According to Kanye, after his debut, The College Dropout, he would follow with Late Registration, then Graduation, and his fourth album, A Good Ass Job. The titles of each album were meant to mirror most students’ real life aspirations, “because after college you are supposed to get a good ass job”, as he put it. But, the last year or so has been tough for Kanye, with the tragic loss of his mother Donda West, due to a botched plastic surgery operation, and the breaking off of his engagement with fashion designer Alexis Phifer. The result, is 808′s and Heartbreak, a conceptual album that scrambles Kanye’s original career blueprint, featuring eleven tracks of him singing sad songs… with a vocoder.
It seemed to start on Young Jeezy’s “I Put On”, where we first saw the first appearance of the autotuned Kanye, stating “I lost the only girl in the world that know me best” – which could have either referred to his mother or his fiancée. The trend continued on a few more songs, T.I.’s “Swagger Like Us” and DJ Khaled’s “Go Hard”, but once his official single for this album leaked, “Love Lockdown”, fans became curious if Kanye would record a whole album in this format. The answer is 808′s and Heartbreak.
USA Today gives it a perfect 4 out of 4 stars, stating: “West deftly uses the 808 drum machine and Auto-Tune vocal effect to channel his feelings of hurt, anger and doubt through his well-crafted lyrics.” The Washington Post concurs calling it “the best album released this year”, while other mainstream press outlets like Billboard and The Times also gave it glow-in-the-dark ratings, as if Kanye could do no wrong.
We love Kanye and all, and admit, he does sound extra fresh when rapping with the vocoder – each “Swagger Like Us” and “I Put On” find him executing the style perfectly – but a whole album singing in this style is up for debate. Sure, the vocoder/autotuner has a generally negative history in hip-hop, after it was beaten to death by countless west-coast jams of the 90′s, not to mention it’s recent resurrection with love-him-or-hate-him hit machine, T-Pain. But Kanye’s take on it is a little different than what we’ve seen in the past. He isn’t creating syrupy pop jams like Pain; the dark lead single, “Love Lockdown” is evident of that. Instead combines it with the bass-heavy 808 drum to evoke emotion and pour his soul out in a risky, experimental LP.
The relationship with is ex is the primary subject of the album, as it is discussed at length throughout the entirety of the project. “Say You Will” beats like a life-support machine, meshed with gloomy pianos in a style that’s more Radiohead than Roger Troutman. “Welcome To Heartbreak” is perhaps the album’s most revealing moment, as lonely Kanye sing-raps about balancing the wild life of a superstar and that of a more grounded family man, with poignant lyrical content. He is also found in self-examination on “Amazing”, while Young Jeezy lends a rapped version of Kanye’s ego-driven lament.
“Love Lockdown” seems to have been written right after the breakup itself, as he states, “I’m in love with you, but the vibe is wrong / and that haunted me, all the way home”. But Kanye delves into his reasoning for the breakup, which doesn’t just fall on his own complex personality. “Paranoid” has a dancey, upbeat 1980′s style track, as he implies his ex’s sense of worry ruined the limited times they share together. “Robocop” expands on this, as he really digs into her, with blistering Trent Reznor-style drums, but soft symphonic strings, as he compares her to Misery’s Annie Wilkes. Asshole or victim? There’s two sides to every story.
We all go through breakups and hardships in our lives, so on some level, there will be moments we can all relate to on this LP. However, only an ego as big as Kanye’s would believe that we would be interested in hearing this type of vanity project which basically explores one topic in one style. Because he is such a huge star, of course he knew we would all be listening, however the universal praise the album has received begs the question as to whether people love the album, or just love Kanye in general. We suppose it’s nice to hear something from Mr. West during the off season (as we didn’t expect another LP from him for another year or so), but we prefer drum loops and chipmunk soul, over 808′s and Heartbreak. – Pizzo
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