December 4, 2008 admin

Kanye's Masterpiece

First, I must share a story of how I know I’ve waited too long to post.  First, I don’t even remember what the last post was (which means I’ll probably do three tonight).  But I did a remote at a Jersey Mike’s in Raleigh the other day, and a woman said I needed to post on my blog again.  Now, I do really modest numbers on this bad boy, so it’s always surprising when someone knows something about the blog.  Irregular posting after about a year of being like clockwork will chase the folks off.
Well, I’m back.  What have I been up to?  Listening to that damn Kanye record.
Look, I’ve heard every single reason someone has not to like 808’s and Heartbreaks, and I don’t begrudge a single one of them.  This record won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, largely because it’s so fuckin depressing.  There’s really no other way to put it.  This is a bad mood on wax.
Had I been feeling lovely about life the first time I heard this album, I might not have dug it.  I’ve had more than a few people tell me they just couldn’t get past how gloomy the record is, and i can dig that.  I just happen to be one of those people that can’t do super happy albums.  That’s false.  Shit ain’t that sweet.
This Kanye record is real.  The backstories are pretty well known, so well known that I can summarize this record in a few words.  Goes something like this…
“My mama died.  Me and my girl broke up.  I’m in real bad shape.  That’s it.”
I had my best friend die, my old man have a health scare, and me and my girl break up in about a six month period when I was 20.  That kind of stuff just makes you go numb.  Also makes you drink, largely because numb can get boring after a while.  It’s just the kind of monotony that’s hard to shake without some “help.”
This Kanye record is numb.  Except it’s chilling and heartbreaking.  It’s heartbreaking because that numbness comes through so clearly.  Now where does it come from?  Partially lyrically, but then there’s the other thing that holds people up from loving this album…The AutoTune.  The new school Vocoder, if you will.  It’s helped T-Pain make Nate Dogg incredibly jealous, for he’s actually got a career where Nate couldn’t get beyond hooks and frighteningly misogynistic (and, yeah, kinda dope) singles.  It’s the only vocal tone on 808’s and Heartbreaks.
I’ve got a lot of friends that contend Kanye’s only using the AutoTune because he wants to sing and can’t.  I don’t doubt that’s part of why Yeezy used it.  One thing about Kanye is that he’s a perfectionist, and I don’t think he’d have wack singing on his record, even if it was him doing the wack singing.  If nothing else, Kanye’s showed us that he really does give a damn about what he puts out.
But then there’s the other thing.  This is my theory, and it was later backed up by something I saw in the Wiki entry on the album.  I say that as tenuous sourcing because I was too lazy to check the citation on the entry…
When you hit that numb, you get to the point where you can speak on your condition matter-of-factly, trying to resign yourself to what’s what and act like everything’s okay because…well, it’s gonna be like this forever, so this is the new okay.  You sound miserable and pitiful, but you almost convince yourself that everything’s normal.
Well, what does AutoTune do?  It makes your non-singing ass sound like everything’s OK.  There’s a certain measure of symbolism in it, and the Wiki says that Kanye has acknowledged that the AutoTune is largely used to convey the emotion of heartbreak.  Is it my definition of heartbreak?  Maybe not, but I can’t begin to think this album would be any more sincere were it sung by Otis Redding.  The AutoTune is a tool, not a crutch.
