November 25, 2008

My Gut Reaction: Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak (November 24, 2008)

Hip Hop Isn't Dead interrupts this month's stunt blogging to bring its two readers Max's opinion on the latest Kanye West opus. For those of you that could give a rat's ass about Ye's pop album, tough shit, as I'm writing about it anyway.

After releasing Graduation on September 11, 2007, and trouncing Curtis Jackson in a bullshit sales war, Kanye reached new heights as a solo artist, but then, in rapid succession, lost his mother and broke off his engagement. As a result, he abandoned what was supposed to be his fourth album, A Good Ass Job, to R&B album featuring Kanye's latest co-star, Auto-Tune, the vocal correction technology that makes it sound like fucking Stephen Hawking is crooning to you. I want to say that I didn't see this coming, but after hearing his guest spot on Young Jeezy's "Put On", I had a feeling that 808s & Heartbreak might be depressing as shit.

Unlike last year, when I picked up Graduation the day it dropped, there were plenty of copies of 808s & Heartbreak on the shelf, with its pretentious-as-fuck packaging and incredibly hard-to-read lyrics and liner notes. However, I found zero copies of the other Island/Def Jam discs that hit stores on the same day, Theater Of The Mind by Ludacris, and Day & Age from The Killers. If my neck of the woods is any indication, Luda may win this year's sales contest by default, as Luda did what he always does, while Kanye decided to bump his head and switch it on all of us. There were, however, plenty of copies of Coldplay's EP, Prospekt's March, which wasn't technically supposed to be sold until today, but whatever.

"When I grab your neck, I touch your soul"? That's more than a little bit creepy. While there is no real reason for this song to be over six minutes long, the simple beat isn't bad, and hey, at least there isn't a bullshit R&B album intro.

Kanye and his collaborators behind the boards manage to create an oddly majestic beat for what is ultimately a depressing-ass song. Kid Cudi, who I've never heard from before, sounds okay on his hook (although he doesn't have much to do), but it sounds a bit out of place when combined with Ye reflecting on what chasing the good life has cost him. This actually isn't that bad.

Even though this has popped up on blogs for the past month, I somehow avoided it until now. The Austin Powers reference is beyond dated, but I like the hook, and am kind of surprised that No I.D. co-produced this track. It's at least a better single than "Love Lockdown", anyway.


It's probably the Auto-Tune talking, but Kanye doesn't even sound convinced that shit is amazing, and yet he insists on repeating that phrase ad nauseam. I've heard worse from Young Jeezy (and I noticed that Jay-Z wisely sidestepped appearing on 808s & Heartbreak), but he was still unnecessary.

A while back, I had written that "Love Lockdown", the first single from 808s & Heartbreak, kind of sucked the balls. And guess what? Even though I still like when the drums kick in, this track still kind of blows. But my wife hates this song even more than I do: she compares it to schoolchildren making up random lyrics and fitting them onto the instrumental using the Auto-Tune that they got for free in their fucking Cap'n Crunch.

With "Stronger", from Graduation, Kanye West jacked Daft Punk in an attempt to create a "stadium song" for his live shows. "Paranoid" is probably the closest thing that 808s & Heartbreak has to offer in comparison, as this track has much more energy than the rest of this intimate, low-key affair thus far. Ye probably just threw his artist Mr. Hudson on the hook just to get his name out there, as he adds nothing to the proceedings, but this song is actually pretty good.

Kanye West's ode to Paul Verhoeven takes a turn for the worst when he opts not to discuss the merits of what was essentially a futuristic horror movie, instead choosing to compare the "baddest girl [he] ever saw" to a murdered police officer that is brought back to life using technology. Yeah, the metaphor was completely lost on me, too. I suppose it doesn't help that, so far, this is easily the worst song on the album.

I was surprised to find Esthero providing backing vocals on here. (I was also surprised to find out that she co-wrote "Love Lockdown": who knew?) Kanye's simplistic lyrics notwithstanding (basically, he still hasn't found what he's looking for), this kind of worked for me.

