There are few things in life that I struggle with more than admitting I’m wrong. It doesn’t really matter why — a work project I did wrong, a quote I misquoted, a memory I misremembered — it’s difficult owning up to the fact that you’re infallible in any way. Odds are I’m not alone in this, which makes what I’m about to say feel at least marginally more acceptable:
Kanye West is awesome.
I know it’s kind of silly to sing the praises of one of the most popular artists in the world, but that’s not exactly my point. See, I don’t like any of the mainstream nonsense he’s put out in the last few years. He’s become a larger-than-life caricature of himself, a self-absorbed douchecanoe with the kind of awful reputation that inspired the South Park episode the image above was lifted from. If you had phased into existence in 2009 and been told that Kanye West had produced a handful of terrific albums, and you sat down and listened to him talk or read any of his interviews, you’d be like “Yeah, fine, but Jesus, who does he think he is, The Beatles? Dude needs to CALM DOWN.”
And look, maybe this is revisionist history. Maybe Kanye West was still just as douchey and arrogant as ever in 1977 (when he was born) and 2004 and 2008 and on to the present. Maybe his early albums (starting with College Dropout in 2004) are what caused his head to inflate. But if this is the kind of work that 2008 Kanye is going to put out, he can come to my house and drink all of my booze while jizzing on all of my most treasured possessions — 808s and Heartbreak is one of the greatest overall albums I’ve ever heard, so I’ll take that tradeoff.
Again, I’m not especially happy to admit I like this — every instinct I have is to dislike Kanye West due to his personality and his propensity to steal beats/lyrics in the name of “sampling.” It’s ridiculous. But credit has to be given where it’s due, and this album is the least Yeezy thing Yeezy’s ever done. The whole thing is a beautiful marriage of lyrics, singing and beats. It’s certainly the best example of Kanye West as Lyricist — the themes of heartbreak, loneliness and a deep personal sadness are ever-present, even in spite of the usual boastful rap tropes, and his choice to sing instead of rap does justice to that choice (even though everything is SUPER heavily auto-tuned, I’ll take it). To tie it all together, Kanye produces some truly memorable sounds — he’s always been a “producer rapper,” but nowhere has his knowledge of music been more usefully deployed.
Sorry to get all Pitchfork on you for a while, but I’m listening to the album as we speak and it always captures my attention with how seamlessly everything comes together here. Welcome to Heartbreak is probably the best song on here, but it’s hard to pick just one favorite: Heartless deals with the themes of loneliness, confusion and frustration with love, basically the Kanye equivalent of an alt-rock ballad, and Love Lockdown is the kind of all-around great song that you can sing along with despite not knowing (or caring!) what it’s even about. I cannot recommend this album highly enough.
In case you were curious, the title of this post was in reference to the theoretical-but-proven-fake new Kanye album New Testament. Which is too bad, because no one likes to be wrong about things, no matter the circumstances…but moreover, if 808s is Kanye’s Old Testament, then I’d have been more than happy to have some new gospel.