By: Luke McCormick
“808’s & Heartbreak”
Release Date: 11/24
Record Label: Roc-A-Fella Records
4 out of 5
It is the fall of 2003. Two high school kids from Central Illinois, one a sophomore (it’s me!) the other a junior, ride around in a Volkswagen Jetta. The stereo plays a mix of early ’00s hip-hop from Styles P to Mr. Lucci. The next track pops up with a chipmunk soul beat and a mushmouthed rapper the sophomore has never heard before.
As heads bob, the sophomore asks, “Whoa, who is this?”
To which the junior replies, “Some new Roc-A-Fella guy, Kenya West I think?”
Well friends, it was Kanye West, not Kenya and that sophomore was hooked since then. Every time any news of new Kanye material hit the Internet he was right there, downloading away, just jacked for what the super producer/rapper was going to do next. On each release date of a new record he was there, grabbing that new release.
Just in time for the holiday season Kanye has dropped his coldest, most minimal record to date for the former high school sophomore. Gone are the samples and chipmunk soul beats he used to love so much. They have been replaced by 808 drums, icy synths and Kanye’s not-so-perfect singing voice sifted through an autotuner, but it actually comes together for a very effecting album.
The record is full of good ideas, sometimes they work and sometimes they fall flat. Tacking Young Jeezy onto the latter half of “Amazing” is a great switch-up from Kanye’s autotuned same pitch singing over the whole record. Ending the album with a freestyle from a show in Singapore, about the death of his mother, works with the heartbreak aspect of the record, but is a chore to sit through.
Over the past year Kanye’s mother died and he broke up with a fiance. His mother’s death and the overwhelming sadness and anger which accompanied it are what seem to fuel most of the record. It is a sad affair, but getting a peek under the slick, egotistical persona of Kanye is an interesting journey.
Sonically, the record is at first listen a glorious mess. At times minimal, something Kanye has never touched before and at other points bouncy synths will ride along with pounding 808 drums.
Influences can be found throughout the record whether it be Duran Duran synths, cheesy film-score strings or the Enya-esque atmospheric soundscape on “Say You Will,” but this is inherently a Kanye West production through and through. It sounds nothing like anything else on popular radio right now, which is just what he has been doing since the beginning of his career.
Kanye’s decision to ditch rapping (for the most part) and sing through the autotuner which T-Pain has run into the ground for the past few years, is a ballsy one, but ultimately plays. The cold, robotic affect it has on his voice and the fact that he is just an OK vocalist make his pain and anxiety that much more transparent.
The melancholy “808’s & Heartbreak” should not be championed because it is different. It should be lauded because of the fact Kanye was able to enter his dark and experimental phase and come out unscathed. With a dark, paranoid masterpiece to boot.
Luke McCormick can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 275 or firstname.lastname@example.org