Record Review: Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak

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Jan 2 2009, 20h27

I definitely didn't expect another Kanye West record hardly a year after Graduation. In fact, there's a lot about this record that wasn't expected. Love him or hate him, Kanye has had a pretty terrible year. And before you retort with a remark about his stacks of dough, recall the cliché about money and happiness. I remember how many stories I've heard about lottery winners who suffer more misfortune than fortune, or the Atlanta family who had their Extreme Home Makeover home foreclosed on (the episode was ironically re-run this past Thanksgiving). Sure, you can blame the individuals all you want, but there's no denying the downside to wealth, flash, and particularly fame. This is one of a few running themes on 808s & Heartbreak.

But back to the sheer unexpected nature of this record. Not only does it virtually come out of nowhere, but it's a sharp contrast to the celebratory nature of Kanye's last effort. He's at the peak of his career, playing huge venues, selling millions of records, and living the Good Life. But the party ended too soon. To continue promoting an album like Graduation after two personal tragedies, one would have to turn it into a staged show and act his way through it...which is pretty much what he did last year.

Kanye returns with an effort that's haunting, dark, lonesome, and somehow, very danceable. It's mainstream hip-hop, but only by category. This is not mainstream hip-hop. Rapping is a rare occurrence, and it's usually done by one of the few cameos. Kanye rejects nearly everything he was celebrating on his last three albums: the fame, Flashing Lights, Louis Vuitton, and other types of fortune. Not only is this also his first album without a Parental Advisory label, but the lyrics contain no profanity at all.

The use of autotune and Kanye's singing are the two points that seem to turn people off before even listening. But I can't think of many other mediums he could have used to successfully express what he wanted to express here. Kanye is not a professional singer, nor is he trying to be. But here, autotune is used for more than fixing pitch, which is the first assumption critics tend to make. It creates a sense of distance between the listener and an artist who feels more like a robot than a "real boy." To me, Kanye's decisions in producing this record are one of the things that make it such a great work.

And Kanye's production here is better than ever. The beats are huge, and despite the tone of the album, tracks like RoboCop, Love Lockdown, and Paranoid are impossible not to dance to. It's quite a task to turn the subjects of breakup, loss, regret, depression, and even suicidal thoughts into songs that are fun. It's odd, but it totally works. I imagine it's therapeutic, not to mention challenging, to turn these subjects on their head and make something you can dance to. It's certainly proof of trauma's ability to create art. And regardless of your opinion of Kanye, I dare you to listen to Pinocchio Story or Coldest Winter and not feel for the guy.

I expected to think this record is decent, but I never expected it to vie for my #1 record of 2008. The last time I heard an album that broke the mold like this one does is The Love Below, but even it wasn't as successful as this is. Who knew it would be Kanye to put out a hip-hop record that doesn't brag or boast? This is as real as it gets; too many artists write songs like the ones collected here and keep them to themselves because they're simply too personal. At least for the time being, Kanye has put aside his ego and put forth his guts. I feel his singing and even his use of autotune are appropriate because they have an artistic purpose, but if you're not as tolerant as I am, enjoy it for the beats and thematic elements, the latter of which you'll rarely hear in a hip-hop record...unless we're fortunate enough for more mainstream hip-hop to catch on.

Easily an A, maybe A+.

Comentários

  • jarvis187

    You've just made me want to give the album a chance with that review, congrats!

    Fev 28 2009, 7h20
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