You wouldn’t have Kanye West down for a likely victim of a crisis of confidence. Ever since his vaguely humble 2004 debut The College Dropout he’s become a man with unlimited self-belief, culminating in 2007’s Graduation turning him into a global superstar. But since then, shit’s happened to Kanye. 808’s & Heartbreak is his first record since his mum died and he broke up with his fiancée. It’s new territory for the 31-year-old phenomenon. He puts a brave face on it in opener Welcome To Heartbreak, though, rapping: “I crack a joke and all the kids laugh, but I couldn’t hear them all the way here in first class.”
But like a kid who’s had his skateboard nicked, his bottom lip soon starts quivering. And the tribal, synthey first single Love Lockdown (about losing his woman) through the piano balladry of Streetlights (about losing his Mum) set the album’s lyrical tone.It’s not the only surprise. The bassy Robocop has violins. And like a dog whose bark’s become a whimper, Kanye sings for most of the record. Plus, he uses a voice production ‘thing’ (Auto-Tune, gizmo fans) to computerise his pipes, making him a high-pitched robot. Coming over all Justin Timberlake isn’t really what you want from a rap megastar.
But what’s admirable is, instead of getting angry and shouting about ‘bitches’ and ‘pimps’, he just lets it all go. And in doing so, kind of turns the macho element of hip-hop on its head. And it’s exactly what a man who still has a pair of big bastard bollocks would do. Still no excuse for those daft sunglasses, mind.
Best song: Paranoid is straight from the ’80s, with cheeky lyrics and electronic riffs a plenty.