Kanye West
808s and Heartbreak


4.5
superb

Review

by David James Young USER (181 Reviews)
November 24th, 2008 | 41 replies


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The world's biggest ego learns to hate himself with unexpectedly brilliant results.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have officially been inducted into phase three of Kanye West.

Phase One was hip-hop. No doubt you were intrigued, at the very least, back in 2004 with the young upstart who had recorded an entire rap song with his mouth wired shut, entitled “Through the Wire”. The College Dropout followed, and rave reviews lead a young Mr. West to be hot property amidst a thriving hip-hop scene. Despite some success in songs like “All Falls Down”, “Slow Jamz” and especially “Jesus Walks”, nobody could have possibly expected what would happen next.

Phase Two: hip pop. With the “I Got A Woman”-sampling “Gold Digger” becoming a global smash, Kanye became an internationally-recognised star. Awards ceremonies, a five-star Rolling Stone album review for Late Registration and the opening slot for a leg of U2’s tour would follow as West’s profile expanded exponentially. If that wasn’t enough, Graduation would spawn several hit singles (“Stronger, “Good Life”, “Flashing Lights”) and would present Yeezy (as he began referring to himself as) to his biggest demographic yet. Whether for his music or his tendency to loudly voice his opinions on next to anything (remember “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” or “I'm typing so fucking hard I might break my fucking Mac book Air!” at all?), the man’s presence was practically inescapable.

We now enter Phase Three: pop.

Kanye West’s fourth album, 808s and Heartbreak is a radical departure in plenteous ways. No longer does his cocky, self-assured side take prominence in his music as it has so frequently done in the past. It seems both the passing of his mother, Donda, and the separation with his fiancé, Alexis Phifer, have not only shaken West’s foundations, but humbled him. There’s certainly no “Good Life” to be found on 808s- this is an album of frustration, distance, loss, anxiety and a life in lethargy.

The themes are a consistency on the album, which makes it a far more concise and focused effort than Graduation. Yet another credit to Kanye is the fact instead of wear it down, the album’s theme creates a flowing, emphatic concept. At any given time, West dissects everything that is wrong with his world. He sings of dissatisfaction with a superficial, materialistic life in the wonderfully orchestrated “Welcome to Heartbreak”, which sees West tackle important, personal issues: “Chased the good life my whole life long/Looked back on my life and my life gone/Where did I go wrong?”. Elsewhere, the very moment of a breakup and its aftermath is documented in “Bad News” (“You just gonna keep it like you never knew/While I’m waiting on a dream that’ll never come true”), whilst looking for a direction in life is the subject matter of one of the album’s true focal points “Street Lights” (“See, I know my destination/But I’m just not there/Life’s just not fair”). West’s open, self-despising lyricism not only eclipse but also belie the man whose lateness we were supposed to honour just eighteen months ago.

Certainly, it is strange that these deeply personal and introspective songs are expressed in possibly the most contrasting way possible- sung, not rapped, with the assistance of the highly-criticised production tool, AutoTune. Often, this is a gimmick that wears thin (T-Pain, hellogoodbye et al), and especially out of the ordinary for West at this stage in his career. Having said that, it seems that the tool is used so frequently that it simply becomes another element of the musical environment. Surprisingly enough, it then evolves into something to give appraisal to, rather than criticise. The fact you could easily dismiss the AutoTune sound as superficial almost immediately becomes a redundant argument when the pain within Kanye slices through even the thickest layer of production.

Kanye’s refashioning of his vocals is given variety, texture and- perhaps most shockingly of all -emotion. The lengthy six-minute opener “Say You Will” sees West in two worlds, exemplifying the effects of the AutoTune usage perhaps better than any other song on the record. Lyrically, the song deals with a sex-driven relationship with no real commitment, as a character referred to as “Mrs. So Fly” “crash lands” in West’s room. Whilst she is obviously there for only one thing, West obviously feels more: “When I grab your neck”, he laments, “I touch your soul”. Conversely, the production on West’s voice gives a sense of distance and disconnectedness. Normally, this wouldn’t work, but the use of both honest, unadulterated lyricism and a cold distance in their presentation works perfectly. “Say You Will”, as a result, is a brilliant highlight of the record, as well as of West’s discography.

