November 24, 2008
Album Review: Kanye West, “808’s and Heartbreaks”

Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak is like the perfect drunk dial—melancholy, sloppily introspective, and surprisingly sophisticated.

Kanye, a man drunk on his success, and further inebriated, although in an all-together different way, by the death of his mother and end of his engagement, has a lot to get off of his chest.

It sounds good. It’s darker than any of his previous works, even Late Registration. And yes, he actually sings on just about the whole thing. But his use of Auto-Tune isn’t cheeky, popping and ready for Top 40 radio like T-Pain’s is. The Auto-Tune, for Kanye, vocally exemplifies a spiritual distortion commercial and critical success, death, and a bad breakup have brought him. If he just rapped like he always does, you wouldn’t get how messed up he really is now. The whole point of a drunk dial, at least this one, is to let the listener know you’re not well, or that you miss them, or that you don’t give a damn what they think.

Kanye does all of these things on “Heartbreak.” On Coldest Winter, he sings, “Memories made in the coldest winter. Goodbye my friend, I wont never love again. Never again.” On “Welcome to Heartbreak” he remarks, “Chased the good-life, all my life long,
Look back on my life, all my life gone, where did I go wrong?” This is some real stuff…

He sticks it to hip-hop and pop culture convention, even more than he did on Graduation. This record is more emo-techno, or hip-hop suicide than radio hit, old-soul sampling Kanye of years past. And that’s the big point. Kanye’s changed, and so has his music. And he couldn’t care less what the critics say.

There are a few disappointments, though. “Heartless” is a boring track. The keyboards on “Amazing” sound cheap. And “Love Lockdown” still gets on my last nerve. But this album is a winner. It’s complete in its emotional coherence, brilliant in its departure from Kanye-as-usual, and introspectively melancholy in lyrics that are at times Ye’s best.

Mr. West has done it again, but not in the way we expected. Instead of being the life of the party, he’s the guy in the back of the room, the sad drunk who voices his demons once the party’s stopped. “808’s and Heartbreaks” is that man’s drunk dial, imperfect, but extremely real, and without knowing it, simply stunning.

Grade: A-

  1. notsoangryblackman posted this