worried about the life and the body of work that I can put out while I’m breathing."
November 2015: Calling into L.A.'s Real 92.3, he says, “I don’t wanna overly describe it or overly try to hype it up. I’ve been working slow," adding that it's "sounding good. It’s like a sonic painting, and it gets better and better every week."
December 2015: Kanye's hospitalized brother-in-law, Lamar Odom, hears the album via Kim and "loved it." Kanye tweets, "I’m finishing my album and my next collection… no offense to anyone… I’m asking everyone DON’T ASK ME FOR ANYTHING TILL AFTER I’M FINISHED WITH MY ALBUM." On New Year's Eve, he drops "FACTS (listen in the MUSIC section below).
In 2015, Kanye also:
–produced songs for Madonna, the Weeknd, Travi$ Scott, Big Sean, A$AP Rocky, and Pusha T, possibly pointing to people who might show up on the album
–gave the G.O.O.D. Music presidency to Pusha T, presumably freeing 'Ye up to work on his own music
–joined Soundcloud, with a stunningly reworked version of 808s & Heartbreak's "Say You Will" and a remix of the Weeknd's "Tell Your Friends," the Beauty Behind the Madness cut he himself produced
–welcomed his second child wife wife Kim Kardashian-West, a son named Saint, in December
January 2016: The wait for The Life of Pablo ties the two-year-seven-month gap between My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus as the longest time 'Ye has ever spent between solo albums. On Jan. 8, Kanye uploads the Ty Dolla $ign–assisted "Real Friends" and a snippet of the Kendrick Lamar–featuring "No More Parties in LA." It's reportedly the first of a G.O.O.D Fridays–esque series of weekly songs being released on the journey to the album announced that same day to be coming Feb. 11. The #EveryFriday schedule will not stick.
Later in the month, Khloé Kardashian says she's very familiar with Swish and that all the songs are "genuinely terrific." Kim's little sis also says Kanye has "so many songs...that he can't figure out what he wants to put on his album."
We learn on Jan. 26 that Kanye West will premiere the album at Madison Square Garden at 4PM EST on Feb. 11. With the event titled Yeezy Season 3, we're guessing it'll double as a new fashion line presentation. As with Yeezy Season 2, the event will be livestreamed to movie theaters across the world. Oh, and he's got a new message for us about the record, which days before he called, in true Yeezus fashion, "the best album of all time":
This is not album of the year. This is album of the life.— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) January 26, 2016
Later that same day, this happens:
New album title, WAVES— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) January 27, 2016
Wiz Khalifa quickly takes issue with the title, asking Kanye not to rip off a concept attributed to incarcerated Harlem rapper Max B. Kanye goes on an extended, uncomfortably personal Twitter tirade against Wiz, slinging lines like "I am your OG and I will be respected as such." (Plus tonnnns of other stuff that's not even remotely related to Waves.) They make up; whatever.
Over the last weekend in January, it's announced that Kanye will play Saturday Night Live on Feb. 13. New photos show André 3000, 2 Chainz, Kid Cudi, Tyler, the Creator and gospel singer Kirk Franklin in 'Ye's studio. The updated legal pad tracklist/guestbook (see THE TRACKLIST section below) now features several new autographs, including one from G.O.O.D. Music signee CyHi the Prynce, who lashed out at Yeezy on a violent diss track last summer.
There's also a (silent) video of Kanye vibing out on a table while showing off what we can only assume to be The Life of Pablo:
Early February 2016: Yeezy amends his "best album of all time comment" with a little perspective:
Out of respect for Q-Tip, Puff, Hov, Lauren, Pharcyde, Mary, Stevie, Michael, Hendrix, James, Pete Rock, Pac, Marvin….— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 3, 2016
this new album is ONE of the greatest albums not the greatest just one of …— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 3, 2016
So many musicians touch my life and made me who I am… I want to make something great to honor my idols…— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 3, 2016
The Madison Square Garden premiere sells out in 10 minutes.
THEN Kim Kardashian hosts a Twitter poll revealing that nearly 200,000 people wish Kanye West had never changed his original album title, So Help Me God. The results also show that Waves is the least-favorite option, with Swish landing in the middle.
Calling into Big Boy's Neighborhood on L.A.'s Real 92.3, 'Ye admits the album title is still up in the air. He also has a genuine update about what we should expect, leading with the concept that gives the record's final track its name:
"Ultra...light...beams. I'm trying to open up hearts, minds. When I was sitting in the studio with Kirk [Franklin, gospel singer] and we were just going through it, I said, 'This is a gospel album with a whole lot of cursin' on it. But it's still a gospel album.' [Laughs] It's the gospel according to 'Ye, you know what I mean? It's not exactly what happened in the Bible, but it's the story of this idea of Mary Magdalene becoming Mary."