The AutoTune doesn’t drone or anything.  It’s used for the occasional flourish — things Kanye couldn’t dream of, even if he was at that level of drunk that makes us all think we’re Pavarotti — and it never becomes a distraction.  The emotion in this record is in the background, in the simple and sparse soundtrack.  There’s not a lot going on, often just enough to do the job.  Then, from nowhere, there will be some outburst that comes through loud and clear…before you get back to the same ol’ shit again.
I’m sorry.  Maybe I’m just too much of a music geek, but it works.
It works because it’s a rainy-afternoon record.  I was reading a review of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks a few years ago, and it talked about how one reason that record has endured for nearly 40 years is that so many people have a weekend or moment of misery they can associate with that album.  They can remember putting it on and playing it over and over again because it resonated with what they were dealing with at that very moment, and that’s something that has made it a universally recognized classic.
It may take having one of those weekends to dig the Kanye like that.  I could have said more and more about the sound and everything, but I think doing that really misses the point.  Like this record or not, Kanye created a vivid emotional portrait by saying very, very little.  That right there is genius.
Which brings us back to that insufferable little bastard. I’ve never been so fascinated by a rapper that I absolutely could not see myself hanging out with ever, not even one single time.  He’ll go somewhere and make a fool of you and maybe, just maybe, say something to scare the girls away.  He’s just that dude.  Plus, he’s always asking for his pub.  Wait for your pub, man.  If you wait, we’ll give you more than you can stand.  I understand the demons that he fights that make him unable to do so, but I still wouldn’t wanna put up with it.  We could be great friends after he got that shit straight.
But here’s one thing — while I’d hate to hear him constantly tell me what a genius he is, I would NEVER EVER EVER doubt him.  Kanye West is the most brilliant musician of his generation.  There, I said it.
He constantly reinvents himself, changing styles while maintaining a bridge from album to album like no one since Prince in the mid-’80s.  He has defied industry’s trend of putting out albums with no theme, just tracks in hopes that one of them will compel someone to buy the album.  Instead, Kanye’s put out four distinct concept records in four years, all of which have their own pop accessibility.  And whether you think Kanye can rap or sing or whatever, you can’t deny that he’s utterly sincere in every track…except the ones where he tries to make it seem like he’s the biggest pimp out there.  Those songs reek of insecurity.  Of course, Kanye is insecure, so even that comes through pitch perfect.
A great vocalist conveys emotion.  That’s what Kanye West does…and that’s before we get into his uncanny gift for interpreting samples and turning them into entirely new songs.
This scattered post ends with this thought — Kanye’s told us from jump he was the baddest man on the planet.  Right now, it’s hard to say he’s not.  Did he really know that?  Or is it coincidental that his gigantic ego is actually in line with his talents?
I ask that because Kanye couldn’t have begun to do these things if he didn’t believe he could.  As someone that’s been accused a time or two of being too confident — I tend to think they just don’t know any better — it’s fascinating to see someone that even I think is an arrogant twit consistently build on a body of work that shows that, like it or not, he’s absolutely right.  A broken clock’s right twice a day, but Kanye sure looks like he’s right on time.
I salute his ambition.  I salute his comfort with his emotions.  I salute this record.
I still wouldn’t hang out with him, though.

