First, the bad news.
PANS: Kanye West "808's and Heartbreak"
What I'm about to say here may be controversial to some, not surprising to others. Ok, deep breath. Kanye West's "808's and Hearbreak" is an appropriate title, because it broke my heart 808 different ways. Let me explain. Last week I spent my ten bucks on iTunes and purchased his new album, weary of it, because to me there was something suspicious about Mr. West releasing an album quite shortly after dropping "Graduation". That coupled with the fact that even he seemed brazenly confident in it - as if he knew people weren't going to like it but 'fuck you guys anyway, because this is my art and i don't give a shit if you approve'. Also, we all know a lot of really heavy shit has happened to him this year, and the album will certainly reflect some of that melancholy, which sets a trap of a mess of a record. Fair enough Mr. West; you can release whatever you want, because as cocky as you are, it's empirically proven that you are the shit. But I'm concerned.
An avid Kanye fan, I listened to "College Dropout", "Late Registration", and "Graduation" in that order, to prepare for "808 and Heartbreak". Remaining a zealous Kanye fan for all three records, it became apparent to me that with each record he made, the quality slipped a little. When "College Dropout" was released, it was on loop in my stereo for months, and I am still blown away by how incredible that record is. I can't even put into words how important that record is to my love of hip hop, and music in general. "Late Registration", less so, but still great. "Graduation", even lesser so, but ok. "808's and Heartbreak"? Kanye. You stomped on my heart.
To be fair, "808's and Heartbreak" has its high points. His joint with Young Jeezy has a good, complex beat that you just can't fuck with. His blend of heavy teiko drums, piano chords and simplistic blue notes are something to be applauded, because those are some tricky combined sounds to pull off. Gotta love Kanye for his ingenuity. But at what point is too much? He was on Conan O'Brien describing how much he loves the electronic sound of the auto tuner, and credited T. Pain for it's prolific use in his music. But Kanye got a little too audio processor happy. It works for T. Pain, because he's only ever featured in other people's songs, really, so it's tolerable. But when your entire album is in auto tuning mode? It's obnoxious. It was like his healing drug and Kanye just couldn't ween himself off of it, and everyone hates an out of control addict.
I think Kanye just got a little too lost in his own thoughts and in his own head with this record, and who can blame him. The man had a lot on his mind, and needed to explore his feelings. Usually despair makes for great art, but Kanye's focus was far too diffuse and all over the place, and the record was a bit of a mess. Here's the silver lining: Kanye is a genius and ever evolving. Most prolific artists produce something that's personally relevant to them at that time, but just kind of barfy in the scope of their career. I'm gonna chalk this record up to that. Kanye will come back to us, I'm confident.
Ok, now for the PICKS:
Kanye West's aesthetic as of late. Everything else but the music with Kanye's latest project is outstanding. With a name like "808's and Heartbreak", you expect the album to be incredible. So point one for the album name. The cover art on his album is also so simple yet elegant, different yet eye-pleasing. I love the Murakami art on "Graduation", but the album cover for "808" is one that I connected with, and really enjoyed taking a look at. I'm partial to the minimalistic and abstract, sure, but the use of select colors and shapes were really evocative in a not so in your face way.
And let's just give it up for Kanye's fashion for a second. The Louis Vuitton Don made Vanity Fair's International Best Dressed List (on the same page as my 9th grade history teacher's daughter, Stacy. how do you like them apples?) this summer. It's about damn time he got mainstream recognition with the more urbane set for his flair and fresh urban elegance. Young men try to dress like him, and for good reason. This guy knows how to pair his vintage, with his wayfarers and tweed blazer, for the professor-chic look. On Conan, he wore that heart button he's been sporting recently, but I never realized that it was ACTUALLY made out of Legos. That is the shit. Kanye is always looking crispy as hell, and I have to say - I have never seen him look shabby. EVER.
OOOKKKK so if you read this entire thing, thanks for bearing with me. Let me be clear that I still think Kanye single handedly resuscitated hip hop, and as long as he's around, hip hop is not dead.