To the average rap fan, it looks like Kanye West has lost his mind. After spending three albums establishing himself as a credible MC (although he's still no Rakim or Andre 3000 on the mic), Ye' ditched rhyming for singing, picked up an Auto-Tune, the current scourge of rap, and abandoned his College Dropout theme(for the uninitiated, this album was supposed to be Good Ass Job). Top all that off with his current Half-Pint glasses wearing, knatty suit and Captain Ahab beard look, and you have a recipe for a falling off of epic proportions.
If first single "Love Lockdown" was any indication, Late Registration this ain't. 808's and Heartbreak more than lives up to its title, as booming basslines collide with other-wordly samples and strings to provide a fresh canvas for West to spin tales of love drama and regret.
"My friend showed me pictures of his kids/And all I could show him were pictures of my cribs/ He said his daughter got a brand-new report card/And all I got was a brand-new sportscar," West sings in "Welcome To Heartbreak." No longer the fame-hungry new kid on the block, West now seems all too aware of the downsides of stardom. "Do you think I sacrificed a real life/For all the fame and flashing lights," Wests asks in "Pinocchio Story" the live freestyle that closes the album. Now in his early 30's the Louis Vitton Don seems to looking inward, questioning if it was all worth it. Bragging and ego-trips are few and far between.
Heartbreak, both romantic and otherwise, is another recurring theme. "Didn't you know i was waiting on you/Waiting on a dream that'll never come true," West sings in "Bad News" one of several tracks detailing the dark side of love. "Tell every one that you know/That i dont love you no more," he growls on "See You in My Nightmares," while in "Robocop," West fires off sardonic lines at a neurotic girlfriend hell bent on knowing his every move.
Undoubtedly the death of West's mother Donda West influenced the album's subject matter, and serves as inspiration for "Coldest Winter." Backed by sparse instrumentation and tribal drumbeats, West questions whether he can ever love again and ponders past actions. "If spring can take the snow away/Can it melt it away all our mistakes."
While the album's emotional honesty makes it a compelling listen, West could've done more with the tracks. Some come across as too flat and don't match West's dynamic delivery. Other tracks, such as "Say You Will" lumber on for too long and disrupt the album's flow. And does Lil' Wayne have to be on everyone's album this year. I mean did 'Ye really pay $75,000 for that verse? Also it wouldn't have hurt to have dropped at least a couple of 16's.
These complaints aside, with 808's and Heartbreak, West drops the bravado and endless boasting to deliver his most personal and revealing work.