Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak
Record Label: Roc-A-Fella Records
Release Date: November 24th 2008
It’s an understatement to say that rapper and producer Kanye West is an interesting man; he’s most infamously known for interrupting Taylor Swift during an acceptance speech at the VMA awards a few years ago, and now he’s been back in the news because he’s going to have a baby with Kim Kardashian, of all people. Good luck to them, but he’s definitely not a stranger to being quite outlandish. Let’s take a trip in a TARDIS, or if you’re not a Doctor Who fan, a time machine, and look at one of his older records, prior to when he became such an interesting figure in pop culture, specifically 2008’s 808s and Heartbreak. This is a really interesting record, and even more interesting than the man himself, because it’s so different from what was out at the time. I was hardly into hip-hop when this record was released, but I had heard about it. I’ve been meaning to get into West’s music for a very long time, and especially within the last few months, because I’ve been getting into R&B/pop/hip-hop a lot more, and 808s and Heartbreak was a record that really turned heads when it was first released. After buying a copy at my local Walmart, and really listening to it, I can see why. This is not your average hip-hop record whatsoever. It really pushes the boundaries of what the genre was capable of, and in fact, I would really consider this a very influential and classic record in its own right because of the influence it’s had on the genre itself. What is that influence? To put it simply, it brought a new light to the genre, lyrically speaking. Most people know that the genre is infamously known for having lyrics about sex, drugs, violence, etc, etc. But this record was totally different in the sense where the album is what the record is – 808s and heartbreak. Lyrically, the record deals with relationships, and heartbreak, essentially. This seemed to really cause an effect of rappers really starting to dive into their emotions, essentially. Rappers have ALWAYS been doing this, but this is on a different level. The best way I would describe it is that rappers have become a bit more sensitive, really; lyrically, they’re a lot more vulnerable, and every rapper I really enjoy is like this, even if it’s to some degree. Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, A$AP Rocky, and even Drake, to some degree, are rappers who would certainly qualify for this. For a moment, however, let me talk about my feelings on Canadian rapper/singer Drake. Most people think he’s awful, but that’s merely because they only know his most popular songs. He gained a lot of infamy for 2011’s “The Motto,” which sparked the phrase “you only live once.” Of course, that’s a phrase that’s been around for a long time, but it spawned a lot of controversy, but I digress. To be completely honest, the record that it appears on Take Care is actually a very solid record, and here’s why: my favorite songs on the record have a very R&B feel to it, almost like 808s and Heartbreak. People know Drake for his rap, but his R&B material is wonderful. If he went into that direction, I could really see him propelling himself into even bigger stardom. Back to this review, however, these rappers really put their hearts on their sleeves, and while all of these artists do have “cliché” songs, they’re really meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and essentially mocking the genre they’re apart of. But this record really is introspective, self-aware, and lonely, to some degree. West portrays a man who’s very bitter and lonely about a breakup, and the record is really exploring his story and how he’s reacting to this breakup. As someone who’s dealt with a lot of breakups, this record definitely hits home for me, and specifically a few songs do. Aside from the lyrics, the music itself is certainly interesting as well; it’s mainly composes of 808s (as the title suggests), and a lot of orchestral instrumentation, specifically violins. They really add to the disparity of the lyrics that West is reciting to us, the listeners. Another interesting thing are his vocals themselves. His vocals aren’t rapped, but rather sung, and auto-tune is a huge aspect of this record, which depending on your stance on auto-tune, could make or break this record. For myself, it’s interesting, because the auto-tune doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of this record. In fact, it seems to really work quite well, because West is not using auto-tune to make his voice better, but rather, to use as an instrument. It’s certainly an interesting idea, and only a handful of musicians can pull this off, West being one of them. With all of that being said, however, let’s really examine this record, shall we?
The record begins with “Say You Will,” and it’s the longest song on the record, which is a really interesting move on West’s part, but despite being about six minutes, this is a nice opening track. The only complaint I have about this song, and with a few others, is that it does drag on a bit. It doesn’t take long, however, for West’s voice to kick in alongside a really interesting beat. This song does set the stage for the rest of the record, though, because it’s very dark in its lyrical themes. Right when the album starts, it’s very dark and gloomy. It’s a very interesting difference from a majority of the genre. His vocals are really interesting, too, and as I mentioned earlier, the auto-tune is not used to make his voice better, but to add to the music itself. Where the song drags on is about the halfway point, and while it’s interesting, it’s a bit too slow, so this would’ve made a better closing track than opening. The very chilling vibe that the song has would’ve made it a better closing track because the song ends with an instrumental, which would’ve closed it out nicely, and left the listener to think about what they had just heard. Either way, it does work, but it doesn’t have that opening track impact. Second track “Welcome to Heartbreak” really deepens the “dark” and “depressing” motif this record has going for it; this song is about West talking to a friend of his, and his friend has a family and he’s talking about his family, while West is saying how he’s rich, and has material things. West realizes that he doesn’t have that family, and it breaks his heart. This is definitely one of the more hard-hitting songs on here. Because West really looks deep within himself and comes up with some very sad truths. Third track “Heartless” definitely continues this, but it’s about something different; this is the main theme of the record, which is a woman who broke West’s heart, and the majority of the record is him trying to come to gripes with it. She’s first spoken about in the first track, but here is where we, the listener, really know what’s going on. This is the track that mostly comes close to being a hip-hop track. In the verses, West sort of raps and sings at the same time, which is cool, and it works very well for him. Next comes “Amazing,” and this is really the polar opposite. It kind of “brags” a bit about how West is feeling amazing, and how he is amazing himself. But this seems to be a tongue-in-cheek way of West trying to convince himself he’s okay when he’s not. The song features a guest spot from rapper Young Jeezy and he’s pretty good on here. He doesn’t overstay his welcome, which is nice.
After the rather forgettable, but still enjoyable, songs “Love Lockdown” and “Paranoid,” seventh track “RoboCop” comes up, and this is a really interesting song, because of its lyrical themes. It seems to be about the woman that West is speaking and how she is essentially trying to control him like she’s RoboCop. The song even features some robotic sound effects as well, which actually adds to the song, rather than it making it corny. It’s a fun track, but really doesn’t do a lot for me aside from that. The production on this track is also really weird, too, but that doesn’t really hinder my enjoyment of the record, however. Eighth track “Streetlights” is another rather “forgettable” track. This track isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t do anything for at all. “Bad News” is an interesting song, because this seems to be the song where that woman leaves West, and he hears the bad news, basically. The whole record at this point really reflects with the lyrics, and I really like it. The last two songs aren’t necessarily my favorites, but they do work quite well. “See You In My Nightmare” seems to have a lyrical theme of that woman leaving him is a nightmare for him. This song also features Lil Wayne before he turned even worse than he already was, and surprisingly, he’s okay. That leads into the last song “Coldest Winter, really, and while that song was written for West’s mother who passed away the year prior to this record’s release, that song seems to really be about a combination of a few things, whether it’s his mother, or the heartbreak that he dealt with. It’s a nice closing track, despite what I said earlier about “Say You Will,” because this is another really slow song, and really works as well. Overall, this record really touches on some very dark themes of heartbreak, and loneliness. It’s a really powerful record, and it’s surprising, because with West’s antics in the public eye, this is certainly not the kind of record I would expect coming from him, which is a great thing.