"I had the pleasure of working on a few tracks for the album. It’s one of the best albums I heard him produce in a while. It’s a sound that I think is very enjoyable. The sonics and the things that people are gonna hear—I think they should connect to it, like close their eyes [away] from all of the B.S. and think about the music when you listen to the album ‘cause it’s a lotta noise outta there. When you’re that popular, there’s gonna be a lot of noise but sometimes, we gotta put the headphones out, get away from that noise and really listen to the craft and I think that he has a great piece of work on his hands."
There may be a new secret album title— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 8, 2016
That's the new album anybody who can figure out the title gets tickets to Season 3 and free Yeezys— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 9, 2016
Feb. 10: On Kanye Album Eve, we get the answer to what the fourth, conclusive album title, TLOP stands for—The Life of Pablo! What a time to be alive, for real!—plus another new tracklist.
Feb. 11: An hour before the Madison Square Garden album premiere and Yeezy Season 3 fashion show (livestreamed on Tidal for subscribers and non-subscribers alike, attended by Fuse), West reveals the album artwork (see top of post). The album does not, as widely expected beforehand, become available after the concert. The HD Tidal livestream is available for all to replay.
Feb. 14: Hours after an SNL performance where Kanye spastically blurts that the album's now available, it appears on Tidal. $20 purchases are briefly available, although the downloads will not be delivered until six weeks later, much to the consternation of all who paid.
That afternoon, Kanye tweets, "Ima fix wolves." It's the first indication that this thing, despite being available to stream on an official platform, isn't really done.
Feb. 15: Kanye tweets, "My album will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale... You can only get it on Tidal."
Feb. 18: Tons of TLOP demos and outtakes leak, including a track with Bon Iver and The-Dream. Also, the title for "Silver Surfer Intermission" suddenly becomes "Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission" on Tidal. It's a weird little reminder that this thing is going to incur more tweaks.
Watch Fuse's archival interview with 'Ye, who, in his words, "just recently got extremely good" at rapping:
Feb. 23: The album doesn't hit the Billboard charts because Tidal, at Kanye's request, doesn't share the streaming numbers.
March 2: Pornhub illegally streams TLOP. Yup.
March 7: Kanye declares on Twitter, "I was thinking about not making CDs ever again... Only streaming. the Yeezus album packaging was an open casket to CDs r.i.p. uuuuuuum, so there it is... No more CDs from me."
March 13: Minor changes appear on "Famous"; it's the album's first official sonic change, even if it's as minor as changing one line ("She be Puerto Rican day parade wavin'” becomes “She in school to be a real estate agent").
March 16: Sia and Vic Mensa return to "Wolves," which featured them in its two early 2015 live appearances and was conspicuously missing their voices at the Madison Square Garden premiere. Frank Ocean's closing bit (which debuted at MSG) becomes its own song, "Frank's Track."
March 25: "Famous" becomes the first Life of Pablo single, hitting Spotify, Apple Music, Soundcloud and radio stations. Noteworthy especially for the fact that it's the song with the controversial line, "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / I made the bitch famous." (Which Taylor Swift either condemned or helped write, depending on whose story you believe.)
March 27: For Easter, Kanye uploads "Ultralight Prayer" to Soundcloud. It's an extended version of Kirk Franklin's "Ultralight Beam"–closing prayer, set to different music. Kanye's voice is absent.
March 30: The 45-second, tongue-in-cheek a cappella freestyle "I Love Kanye" also hits Soundcloud, Spotify, Apple Music and the like.
March 31: Word arrives that TLOP, contrary to Kanye's Feb. 15 claim, will become available for non-Tidal streaming and purchase. And...it does!
1. "Ultralight Beam" feat. Chance the Rapper, The-Dream, Kelly Price & Kirk Franklin
2. "Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1" feat. Kid Cudi
3. "Pt. 2" feat. Desiigner & Caroline Shaw
4. "Famous" feat. Rihanna & Swizz Beatz
6. "Low Lights"
7. "Highlights" feat. Young Thug, The-Dream, Kelly Price & El DeBarge
8. "Freestyle 4" feat. Desiigner
9. "I Love Kanye"
10. "Waves" feat. Chris Brown & Kid Cudi
11. "FML" feat. The Weeknd
12. "Real Friends" feat. Ty Dolla $ign
13. "Wolves" feat. Sia, Vic Mensa & Caroline Shaw
14. "Frank's Track" feat. Frank Ocean
15. "Siiiiiiiiilver Surffffeeeeer Intermission" feat. Max B & French Montana
16. "30 Hours" feat. André 3000
17. "No More Parties in LA" feat. Kendrick Lamar
18. "Facts (Charlie Heat Version)"
19. "Fade" feat. Post Malone and Ty Dolla $ign
But before we wound up here, Kanye tweeted five evolving legal pad tracklist/guestbook pics during the weeks leading up to the album:
So happy to be finished with the best album of all time pic.twitter.com/JBWa8OWvqw— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) January 25, 2016
Final track list for The Life Of Pablo pic.twitter.com/PMH94MAAeJ— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 11, 2016
The album is being mastered and will be out today… added on a couple of tracks… pic.twitter.com/6lBxcd83N2— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 12, 2016
Kendrick Lamar: The Compton emcee played opener on the Yeezus Tour in 2013 and took the world over again in 2015 with To Pimp a Butterfly.