Of course, the Heartbreak is only half of the story. The other is, of course, the use of the Roland TR-808 in the beats of the songs. Next to no sound found on the record is typical nor expected, given West’s past. There’s no chipmunk soul samples, cruising beats or celebratory horn sections to be seen. This time around, it’s all Taiko explosions (“Love Lockdown”, “Coldest Winter”), smacking white noise snare (“Paranoid”, “RoboCop”) and a minimalist kick drum undercurrent accompanied by moving, perfectly tessellating arrangements (“Street Lights” and “See You in My Nightmares”). There is not a song here that makes for a boring or unsatisfying listen- the mood of each song is partnered with its perfect musical counterpart, giving yet another credit to a record already overflowing with them.

808s & Heartbreak is much unlike any other release this year, let alone in Mr. West’s discography. It has challenged him on a personal and musical level far more than any of his other albums, and is almost certain to challenge his fans even further. The fact it’s a rapper making an album with no rapping is a very bold statement at this point in both his career and his position within the industry. He has more or less risked commercial and critical success in favour of creating something completely on his own terms. At the end of the day, he really doesn’t seem to care whatsoever. Chances are you won’t either.



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user ratings (1550)
Chart.
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other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
AtavanHalen
November 25th 2008


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Sorry for the delay in comparison to everyone else's reviews, but I really wanted to get this one out.
Unless anyone has a negative viewpoint and would like to go for it, perhaps we should leave it at this?
Anyway, feedback as always is 'ppreciated.

bastard
November 25th 2008


3435 Comments


I love this review even though I disagree with it a lot.

Zippermouth
November 25th 2008


1305 Comments


Why don't you review it bastard?

ninjuice
November 25th 2008


6760 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I haven't listened to it enough to agree/disagree with your discussion of individual songs, but the review is still pretty darn good.
I also have to wonder why you rate Late Registration above College Dropout. Both are fantastic albums, but Registration has quite a bit more filler. They're both about equal in terms of quality though.

bastard
November 25th 2008


3435 Comments



Why don't you review it bastard?


Because I just get too bored with it and turn it off. I've only had 2 whole listens and about 4 or 5 half listens were I just got too bored to keep going and turned new Cynic back on.

It just isn't Kanye, the change in sound is completely uncalled for. Still, parts of this record are good, and ultimately it has grown on me to the point where I like it more than that steaming pile of garbage Graduation. I miss the days of College Dropout.This Message Edited On 11.24.08

DaveyBoy
Staff Reviewer
November 25th 2008


20857 Comments


The hip-hop page of this website now looks like a game of Hearts Or Connect-Four.

AtavanHalen
November 25th 2008


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

CHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMP HERE!

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 25th 2008


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

you guys keep crushing my dreams of reviewing this ugh

bastard
November 25th 2008


3435 Comments


just listen to this until you get sick of it and then review it with a 2.5 rating.

AtavanHalen
November 25th 2008


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I also have to wonder why you rate Late Registration above College Dropout. Both are fantastic albums, but Registration has quite a bit more filler. They're both about equal in terms of quality though.

I dunno, man, I guess I like the concept of Late Registration more, and that's the record that really made me fall in love with the man's music.

bastard
November 25th 2008


3435 Comments


me too.

ninjuice
November 25th 2008


6760 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The hip-hop page of this website now looks like a game of Hearts Or Connect-Four.

lol true.


Captain North
November 25th 2008


6787 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

First listen through right now...only on Heartless, but I certainly disagree that Say You Will is a masterpiece. It continues for just a bit too long without changing.

AtavanHalen
November 25th 2008


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

you guys keep crushing my dreams of reviewing this ugh

Mang what the shit are you waiting for? You're staff, you can do what the hell you please.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 25th 2008


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

So many reviews and all are positive though. I haven't read of them but I'm afraid I'm just going to regurgitate what people are saying.
I like to think I listen to more of this autotune r&b crap than anyone here but even with that I don't know how much insight i can bring with so many (I assume) passable reviews.

AtavanHalen
November 25th 2008


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

You always manage to give a unique spin on stuff, though.
I say use your freedom and position and go for it.
I mean, hell, you can go to a movie on a school night (snaps fingers)...like THAT.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 25th 2008


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'll just review the Killers instead.
But seriously, besides Robocop I really dig all the songs on here to some degree, even Love Lockdown.

AtavanHalen
November 25th 2008


17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

You don't dig RoboCop?

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
November 25th 2008


16089 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nah man I think it is pretty obviously the weakest song on the album.

bastard
November 25th 2008


3435 Comments


It's one of the only songs I like off of here.



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