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808s & Heartbreak Week: "Welcome to Heartbreak"

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The pseudo-profound parallelisms that open “Welcome to Heartbreak” mark the album’s lyrical lows. They’re at best, performative self-loathing (“my friend showed me pictures of his kids/And all I could show ‘em was pictures of my cribs”) and at their worst, lines that strive so hard to be affecting that they literally make no sense: “He said his daughter got a brand new report card/And all I got was a brand new sportscar”. What exactly is a “brand new report card”? It’s there only to match-up with the next line and because Kanye’s so godammned serious here, the flat-out retardation of the line is pretty hard to get over or ignore.

It undermines the thesis of the song and like, I’m not the kind of person that thinks complaining about fame is inherently bad, but when he bemoans showing up late to his god sister’s wedding and leaving “before they even cut the cake”, you look to Kanye to think, “you’re a fucking superstar, whatever obligation you had that made you leave could’ve been put off…”

Or maybe not. That’s the ugly side of success that cynics dismissing Kanye’s bitchfits on fame don’t really like to think about. That ugly uncomfortable sense that one wrong move or mistake might doom your career. Whatever Kanye had to do that made him bolt before the wedding ended probably felt impossible to escape or avoid or whatever else. As much as Kanye’s courted and called attention to fame, he seems genuinely in awe of it and as surprised by it as his detractors. He’s quite obviously ill-prepared for it and the guy who freaks-out on an award show or tells Conan O’Brien he’s gotta take a piss probably dreads something like his god sister’s wedding as he’ll be gawked at and in some ways, made to be more important than the people getting married. That’s fucked up and weird and Kanye’s painfully aware and angry about it all. Of course, he’s also loaded and like, knee-deep in pussy, so maybe he should just get over it…again though, Kanye’s aware that he’s bitching and that he should get over it, he just doesn’t care or chooses not to care because in a way, the conflicted thing’s played-out.

Those not listening hard to Graduation heard an album of “I’m rich” songs when in reality, it was a humbled, depressed album about why fame’s weird and sad and incredible too. What’s so shocking about the songs on 808s, especially for fans, is not that he’s singing for most of it or flipping Tears for Fears song instead of soul loops, but that he’s seemingly lost his ethics. As Rafi of OhWord said in the comments here: ” “Kanye speaks his mind and has ended up playing the role of a hip-hop conscience. Not a “conscious” rapper which nobody will listen to but a “conscience” one which on occasion everyone hears.” There’s no self-reflection on these songs. There’s no deep insight about his situation or really anything and we feel abandoned because of it. Probably as abandoned as Kanye feels.

But the odd effect of 808s is that once you cut through the disappointment that Kanye’s apparently lost his way and accept this as one long, lost wail of an album, it’s pretty effective. Those intro strings on “Welcome” are both undeniable and a little over the top, but as he piles more and more instruments and production tricks atop it, it begins to make more sense. The music moves the goofy lyrics into a more affecting pocket of emotion and is the waythis album’s significantly more rock music-like approach works. But it’s also not a rock album, it’s not a soul album, and it sure as hell isn’t a hip-hop album, and that’s kind of awesome.

The only voice that’s important on “Welcome to Heartbreak” is Kid Cudi’s paranoid hook; it’s both oddly catchy and abrupt and disturbing. The same way drums slam out of nowhere on certain songs on 808s or a gutteral “Hey!” will punctuate parts of “Heartless”, Cudi’s hook grabs you, breaking through the dense fog of strings, synths, and drums is like the voice of your conscience in a bad situation, only this conscience just verifies the fucked-up, thoughts you already felt. There’s no escape from it, no counterpoint, no complexity other than the ugly, weird bullshit already racing through Kanye’s head.

Written by Brandon

December 9th, 2008 at 3:05 am

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