Ty Dolla $ign: The 30-year-old L.A. artist is one of the foremost singer-rappers out there. He dropped his debut studio album, Free TC, in November 2015. On it, Kanye appeared on a Hit-Boy–produced track alongside Diddy.
Vic Mensa: The Chi-town 22-year-old appears on "Wolves." His voice is beautiful and his talent is huge. He was snipped from the final version of the song, which instead features...
Frank Ocean: He's back! While we're still waiting for Boys Don't Cry, Frocean is the final voice on "Wolves," the album's final song before the bonus tracks kick in.
Rihanna: They've been working together for years, and The Life of Pablo keeps the streak running. While "FourFiveSeconds" got cut, she does appear on the Taylor Swift–slamming "Famous," singing a Nina Simone vocal. (Simone's own voice appears at the end.)
Travis Scott: The 23-year-old producer/rapper from Houston was instrumental in Yeezus' sound; he's also been named as a contributor on The Life of Pablo.
Post Malone: The 20-year-old Dallas kid behind "White Iverson" contributes to "Fade."
Paul McCartney: The Beatle's an instrumentalist on "Only One" and "FourFiveSeconds." An old whistling part of his also forms the basis for the melody of "All Day"—and appears in a little solo moment toward the end. None of the songs made the final cut.
Allan Kingdom: The 22-year-old Saint Paul, Minn. artist was virtually unknown when he showed up on the eventually GRAMMY-nominated "All Day." Though the song didn't make the album, Kingdom's solo work is heating up.
Theophilus London: The Brooklyn-based MC was the first collaborator revealed from the project; he's one of several featured artists on "All Day," which got chopped.
Sia: The Australian "Chandelier" singer and pop song powerhouse writer was on the original "Wolves"; she joined 'Ye for a live performance of the song on SNL's 40th birthday celebration, but she and Vic Mensa were cut in favor of Frank Ocean.
Also featured: Swizz Beatz, Tyler, the Creator, 2 Chainz, André 3000, Kid Cudi, new G.O.O.D. Music signee Desiigner, Chance the Rapper, The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin, Caroline Shaw, El DeBarge and The Weeknd.
Stream the whole album at the top of the post!
THE MUSIC THAT DIDN'T END UP ON THE LIFE OF PABLO
Paul McCartney noodles on the keys while Kanye sings a touching ballad from the perspective of his deceased mother, Donda, speaking about 'Ye, baby North and Kim. The video—an abbreviated version of the tune—features Nori:
It wasn't long after "Only One" that we got another Paul McCartney collaboration...this time featuring Rihanna. The acoustic anthem "FourFiveSeconds" was announced as a single off both Kanye and Rih's album. Speaking of Rihanna's upcoming record, 'Ye announced he's acting as executive producer for it.
Kanye debuted the hard-hitting single live at the BRIT Awards in March '15, going on to make the dramatic, flamethrower-tastic performance the official music video.
"I Feel Like That"
"All Day" got a nine-minute film by 12 Years a Slave Oscar-winner Steve McQueen in July '15—and part of it was dedicated to a song we hadn't heard before. The dense, AutoTune-threaded ballad has Kanye doing extended spoken-word verses about depression, nervousness, irritation, anger and trust issues; he sings the emotional hook in an unusually high register. Here's a bootleg:
"FACTS" (original version)
Released on New Year's 2015, produced by frequent Future beatsmiths Metro Boomin and Southside, references Bill Cosby, Drake, daughter Nori and how Nike "treat employees just like slaves." It's a loose jam where 'Ye lets the game know he's still got his sights on the top spot, claiming, "Yeezy just jumped over 'Jumpman.'"
The Life of Pablo premiered at Madison Square Garden on Thursday, Feb. 11; in the wee hours of Sunday, Feb. 14, it hit Tidal for streaming. On April 1 it became available for purchase on KanyeWest.com and streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and other similar services.
For more, try:
Listen to the Back of the Class podcast talk about Kanye's massive Tidal streaming numbers: