Artist: Kanye West
Album: 808s and Heartbreak
Record Label: Roc-a-Fella/Def-Jam
Release Date: November 24, 2008
If anyone in hip-hop was going to put out 808s and Heartbreak, it’s Kanye West. West has been known to meddle with hip-hop, manipulating sounds and styles that are out of the ordinary and giving it that mainstream appeal. He intertwined orchestral arrangements with hip-hop on Late Registration, soul samples on The College Dropout and electro and pop on Graduation. So when he premiered “Love Lockdown” at the MTV VMAs this year, everyone knew he was cooking up something different with 808s and Heartbreak.
It’s no secret that Kanye West’s lyrical ability has seemed to dwindle over the years, but is easily overlooked due to his immeasurable production talent and the fact that he knows how to put songs together. Using only the TR-808 drum machine, West has created some of his most ambitious songs to date, abandoning the standard hip-hop beat and rapping for singing and tribal drums, which might be his biggest antithesis’ to hip-hop yet.
On 808s and Heartbreak, Kanye West relies heavily on the auto-tune effect. This may easily push listeners away, as the T-Pains and Lil’ Waynes of the world have already saturated the mainstream with the effect. However, Kanye West hopes to achieve something completely different. He created a voice deemed “Heartbreak,” something West refers to as a “mixed drink with auto tune, distortion and a little bit of delay on it.” He uses this voice as a tool, not a crutch, to express the tribulations he’s faced within the past year, including the death of his mother and the break-up with his fiancée, who is the subject of the overall bulk of 808s and Heartbreak.
“Say You Will,” the albums opener, starts off slow and haunting, with a beat slightly resembling that of a heartbeat. It’s slow pace is somewhat of an awkward start to the album and would be better if placed as a closer or even somewhere in the middle. Despite the placement, it’s one of the highlights of the album. Carrying on this very consistent theme, “Amazing” and “Streetlights” are also slow burners, which will definitely be a change of pace for the standard West fan.
There’s very little rapping on the album. However, it’s still prevalent in songs like “Heartless” and “Welcome to Heartbreak,” the latter of which features up-and-coming Cleveland rapper Kid Cudi. Together, the two sing a handful of melodies that will undoubtedly be stuck in your head for weeks. Other highlights include the Chromeo-esque “Paranoid,” and “See You in My Nightmares,” which features Lil Wayne, who sings what might be one of the best hooks he’s ever worked on.
There’s a few problems with 808s and Heartbreak. Lil Wayne’s verse, much like his verse on “Barry Bonds” on Graduation, falls flat, complete with boring metaphors and trite writing, despite how good the hook is. Young Jeezy is the only other guest rapper on 808s and Heartbreak, and his verse on “Amazing” is completely out of place and awkward, shuffling up the overall theme of the album.
Minor gripes aside, 808s and Heartbreak is a fantastic album, and Kanye West has yet again proved that he is an artist with many talents. This is unquestionably his most polarizing release, and he will alienate a large part of his fan base. However, West doesn’t seem to care, and this further proves that he is in it for the music. His production continues to test the limits of hip-hop, transcending genres and breaking from the mold of your typical producer. This may not be his best album, but it is by far the most consistent and thought-provoking album he’s released. If worst comes to worst and you don’t enjoy the album, sit tight. He’ll be back with a hip-hop release in the summer of 2009.
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-808s and grizzlies