That’s probably why the reaction to Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak has varied so much. I myself needed more than a few listens to conclude how I felt about it. My initial reaction wasn’t hate like so many others; it was more so indifference. For an artist like Kanye West, indifference is probably worse than hate.
It’s not that it’s a bad album; no, not even. But it’s not your typical Kanye – or so I thought. I’ve read reviews that call for Kanye to fall back to braggadocios rhymes that reek of self-absorption. Don’t let the guise of Kanye the auto-tune assisted crooner fool you: The more you listen to this album the faster it dawns on you that Kanye is just as self-absorbed as he ever was.
808s and Heartbreak is a break-up album from the prospective of a person who seemingly places most of the blame on the other person. How much more self-absorbed can you get than that?
The man who never had a double standard he didn’t want to put on wax is still there – just listen to the invasive-girlfriend themed track “Robocop.” Listening to him say (almost whiningly), “You spoiled lil’ LA girl,” (Hi, Alexis), is like watching a crack head turn their nose up at a meth addict. But to write this off as the same old Kanye with T-Pain’s autotune wouldn’t be completely fair to him or the album.
If the news or his recent interviews weren’t clue enough, 808s and Heartbreak sheds light on the obvious: Kanye’s had better days. For people to criticize him for being forthright about that seems selfish. Though the album sounds a lot more pop than it does hip-hop (even more so than previous offerings), that doesn’t mean Kanye ought to throw on the same mask as your typical pop artist would. One look at Britney Spears easily shows you that no matter how well you dress it up, everyone can see past what you’re hiding.
Calling Kanye to not be so much of a downer for fear of alienating listeners who aren’t in the mood is asking him to do something he doesn’t seem comfortable with doing: Lying. As somber as “Bad News,” “Heartless,” and “Coldest Winter” may be, coming from a genre usually centered on ego and libido, I like the idea of Kanye exposing his vulnerabilities. Most stars of his stature are too busy pretending to be invincible. I’m pretty sure Kanye will be more like his old self on future recordings, but for now, I don’t greet 808s and Heartbreak with such vehemence as others seems to. It’s not his best work, but it’s arguably his most honest. For that reason alone I appreciate it.
When recently asked about losing his mother, Kanye blamed himself for entering the music business and moving to California, claiming his mother would have never done such things if not for his success. Just when you wanted to feel sorry for him, he interjected: “But don’t feel sorry for me – I just did a shoot for Louis Vuitton. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be okay in the end.”
For him to seek comfort in the very same materialism that led to his mother’s passing easily sets you back to that first image you had of him. But after listening to the album again and again…and a few more times just to be certain, you get the sense there’s a lot more to him than that. Here’s to hoping second impressions start counting a little more.