The rumors are true: Kanye West’s newest, 808s & Heartbreak, isn’t really a rap record (’Ye calls his new genre “pop art.” Um ... sure). Grief-stricken over the loss of his mother and split from his fiancé, West unleashes his inner Kan-flict through the timeless power of ... Auto-Tune? ... Uh-oh.
808s is easier to admire than actually like (although “Love Lockdown” isn’t terrible, and “Paranoid” is the new “Flashing Lights”), and you have to give West credit for breaking ranks from hip-hop’s lockstep. His melodies are surprisingly well-crafted — though not particularly well-sung — and his production is fittingly spare and intimate. However, 808s is crippled by stunningly stupid lyrics seemingly cut-and-pasted from a teen poet’s LiveJournal (“Who knew she was a drama queen / That’ll turn my life to Stephen King’s?”).
Ultimately, West’s soul-baring feels as cheap as the trendy Auto-Tune he uses to disguise his imperfect voice. If forced to choose between perfection and authenticity, I’d pick an honest, untrained singer over a trained, boring one every time. By self-consciously glossing over his flaws with studio tricks, West has surgically removed any human feeling from his new sound. To paraphrase West himself: How could he be so heartless?