When is a rapper not a rapper? When he's Kanye West!
Dennis O'Dell 2008
When is a rapper not a rapper? When he's Kanye West! It's been a busy year for Mr West touring his Glow In The Dark show as well as producing a host of talent. Recorded in Hawaii, 808s & Heartbreak was originally pencilled in as having the wonderful title of A Good A** Job. Thankfully it's emerged as something that does exactly what it says on the tin. Insisting on a minimalism, with the titular drum machine providing the motorised beats, a wash of synth strings and some other keys and a voice that SINGS (not raps) through an autotuner, West completed this album in record time. The man obviously had something to get off his chest in a hurry. Yes, in years to come this album will be known as 'that one with the drum machine and all the songs about his ex'.
It's an ingenious turn of events. Listen to the mechanical grind of Robo Cop or single Love Lockdown where he may be toughing it out, but the solitary voice does have a deeply bleak effect on the senses. It's polished, perfect, mechanical; like the soul's been ripped out and replaced with something utterly efficient but devoid of hope.
The autotune IS liable to drag over the entire album. After about five tracks it can be a little like being locked in a padded cell with Sparky's magic piano, but it certainly gets across the sad little robot feel which marks this album as personal. West himself claims this to be the birth of a new genre: 'Pop Art' (someone may want to tell him about Andy Warhol, but never mind...). Bless his modesty, it's not as radical as that. But what WILL be interesting is how this album divides his fans.
He hasn't entirely denied his heritage - there's a duet with Lil' Wayne (See You In My Nightmare), but overall what is apparent is that Kanye has a gift for melody that extends his forte beyond mere bragging and busting rhymes. With another album already in the pipeline for next year one suspects that this may be a sideline that proves to be more cathartic for him than the rest of us. But it's kind of reassuring to see that an ego so huge is as susceptible to heartache as the rest of us mere mortals. And somehow this makes 808s & Heartbreak even more affecting. It certainly won't do his reputation as one of the top figures in popular music today any harm.