There's a feeling I mentioned in a review recently about how one of the greatest feelings you can experience is one of audience kinship. It's difficult to come across this feeling properly, I say this coming from the position of someone who largely consumes material that's already been critically assessed. While it's nice that for instance, "Celeste" is a delightful video game, it's something I already had asserted to me so much before playing it, that I kind of expected it.
I'll never forget the first time I heard "The Life Of Pablo". After an exceedingly wild ride in pre-release, it finally arrived and I immediately bought it, downloaded it, and went to my room to privately listen to it. The dust has cleared and it's safe to say that "The Life Of Pablo" is one of, if not Kanye's most uneven projects. This is a fact that's exacerbated by the fact that it was effectively 'patched' multiple times after release, and since it was never initially released on traditional platforms, that original released version that I have is actually very difficult to come across. I haven't listened closely enough to the 'current' version to know every difference, but I know that in "Ultralight Beam", Chance's verse has one extra line slotted in.
This whole preamble is important to mention because it connects so prominently to my feelings on "Ultralight Beam". It's track 1 on "The Life Of Pablo" so it was my first impression on this album that I had almost no hint on the contents. What I got was not anything I could have expected: a full on gospel chant all about that ascended feeling of inner positivity that religious enlightenment can provide. It sounds almost nothing like anything Kanye's ever released ("Don't Bring Me Down" at least has some similar elements), and he's barely on the song, but it's the sort of grand statement that only he could make happen.
It's when you get to Chance's verse that things truly ascend though. What starts slow with some snappy and memorable punchlines just keeps building the tension with the loudly pronounced drums until he really does what he says and makes the bars so hard that there ain't one gosh darn part you can't tweet. Much like he's already shown in the past, Chance just excels at conveying the emotional intensity of his words and ad libs. This isn't the real reason why 'thank you chance' became a thing shortly after album release, but it may well have been.
While unexpected u-turns can take a while to swallow, this was one of those rare cases where I just knew on first listen that I was hearing one of the best songs of the year, so much so that I had to break my silence and immediately rush to social media to declare my raw reaction.
All of this comes back to my original comment. Once the album had done the rounds, the notion of "Ultralight Beam" being an undeniable highlight set in and hasn't stopped since. That so many people who became fans of Kanye West for his past work (which only scarcely resembles this), joined in a chorus with me very much being on this ultralight beam, it really is one of the greatest feelings.