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Kanye West “808s & Heartbreak” Review

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

In three months Kanye West has stirred up a ridiculous level of hysteria surrounding 808s & Heartbreak, putting the album’s hype on par with any other release this year (almost). That being said, the album is just as much an experimental artistic venture as it is an experimental study in digital market and consumer behavior. When he was running around airports asking people to listen to samples of his new recordings, Kanye wasn’t just looking for feedback from strangers. When he debuted the video for “Love Lockdown” on the Ellen Degeneres Show he wasn’t just debuting a video. When Kanye continued to push the release date of the album up, he wasn’t doing so to simply compete with pirates who might leak it. Regardless of what’s driving him, the man has become the most effective self-promoter in the digital age of music; Kanye is his own street-team, does his own promotions and takes care of his own research and development. In that respect, 808s is an album like no other before it. But all that aside, when actually listening to the music, the first thing that comes to mind is, “What’s with the autotune asphyxiation, Kanye?”

Part of the ingenuity of 808s is that it has been recorded, produced and released within a period of a few months. Accompanying that, however, is an album that might prove to be the first of Kanye’s to sound dated in a couple years. But considering how current Kanye is attempting to keep all things associated with 808s, his overuse of autotune shouldn’t be questioned – for better or worse, autotune is 2008. One can only imagine that when Lil Wayne was performing on Saturday Night Live earlier this year, Kanye was tuning in and thinking that he could not only do something similar, but do it better (thankfully though, he hasn’t picked up a guitar… yet). And that’s exactly what he’s done here – Kanye has paralleled the ideas of other contemporary pop artists while building something far greater in the process.

The album’s first song emphasizes its direction immediately, “Say You Will” utilizing vocal distortion throughout. And in the song, as with the entire album, are beats just as strong as those on any of his previous releases. Continuing with “Welcome To Heartbreak” Kanye molds the album’s vocal trend around some of his most personal lyrics. “Dad cracked a joke, all the kids laughed / but I couldn’t hear all the way in first class.” Verse after verse, Kanye recalls the cost of continually hustling and maintaining his high profile status, having to give up opportunities that he might otherwise be able to enjoy. But the song doesn’t lean on self-pity or the idea of being a victim of celebrity entirely, rather it acts as a journal questioning the value of what he’s doing. You’d think that money would allow him a bit of time to spend with his family, but Kanye is in a rare position to live in a reality that many will never be able to empathize with or relate to myself included). It’s easy to judge, but it’s a lot easier to hate than it is to consider the twisted perspective on reality one must have when looking down from the top.

Continuing into the belly of the album, “Love Lockdown” doesn’t sound nearly as out of place as it did when it was initially released. The single also serves as a fantastic bridge to “Paranoid,” featuring Mr. “don’t call me Jennifer” Hudson, which is the most electric song on the album. With the track Kanye’s rhymes bounce for the first time on 808s, the song sounding closer to that of his recent collaboration with Estelle (”American Boy”) than to anything on the rest of the record.

In the week’s prior to 808s‘ release, the majority of songs began showing up on a variety of blogs and other sites; sometimes as finished products, sometimes as rough demos. One of the final songs to leak was “See You In My Nightmares” featuring Lil Wayne. For the second time in two years, however, Lil Wayne’s contribution leads to the most forgettable track on Kanye’s album. “Nightmare” isn’t terrible, and is genius compared to last year’s “Barry Bonds,” but if there is a low point on 808s, “Nightmare” is it. On the other side of the leaked song spectrum is “RoboCop,” a track which leaked and was immediately shot down by Kanye via his blog, I DID NOT LEAK ROBOCOP!!!… THAT’S NOT EVEN THE FINISHED VERSION… I’M PRETTY UPSET ABOUT IT BUT THAT’S THE WAY LIFE IS SOMETIMES!” The album’s version kicks off with an industrial-teasing introduction that surges into a wave of overwhelming pop-strings. If 808s & Heartbreaks represents Kanye West right now, “RoboCop” represents the epitome of what Kanye is doing musically; the song is an over-the-top genre-bending pop gem.

The eight-minute live track/freestyle “Pinocchio Story” concludes the album, expanding on the implication that Kanye’s living in the moment with 808s. While being a solid track, it’s not something that fits into the rest of the album, and its inclusion reflects what might have been a last-minute decision. But “Pinocchio” is as much 808s as “Love Lockdown” is. Both tracks might not work a few months from now, let alone a few years, but they reflect the musician’s attempt to feed off the moment and create something unique in the process. And while interacting with fans, dropping samples of his music at will and attempting to expand his audience, Kanye has done just that – he’s created an album that reflects the moment while being entirely unique and in a category of its own; kind of like Kanye himself.