DJ DeeKay - In The Mix


Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak review

By DeeKay

Kanye West’s development from Roc-A-Fella’s in-house producer to worldwide style-icon, gossip-column fodder and A-List rapper in the space of just under five years has been nothing short of astounding. Emerging in an era where 50 Cent was at the height of his popularity and still Hip-Hop’s reigning King Midas, West’s debut album seemed to serve as an antidote to New York’s breed of gangster rappers and one-note punchline bores. Kanye’s feel-good movement was so strong it even triggered a brief and somewhat ill-advised comeback for Mase, the Father to his brand of mumbled-happy-rap. Fast-forward to 2008 and West’s fourth album is an entirely different proposition altogether. The product of a year that the rapper freely admits has been the worst of his life, 808s is a dark and brooding disc, sung (not rapped) by West, almost entirely with the use of T-Pain’s favourite studio tool, Auto-Tune.

Let me first admit that when I heard the premise of this album, I, like many others, thought it was a recipe for disaster. Admittedly, emotional turmoil has been a foundation on which many great singers have built albums which have gone on to define their careers, but Kanye, who at times is barely a rapper, is certainly no singer. It was unfathomable that an album comprised entirely of Auto-Tuned vocals could possibly be listenable, let alone the masterpiece that was being promised. Having had the album on constant rotation for well over a week now, let me next admit that I was wrong.

With 808s, Kanye has delivered a powerful account of, and journey through, the emotions of depression, anger, restless ennui, recovery, jealousy and, as the title suggests, heartbreak. Far from pretentious, West’s album is impactful on a base emotional level, exploring universal issues that everyone can relate to, which is perhaps the reason it works so well. Neither is the Auto-Tune as imposing as it might have been – it is rarely cranked up to its maximum, and for the most part, plays supporting act to the great songs Kanye has crafted. The album has its unnecessary indulgences – extended instrumental outros on Say I Will and Bad News, as well as the first two verses on Welcome To Heartbreak all come to mind, but it would be churlish to criticise West for these brief lapses on an otherwise exceptional album. Take the aforementioned Welcome To Heartbreak - despite its cringeworthy first two verses, the song features one of the album’s best beats and one of the best bridge and hook combinations in recent pop history.

This is no normal album – whether it came about as a result of his single-minded stubbornness and unfaltering self-belief or is a product of his artistic vision and bravery, the fact that it was even released is a testament to Kanye West. If this isn’t good enough for West to win the Best Album Grammy award that he so covets, nothing ever will be.

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