Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
Release Date: November 24, 2008
Record Label: Roc-A-Fella/G.O.O.D./Def Jam
Is there a more polarizing figure than Kanye West in music today? Controversy follows wherever he goes, whether it’s a live benefit show for Hurricane Katrina, an awards show, or just someone in the paparazzi. West says and does whatever he wants, because when you walk the walk, you can talk the talk. West has delivered three outstanding albums in the span of 5 years, as he has flipped hip-hop on its head and has left a legacy in the genre. So yes, he’s egotistical because he can be. He has the plaques and charts to back it up. With spirits so high, it seems that nothing could bring him down.
Over the course of the past year, West had lost his mother, who was his inspiration, to a surgical operation that turned tragic, and he also broke off his 18-month engagement to designer Alexis Phifer. That’s a lot to overcome, and West coped by doing what he does best: creating music.
Instead of dwelling on his misfortunes, West turned the negativity into creativity, jumped into the studio, and created 808s & Heartbreak, his fourth studio album. But in typical fashion, West has pulled a 180 on the genre, forgoing the hip-hop style and focusing more on the pop side of things. He barely raps on the disc, instead focusing on crooning with the aid of Auto-tune and vocoders. While the first listen to 808s may be jarring, you soon discover that this is the most personal and emotional material Kanye West has ever wrote.
Not many pop stars would have the cajones to lead off their new album with a six-minute track, but West does with “Say You Will.” Bouncing with a stripped-down beat with erratic beeps and dark undertones, West sings about backing up what you promise. “Welcome To Heartbreak” follows with a low, baritone register, while West heats up the verses, wishing for more than material things. Newcomer Kid Cudi delivers on the hook, as this track is a definite standout. “Heartless” is anything but, as the beat pulsates throughout, while West lays all his feelings out on the line. Three tracks in and it’s evident that this is the darkest work West has ever wrote. He isn’t holding anything back.
“Amazing” would be exactly that if the hook would have had a little more meat to it. Also, the inclusion of Young Jeezy on this track is bizarre. While I love Jeezy, his style and lyrical content don’t match the theme of this track. An odd choice, thus this track falls just short of its potential. The addition of Lil Wayne on “See You In My Nightmares” is off too, as his nonsensical verse brings that song down. But tracks like “Love Lockdown” and “Paranoid” have incredible hooks, with the former being jarred into your memory thanks to a vibrant drum line. “Paranoid” has an intricate beat that will crawl under your skin and stay there for weeks.
The two tracks that hit me the hardest are “RoboCop” and “Coldest Winter.” Two different vibes with similar themes, they reach both sides of the emotional spectrum. “RoboCop” has a light feel to it, as it rises with each crescendo, while “Coldest Winter” is exactly that: cold. The drums echo against the harsh beat, with the reality of the situation coming into focus for West.
While West’s production and beats are always legit, his lyricism always comes into question, and this album is no exception. Yes, some of the lines here are cheesy, but how do you define what “good” lyrics are? Are good lyrics words that are spun beautifully and intellectually? Or is it more of how the words make you feel and how you relate to them? And here’s the thing, these lyrics aren’t supposed to be “clever” or “witty,” rather West is just getting his feelings off his chest. He is sharing a part of his life a lot of artists in his genre would never share. While the lyrics on 808s aren’t great, I can relate to them. They evoke emotion out of the listener, and that, to me, is good lyricism.
808s & Heartbreak is composed of the eleven most intimate tracks of West’s career. It’s Kanye at his coldest and most vulnerable, but it showcases his versatility and confidence. This isn’t a hip-hop album; it is a dark pop album, or “pop art” as West describes it. Not many artists can switch up their game like this and still be successful. The album is definitely a grower, as the first initial listens will require you to get over the fact that West’s rapping are feel-good beats are M.I.A. (take a deep breath, West will be back with his hip-hop game in 2009 with Good Ass Job, he isn’t quitting his day job). With 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West has furthered himself from the pack, adding new heights and layers to his already impressive résumé. If this album doesn’t move you, then you should check your heart - it might be deflated.
Great review. I've been spinning this a couple times this weekend and am really enjoying it. Very cohesive as an album. You really hit on the extremely personal feel it gives off. "Welcome to Heartbreak" is going to be one of my favorites for awhile I think.