In contrast, I thought Ye's lyrics on here were too simple, to the point of insulting. It's impossible to read the title of this song and not think about how Kanye felt when the news about his mother was delivered to him, though, and not all emotions have to be complex. That said, I didn't really care of this one.

My two readers have no idea how pissed off I am that, within the past year and a half, I have inadvertently lined Lil' Wayne's pockets by picking up three Roc-A-Fella albums that feature the most overrated artist in music today (Graduation, Jay-Z's American Gangster, and this one). I did find it pretty funny that Lil' Wayne, who probably uses Auto-Tune while scuba diving, decided to go with his actual voice when recording his verse (if not his hook), but otherwise, even with a great title, this song didn't move me.

Dart Adams over at Poisonous Paragraphs wrote in his review of 808s & Heartbreak that "Coldest Winter" "doesn't suck but for some odd reason I just feel like I'm hearing something so personal that I shouldn't be listening to it". I can see where he got that.

The following is an unlisted bonus track.

As a hip hop blogger, I've grown tired of listening to rappers complain about life after they become successful: you would think that people would appreciate things while they lasted. However, you can actually hear a bit of pain in Ye's voice, which at least adds authenticity to the rants of a man that has achieved his life's goal but discovered that it means jack and shit to him.

THE LAST WORD: A lot of people balked when Kanye West told the world that he was releasing a pop album, and he lived up to his promise (threat?), as he does not rap on here at all. Comparisons have been drawn between 808s & Heartbreak and Andre 3000's The Love Below, the Outkast artist's album that featured him also not rapping (save for one track), but there is nothing on here that approaches the mythical "perfect" pop song as well as Andre's "Hey Ya!". I'll actually take this shit one step further: 808s & Heartbreak is Kanye West's attempt to interpret both Thom Yorke's The Eraser (musically) and Coldplay's Parachutes (lyrically). I'm not saying that he succeeds, but more than a few of these songs are surprising in that they sound good, even with Ye's lack of singing ability. It's not his best album by any means, but I don't think even Kanye gave a fuck at this point: he basically flew to Hawaii (after breaking some paparazzi's camera) and recorded his own Sea Change. If you don't compare it to any of his past work, it's not that bad, and I may add a few of these tracks onto my iPod, but "Love Lockdown" still isn't one of them.


More Kanye can be found here. And he's pretty much rapping, for the most part, if that helps.


  1. hey max what if you were to review it without the music,... from just a poetic (meloncoly, hope i spelled it right) view?...give love lockdown a second chance,let it soak in...

  2. by the way great blog, peace...

  3. If Kanye wants to make a blues/electronic album and sing, it's cool with me. All I ask is that you sound good doing it and this album just doesn't sound good. Kanye's singing is horrible and that's why I didn't pick up the album.

  4. In my eyes, this album and it's coming was no surprise. Kanye did his self a favour by creating THAT kind of music that he's familiar with.

    Shitty album from a wannabe rockstar, all I can say.

  5. i wanted to download this. i never wanted to hear a song from this album.

    i was almost as indecisive as America was this past election.

    fortunately, i didn't buy it or download. i think i'll just wait until one of my friends buys it so I can listen to it and feel no obligation.

  6. great review, i would have to say that i agree with most of what was said here.

  7. AnonymousJuly 27, 2009

    he went downhill after his mom died I think and that is a shame beacuse he made (and at times now days) some good ass music, but I can't be mad at him for making this. he is going through a tough time and ppl need to realize this..Do what you feel Yeezy. you did it for The Glory right =) (From The Glory off Graduation)

  8. Shite album - for someone who was meant to be the saviour of hip hop? Fuck Kanye and his shit trainers.

  9. Just now, I am beginning to see the merits of this album. It's soulful, even with that godawful vocoder (which actually helps the album, since hearing Ye's bare voice would probably cause some massive ear bleed-age).

  10. Is it weird that I like this album?