808s & Heartbreak

Band: Kanye West
Album: 808s & Heartbreak
Best song: “Love Lockdown” is pretty good. “Say You Will” is pretty good.
Worst song: The end of the record trails off and repetitiveness is a problem.

Kanye West is wonderful producer. He’s a decent rapper on his own stuff. He’s not a singer.


You must know those things in order to fully digest 808s & Heartbreak.

I’ve posited this theory before, but I don’t know if I’ve put it down on paper/the Tubes just yet. It’s the George Lucas theory of art. It revolves around something I adore: Star Wars.

You see, for the first three Star Wars movies, George Lucas was trying to prove himself within a system that was relatively — certainly for A New Hope in ’77 — hostile to his vision. As such, Lucas really needed to work with and around other people and needed to be edited or budgeted. He was often told “no.”

That last sentence is key. If Lucas had an idea that wasn’t plausible, someone at Fox said “no.”

Of course, since then, Lucas has had an army of sycophants and yes-men telling him everything he wants to hear. Awful racial stereotypes thinly disguised as aliens? Of course. More CGI than you can shake a stick at? Why not? No one tells him “no.” Not the studio, not his other writers, not the directors. He’s George Fucking Lucas. He created Luke Goddamn Skywalker. And Chewbacca. And Admiral Ackbar.

It happens whenever someone is hailed as a genius or amazing at a certain age and continually believes him or herself to be an artist. Because these people are successful enough (and, often, visionaries), their underlings and those around them just mainline ass-kissing to them.

It happens most often to athletes. Mike Vick was surrounded by friends that neverhad the sense or balls to say, “hey,buddy, let’s not kill those dogs” because the meal ticket might get pissed. Eventually, you start to listen to your own press.

Look at Madonna (well, don’t really look at her. She currently looks like a goblin on Winstrol). She’s such a luminary that she has an army of fat chicks and gay dudes defending her every action, including when she steals a baby from Africa. Or when she falls into Onion-parodying-Manson territory, jumping on a cross whenever someone stops looking at her.

Kanye West, of course, falls into that territory, to a weird point. It’s maybe tough to criticize West for thinking that he’s God’s gift to music. He didn’t come onto this recently. West thought of himself as some combination of Dr. Dre, Tupac and James Brown from the time he got into the game with his first — admittedly brilliant — record. But, West’s temper tantrums are notorious. He always feels slighted whenever someone wins an award he doesn’t.

I touched on this Monday, but Kanye West is certainly one of the untouchables in the music press. People can mock his personality, but nearly no one knocks his skills as an artist. This is, largely, deserved. Again, he’s a strikingly good producer who knows how to incorporate different sounds — Eurodisco on his last album, for example — into rap. He works with great people. He’s a serviceable rapper with a smart, introspective syle evident from “All Falls Down.”

808s & Heartbreak has gotten a lot of positive reviews, and understandably so. West’s best traits bubble up throughout the record. The Pitchfork end-of-year piece praised the album as having West “[beating] emo at its own game.” (Pitchfork, by the way, is so far n the tank for West, it’s sopping wet.) And Pitchfork isn’t wrong. West’s mother died last year and he broke up with his fiancee, so his emo-ness is understandable.

And it’s well-done. Lyrically, the album is forlorn and introspective. “Welcome to Heartbreak” paints a picture of a man overshadowed by his material accomplishments in search of actual happiness. It’s catchy and very West. “See You in My Nightmares” is an angry tell-off to a woman, as is “Heartless,” a flangy, pretty thing.

And the production, of course, is nearly flawless — save for one thing (more on that in a bit). “Love Lockdown” has the thumping drumline beats of a high school marching band. “Paranoid” is all Italian disco. “Say You Will” is almost slowcore in its build.

With that said, the criticisms of the album are absolutely fair. West’s complaints of first-world-Robin-Leech problems are, at best, foolish and more likely, incredibly insulting. I’m tired of hearing about how consumerist he is; just stop buying houses, dickwad, and give a bunch of money to the Red Cross.

The original Pitchfork review sloughs off his fallback onto the Auto-Tune a some sort of part of his oeuvre. The review psshaws the idea that he’s a bandwagon-jumper as foolish, being that all futuristic music manipulates vocals. The final point is a fair one, though the results remain the same: West is relying too heavily on the Auto-Tune becaus he can’t fucking sing.

Indeed, West has always sounded overmatched when singing. Yes, the Auto-Tune is a staple of urban radio in 2008; the Lil Wayne record has Auto-Tune all over it and it is used to a nice degree on that album. But, West seems to use it to cover up for the fact that, as a crooner, he lacks chops. Unlike his flow, which is masked by great lyrics, his singing of hooks is just mediocre and to T-Pain it up only shows that he has no singing talent. In Lil Wayne’s case, Lil Wayne uses it to manipulate. West uses it to cover up his lack of range.

West is certainly a wonderful artist and one that deserves most of the accolades he receives. But, clearly, the music press gives him carte blanch. That’s crazy. He’s got enough yes-men, critics shouldn’t be in that club.

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  • By April | Albums That I Own on September 14, 2011 at 9:30 am

    […] actually written a lot about albums that came out during 2008. Kanye West’s sublime 808s & Heartbreak finished up the year, not the mention one of my favorite albums, Lil Wayne’s opus. The Fleet […]

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  • About Me

    I'm Ross Jordan Gianfortune. I am not a writer, but I sometimes write here about music and my life. I live in Washington, DC.

    I used to review each of Rolling Stone Magazine's top 500 albums of all time. Now I'm writing about albums I own.

    My work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Gazette, The Atlantic, Sno-Cone and a bunch of defunct zines.

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