Album Review: Kanye West “808s & Heartbreak”
There comes a point in everyone’s career where they have to redefine themselves. Sometimes this is just due to good marketing skills and to get people interested in you. But sometimes this “redefinition” happens due to life events. Tragedies are always sad…but it’s undeniable…tragedy creates the best passion and has created some of the greatest songs of all time. I believe Kanye West has just become the most recent example of this theory.
08s & Heartbreak is an album that is left field for many, but not as far away as you think. The album is classic Kanye West in my opinion…it’s just in a different format. Through 808s, echo-pumped snares, distorted vocals and tortured melodies, West has crafted one of the most interesting pop albums I’ve heard in years. The genre he coined for the project “pop art”, meaning pop music with substance, is a perfect way to describe the album. It’s full of great, universal songs that have those classic Kanye “rap” topics behind it.
The album starts with an epic sounding joint right off the bat titled SAY YOU WILL. Over a digitally created choral simulation and deep 808s, West delivers slightly auto-tuned vocals in a sorrowful, soulful tenor croon with just the right amount of reverb on the vocals. The hook becomes incredibly catchy and is very frequent throughout the song, with West on delivering 2-4 bar verses. I felt it was an awesome way to begin the CD and really set the tone for the piece of work we were about to embark on. The subject matter was also laid out nicely, to let us know the remainder of the composition was going to be about relationships and sorrowful events dealing with a woman of affection. The near 3-minute play-on of the instrumental really just added to the effect of setting a tone and leading to a journey and a listening experience…not something than many hip hop albums do.
We move on to WELCOME TO HEARTBREAK featuring newly signed G.O.O.D Music artist “Kid Cudi” who serves up the chorus vocals. This is where we are officially led into the CD, hence the title. The subject matter talks about how the struggle Kanye West has went through to make it to where he is now has caused him to sacrifice some of the normal things a human being should experience. I felt the song was classic status, except for the vocals were a little too distorted for listening. The effect was duly noted, but some of the instrumentation swallowed the vocals and made things, well, to be re-PUN-dant, distorted. Aside from losing points for the possible lapse in judgment on the final engineering mix, the song is darn near flawless.
HEARTLESS, Kanye’s second official single booms in with heavy bass and clean, crisp vocals. This might be one of the best tracks on the album. It carries all the ingredients for a pop radio hit, with a catchy hook, melodic verses that keep your head bobbing and a bridge breakdown. By the looks of how it is doing on the charts, I can say that the fans are being anything else but “Heartless” in their recognition towards Kanye West.
AMAZING featuring Mr. YEAH & THAT’S RIGHT himself comes in with another head bobbing drum and melody partnership with some semi-eerie piano riffs. The same argument arises again on this track…was all the distortion needed? The effect is absolutely great, but in their reviewer’s opinion, the vocals should have been mixed a little brighter and sharper in tone when it came down to equalizing to make them have a bigger impact and not hide behind the production. All the sound effects added a nice thematic effect to the listening experience. Young Jeezy served a very good verse with the same amount of swagger he usually serves up. Definitely a good recipe for a street single from Mr. West.
As we move the song that started the entire project, LOVE LOCKDOWN, the extra boosted drums that differ from the original release are very ambient. The song served it’s purpose. I once again concur that the vocals at moments get swallowed by the production, especially during the chorus. But overall, the tracks repetitive refrain illustrates Kanye’s assertiveness about moving on in dead-locked love experiences. The lyricism and delivery exhibit’s a perfect blend of heartbreak and strong-willed sense. It’s one of those “I don’t want to, but I have to” type instances. I’d say this became the new theme song and backdrop music for those scenes in reality.
