Someone just asked me what I thought of Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak and it was hard for me to answer.
Last month I blogged that I liked the album's first single "Love Lockdown" but could not get past the fact that the outspoken rap star could not sing. I even joked that "Love Lockdown" was cool, but that Kanye should stick to rapping and absolutely not release an R&B album. Two days later, I found out that 808s & Heartbreak mainly featured Kanye singing, as opposed to rapping.
808s & Heartbreak isn't so much an R&B album as much as it just features Kanye West singing on the majority of the songs. A lot of rappers sing their way through their rhymes-Nelly, Snoop, will.i.am-so this isn't the first time a rapper has tried this. However, it has to be among the first times that a rapper has released an entire singing album.
Though Kanye's singing talent is suspect, his production is still among the best. The music is consistently good throughout the album, and Kanye tries keep his singing in safest ranges possible. He mainly sings in low tones as he does on singles "Love Lockdown" and "Heartless" and rarely ventures outside of those areas. When he stays in line, the singing is bearable, enhanced by the production and catchy melodies. But when he pushes it too far, it's a painful listen.
What saves the record is its inspiration. Called 808s & Heartbreak, the lyrical content dwells on his various pains. On "Welcome To Heartbreak" he sings about his desires to have a family. "Bad News" tells the story of getting the news of his mother's untimely passing. "Amazing" featuring Young Jeezy informs a detractor that no matter how hard they try to discourage him, he will prevail. The rest of the album is focused on girl problems.
Singing about these topics over pulsating ballads gives the songs additional introspective layers that he would not have conveyed had he rapped them.
I give him credit for having enough artistic licenses to step outside of the box to push himself to try a different style.
There is only one song that ruins the vibe. It's the final track, "Pinocchio Story," a freestyle song recorded live in Singapore. In attempt to justify his penchant for complaining at award shows, fighting with the paparazzi and press, Kanye argues that he's just being honest like Pinocchio. Yes, Pinocchio, the fairytale about the wooden puppet-turned-real boy whose nose grew whenever he told a lie. Not only is this a weird, unlikely metaphor, the song is horrible. They should have left it off the album. But maybe it's included to illustrate the type of creative energy that motivated him to travel down this lane in the first place.