808s & Heartbreak
Despite what's been written, Kanye West's new style on his fourth album 808s & Heartbreak -- which incorporates "tribal"-style drum machines and auto-tuned vocals - doesn't sound especially shocking to the ears. Immediately satisfying singles like "Robocop" and "Love Lockdown" make Yeezy's much-discussed crooning and his T-Pain-assisted use of vocoder non-issues here. Kanye was never much of a rapper anyway, but he's always found away to stay cutting edge. Young Jeezy, on the other hand, sounds dated and stale when he drops his usual braggadocio rhymes on the song "Amazing," while Kanye zooms past him stylistically.
It's no shocker that the album plunges deeper into Kayne's typical neuroses--insecurity, spiritual unease, and the difficulties of celebrity--and the death of his mother and a relationship failure have brought these concerns into sharper focus. As a whole, Heartbreak's tracks avoid many specific details about Kanye's losses, and instead deal in generalities. On "Coldest Winter" he sings: "Goodbye my friend/ Will I ever love again?" The move from slang-heavy rap particulars to clearly-articulated pop universals completes a transition he started with his last album Graduation; the idea is to enable crowds worldwide to sing along at his shows like they do at U2 concerts. Heartbreak's strict commitment to its aesthetics help Kanye achieve what he's set out to create, an immediately-gelling, singular testament to indescribable suffering.
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-- Ben Westhoff