Wednesday, December 10, 2008

808s & Heartbreak- Kanye West

Kanye West is a drama queen. He has thrown tantrums at award shows, compared himself to Jesus, vandalized airports and declared that George Bush doesn't care about black people, to name a few exhibitions of this fact. That said, 2008 was quite a year for West. His mother passed away (eliciting an extremely moving rendition of "Hey Mama" at last year's Grammys) and his engagement to longtime girlfriend Alexis Phifer dissolved. It seems as though for the first time, any claims of dissatisfaction or despair from West can be taken seriously.

On 808s & Heartbreak, West channels his depression into a finely crafted canon of detached yet highly emotional tracks. Using the ubiquitous AutoTune, West develops a downcast narrator who waxes despondent on the "good life," upon which he waxed rhapsodic with last year's Graduation. The songs found on Heartbreak are full of disillusion and gloom, a mood accented by the use of the Roland TR-808. The drum machine's low, tribal booms create a rumbling undercurrent to the album, appropriately suggesting an incoming storm. The robotic AutoTune, the thunderous 808 and the fact that West opts not to rap, mold Heartbreak into an intriguing and oddly lovely album.

Heartbreak's eleven songs (not counting the unnecessary live bonus track, "Pinocchio") are perhaps the most cohesive of any of West's albums, if only in the respect that they are intended to be thematically and musically related. Songs such as the 80's throwback "Paranoid" (feat. Mr. Hudson) and "RoboCop" (which samples the score from the film "Great Expections) segway neatly into each other, forming a hip-hopera of sorts. In this opera, though, the protagonist is an antihero: irreversibly depressed and dejected, with hardly motivation to improve his conditions. West chooses to bask in his tears, luckily to the benefit of the listener. The gorgeous "Streetlights" is a showcase of why West was an innovative producer in the hip-hop world before he even began to record himself. The singles "Love Lockdown" and "Heartless" are interesting and creative cuts, the former for its sparse atmosphere, the latter for its juxtaposition of a jaunty beat with glum lyrics.

808s & Heartbreak is no doubt a departure for West. While innovative and stunning in its own rite, its shroud of ice prevents it from holding a candle to Yeezy's past efforts. Reviews of the album have been divisive, and while it impresses me greatly, I hope West will pull himself from heartbreak and (excuse the pun) be stronger on his future albums.

Download these: "Street Lights," "Paranoid," "See You In My Nightmares."

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