With help from Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West raps about the vapid and superficial Los Angeles lifestyle on this track. In many ways, West personifies VIP culture and the thirst for luxury, but he seems very self-aware here, and acknowledges the dangers that come from getting caught up in the hype. West explains that there was a time when he wasn't even on a list, much less the A-list, but he always had a taste for the good life. The conflict comes in knowing that these same tastemakers (and women) who wanted nothing to do with him now want a part of him because he's famous.
This was released as part of West's #EveryFriday series, but it came a few days late, dropping on Monday, January 18, 2016 (Martin Luther King day). His wife Kim Kardashian explained the delay, Tweeting that Kanye flew to Italy to get a fitting for his Yeezy clothing collection, and that he wrote "90 bars" on the plane and flew his engineer, Noah Goldstein there to finish the song.
This marks the first collaboration between West and Kendrick Lamar. West gets most of the airtime on the 6:15 track, declaring his "writer's block is over" and asserting his status a hip-hop statesman still at the top of his game. "A 38-year-old ate your role," he announces.
Madlib (Otis Jackson Jr.) produced this track. He is on Stones Throw Records, and in the documentary about the label, Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, West makes an appearance praising Madlib. In bonus footage from the film, the pair are seen working on the track, with West saying, "I just paint the scene of how I felt sitting there with Madlib working on these tracks and just hearing the textures."
This samples the 2000 track "Mighty Healthy" by Ghostface Killah, which West also used on his song "New God Flow
At the 5:30 mark, a bit of Larry Graham's 1980 soul number "Stand Up And Shout Out About Love" comes on after West barks the lines, "Tell all my cousins I love 'em. Even the one who stole the laptop, you dirty motherf--ker." We hear Larry Graham sing in retort, "I'll just keep on loving you, baby." West rhymed about the stolen laptop on his previous #EveryFriday release, "Real Friends
The "La da da da di da da-a, la-a" part of the intro is sampled from Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Give Me My Love".
The remainder of the intro and the main portion of the beat borrows from Walter Morrison's "Suzie Thundertussy," a track from the singer's 1976 album Suzie Supergroupie
, which he recorded under the name of Junie. Walter Morrison was the lead singer/keyboardist with The Ohio Players in the early 1970s. Later in the decade, he joined George Clinton's P-Funk (Parliament-Funkadelic), making a prominent contributions to the platinum-selling Funkadelic LP One Nation Under a Groove
The Life of Pablo album title was most likely inspired by a lyric in this song's second verse.
I feel like Pablo when I'm workin' on my shoes
I feel like Pablo when I see me on the news
I feel like Pablo when I'm workin' on my house
Tell 'em party's in here, we don't need to go out
So who is this "Pablo"? He could be:
20th-century Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, whom West compared himself to in a 2015 Oxford University lecture. ("My goal, if I was going to do art, fine art, would have been to become [Pablo] Picasso or greater")
Drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, who in the early 1990s built his own prison to serve a five year sentence.
The New Testament apostle St. Paul, who taught the gospel of Jesus Christ to the first-century world ("Pablo" means Paul in Spanish). West compared himself to the first century Christian saint in a series of tweets, which began:
"Paul ... The most powerful messenger of the first century... Now we stand here 20 centuries later... Because he was a traveler..."
It turns out that Yeezy is referencing all three men. When Khole Kardashian asked Kanye how he decided on The Life Of Pablo title, during the April 20, 2016 season finale of Kocktails With Khole, West replied:
"Which Pablo? Pablo Picasso, Pablo Escobar of course, Apostle Paul. [Paul] inspired and was the strongest influencer of Christianity. Pablo Escobar was the biggest mover of product, and Pablo Picasso was the biggest mover of art. And that mix between message, art, and product is The Life Of Pablo."
Kendrick Lamar name-dropped Erykah Badu in his verse, prompting speculation of romance between the two artists:
Um, well cutie, I like your bougie bootie
Come Erykah Badu me, well, let's make a movie
Badu firmly denied the rumors, tweeting that "Kendrick aint called me since y'all made up some s--t about us being in the trailer makin out so he missed his award".
According to Badu, the pair have only met once: at the 2013 BET Awards. "Sound check, performance, photo opps, ghost. He was super shy," she said of her meeting with Lamar.