The next song on the “journey” comes with an interesting instance of ironic retrospect from this reviewer. Before any news of a new Kanye West project was underway, this past summer I developed a very random interest in Eddie Murphy’s cult 80s pop hit “Party All The Time” and was really interested in newer music coming out with this sound…thinking to myself “that would be awesome if someone made stuff like this again”. It was fun, catchy and just universally great pop music. I guess Kanye and I were on the same page because as soon as PARANOID featuring Mr. Hudson comes on, you know right away this is the closest thing we’ve had to a joint with that sound and feel since 1985 with Eddie on the autotune taking cues from a “at the top of his game” Rick James. The track uses the fun, echoic snare and drum kit, that most hip hop purist producers would refer to as “cheesy” these days. West delivers some verses that actually sound more on the rap side than singing side this time around. Definitely something to play if you are trying to take it back about 23 years.
ROBOCOP comes in with some very eclectic production, with keyboard synth, violins and a rolled refrain throughout. West keeps the “80s party music” trend going with the drum kit and the catchy hook. I can definitely see this as the backdrop to a classic 80s movie (you know everyone loves the music on 80s movie soundtracks!) It’s not the greatest track from the album, but definitely a solid joint with good instrumentation that could even be single-worthy. I feel the outro of the track and how west delivered the vocals should have been the same mix on the vocals throughout the track. I really liked that. But hey, to each it’s own.
As we embark on STREET LIGHTS, which is probably my favorite track on the album, we enter into a ballad style Mr. West. Right away, I felt some of the distortion on the vocals could have been absent to make the song more listenable. Some of the heavy feel on the vocals took away from the vocals where the effect for eclectic purposes was on a close borderline to being there in an unwanted style and becoming distracting. The track is served with some high, presence captivating background harmonization that could go good with any movie scene inching up to it’s climax. I could definitely see a Chris Brown “With You” type of video for this track if Kanye ever makes this a single.
Now here’s where the distortion sounds like it’s absolutely where it’s supposed to be! BAD NEWS comes in right away with a sorrowful exhortation from West, with a mid-tempo drum kit pattern that will get you lost in the vibe. I want to compare it, but actually can’t put my finger on anything is sounds like. Definitely a heartfelt original from Mr. West. The strings give it a very nice touch and once again lets you get lost in the melody of the track and get a true feel for the entire atmosphere as the instruments and instrumentation speak in a sense that is actually reflective of Kanye’s lyrics without even saying anything.
SEE YOU IN MY NIGHTMARES brings us to the high energy, in your face banger. In epic chant style verses, West tells a lover he doesn’t love her no more and he’s about to be OUT! This just became the anthem for everyone that has become fed up with their current affection and whom are about to make that exit. I thought this song exhibited a lot of passion from West that you usually only see in a live performance or freestyle. Lil Wayne equally matched Kanye in the subject matter and delivery. Overall, a great track that I would put at the top of the list for the album. It’s two of the most relevant, successful artists in popular urban music right now. That should be enough hype alone on paper for you to know it’s a near classic joint.
COLDEST WINTER shows west with clean, smooth vocals in his cover of Tears for Fears’ “Memories Fade” with his own twist to it. The loud tribal drums and how they are patterned are very reminiscent of Love Lockdown, pretty much being the exact same cadence. With the subject matter moving across the loss of his mother to a possible topic of his breakup with his previous fiancé, the song is a standout passion filled track. The only thing I have wrong with it is that it didn’t seem to end in a position of closure and instead just ended blandly. Lose ends tied up at the end of powerful songs is always a good idea.
PINOCCHIO STORY, the live performance finale to the concept album is a slow beginning joint that builds into something beautiful. Some say that they would have preferred a studio quality version of the song, but I personally think it wouldn’t have held the passion that this live performance version did. The song was straight from the heart and probably the realest thing you’ve heard from an artist…a hip hop artist as that, in a long time. The tale of a man who strived for dreams all this life, made it there and now has regrets from things he could have experienced as a regular person that he never can grasp now. To think how that feels is beyond perception, but boy oh boy is it deep.
Overall, you can’t critique what’s from the heart. I gave opinions in this review that I personally would have liked, but how a musical composition should be, especially from a person you know had nearly 100% of the creative control over everything about the album, should be. However it came out was exactly how it was supposed to come out and we can’t do anything but receive it. I hope that alone, the respect for someone’s passion, will compel you to go purchase the album on November 24th.