Kanye West

808s & Heartbreak

Rating: 3.0

Label: Roc-A-Fella

It looks like Jay-Z (Big Cheese at Roc-A-Fella Records), along with the American public, will let Kanye West do whatever the fuck he wants. Fresh from an album duel with 50 Cent, the untimely death of his mother and an apparently harsh breakup, the self-appointed “Louis Vuitton Don” has bottled up his feelings and poured them all out over his second release within 12 months, 808s & Heartbreak. Soon after the release of Graduation, West told us he would make a record on which he would do nothing but sing through the same auto-tuning device T-Pain has made household over recent years. Why didn’t we believe him?

Upon first listen, Kanye’s fourth album is a gimmick in the plainest of terms. He’s not really rapping at all. If you’re looking for anything spitfire, you’ve come to the wrong place; the worst part about it is that his singing voice is only semi-listenable and the desire to hear it computerized will wear off quick. Kanye knows it, too. That’s why he barely ever sings his hooks. Go back and listen to Late Registration and count how many choruses he sings on. I can wait. But there is a silver lining to Kanye’s despair cloud, if you pay attention. One thing that has never wavered since his genius 2004 debut, The College Dropout is his lyrical ability.

He has always been top in his league for his talent with words and timing. This record’s lyrical depth may seem utterly superficial on the surface, (for example, “He said his daughter got a brand new report card/ And all I got was a brand new sports car:“), but the tone and mood of the album lend themselves so much to the stories being told, the seemingly shallow lyrics are fervently reinforced.

West has done an observant job of setting and justifying a heartbroken, slightly angry mood on most of the album with the exception of party jams “Paranoid” and “RoboCop”, which appear back-to-back. The record’s opener, “Say You Will” is the most obvious and honest statement you’ll find. Also, it could be the best example of his singing voice, minus one over-embellished riff (trust me, you’ll catch it). The chorus here is written with a great notion for pop music, which is the bulk of what comes to follow this track. The only thing holding this song back from mainstream radio play would be a superfluous three-minute outro that only works in the right setting; otherwise it can be taken as utterly self-indulgent.

Another bothersome footnote to what I have sadly read as Kanye’s “masterpiece” is the number of guest vocals. Yes, there are only three different guests on Heartbreak (Kid Cudi, Young Jeezy, and Lil Wayne), but why are there any at all? With subject matter that is so highly personal, why would you bother and include an already unnecessary-sounding verse by Lil Wayne on “See You in My Nightmares”. The song’s synthesized beat and Kanye’s echoed vocals sound great, but Wayne’s verse is miserably sophomoric, plus his voice is so computerized that it’s reminiscent of that sound Regina Spektor makes where she sounds like she may puke in the recording booth.

Gimmicks aside, 808s & Heartbreak could be the true testament to Mr. West’s talent as a producer. The beats are based in tribal drums, best exemplified on “Love Lockdown” and “Coldest Winter”, which is too short for being so well-written. This is the only song I could see being covered from this album. Only three samples are used on the entirety of the record, all of which are incredibly hard to notice; putting Kanye’s musicianship and personality as a beatmaker at the forefront. The synths, keyboards and heavy drums keep the sullen mood present on this valid offshoot from the norm. Though, sometimes it might be best to stick to what you know.

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