Comments (21)

  1. Brew City Drew

    “trying to resign yourself to what’s what and act like everything’s okay because…well, it’s gonna be like this forever, so this is the new okay. You sound miserable and pitiful, but you almost convince yourself that everything’s normal.”
    Me

  2. Man, I am blown away by your commentary! Before I comment on anything else, I want to give you props for writing so eloquently, as well as down to earth. That took time and effort. The least I could do but respond.
    I have not heard the cd. …love the earlier ones. The few cut’s I’ve heard haven’t grown on me yet. It is the AutoTune. I think he is hanging around with Lil Wayne and T-Pain too much.
    I really applaude you for the writing skills, determination and talent. I must start up blogging again, but I know what it takes.
    Happy Holidays

  3. Stephanie E.

    Good to have you back. I haven’t checked the new Kanye out yet, but definitely plan on it. Based on track record alone, he’s one of those dudes that you have to give the benefit of the doubt to. Besides, if he did nothing else this year but his verse on “Put On”, I’d say job well done.

  4. Hseuss3000

    Yeah I heard it and I immediately thought it was the new millennium Here My Dear. Not only because Kanye went through some shit and put out and album about it that is genius, but also because you and I have been/are bitter and screwed up enough to appreciate it.

  5. Miss Sweazie

    When I sae the title of this post I knew there was going to be mention of Prince. You never disappoint.
    To the previous poster very astute observation on Here My Dear, which in my opinion is one of the best post break up albums ever.
    With this release Ye shows that he is capable of doing more than telling the same story over and over again. Life isn’t one dimensional and now, neither is his catalog.

  6. TonyT

    That kanye is ahead of its time at least in the opinions of the general population . His tracks will not be featured on your top 40 (except for “Heartless”). But, this is probably a good thing bcause he will become over saturated. Think (phill collins+sade meets roger troutman.)
    I like the direction that he has taken. Hip hop needs more diversity within the culture.
    I mean the world looks at hip hop for trends. I mean this is a Billion dollar industry that is always perceived as bad.
    There are somethings that need to be overhauled…….let me get off the soapbox…I highly admire and respect Kanyezee but much like BOMANi I would not BE out and about with this FOOL!! lol
    Ya Dig?

  7. Patrick

    Wow. Spot-on commentary here, Bomani. Good stuff my man. I will say that you remind me of Kanye when I listen to your show in that you say what you mean and mean what you say. Keep it up.

  8. Shot Clock

    I would like to disagree with commentary regarding the Auto-tune. For one, the Auto-Tune is not a tool, it’s definitely a crutch. A tool improves an action. A crutch supports an action. Auto-tunes do not improve singing, they support those who cannot sing.
    Secondly, who’s asking if you’d hang out with him? I don’t understand where that comes from. You sound jealous and nothing more.
    Kanye made some feature errors as well, such as combining his two songs featuring guests with Young Jeezy and my man Wayne. If he really wanted to stay within his usual “concept record” then choose Andre 3000. When has Jeezy or Weezy ever talked about heartache? Out of place. He was looking to capitalize on their current fame.
    Where this record fails is its redundancy and lack of depth. It’s better than we expected for an all auto-tune Kanye album, but does it really deserve such high praise? Definitely not. Listen to Robin Thicke if you want a good album.
    I encourage everyone who has heard the record to read the Rolling Stone review. It’s spot-on.
    And why are people commenting on here that haven’t even heard the current Kanye album? Makes no sense.

  9. Grayse

    *raising eyebrow* @ Shot Clock…
    I dont hear jelaousy whatsoever *shrug*
    However, Im gonna have to piggyback off of Kevin’s comment! (incl. that I need to blog again LOL)

  10. “But here’s one thing — while I’d hate to hear him constantly tell me what a genius he is, I would NEVER EVER EVER doubt him. Kanye West is the most brilliant musician of his generation.”
    yeah, that’s jealousy.

  11. Tony T

    hey “Shot Clock” you don’t have to like his content. (however track 2 is simple but brilliant.)
    You have to agree with me that his production minus the auto-tune. Is damn near ingenious.

  12. Tony T aka Z.O.A.R.

    check out my facebook group: “6,000,000 ways to die from bad customer service choose one.”

  13. Tony T aka Z.O.A.R.

    check out my facebook group “6,000,000 ways to die from bad customer service choose one.” please post some comments.

  14. Shot Clock

    Bomani,
    Envy perpetuates jealousy. Your praise of his brilliance may spawn the jealousy that I am assuming you carry. But that’s besides the point.
    My question is how can you respect a man so much for his talents yet still not want to hang out with him? It’s counter-intuitive. I would like to hang out at some point with all those I respect, both as artists and people. You not wanting to hang out with him, especially as vehemently as you desribed, shows that perhaps you don’t respect his genius as much as you think.
    And Tony T, I definitely agree that the production is straight fire. Paranoid is a great example of that. I just think if you want to be brilliant as a musician, you have to give up the gimmicks. An auto-tune is a gimmick AND a crutch. Ain’t nothin’ timeless about an auto-tune.

  15. vicdamonejr

    Listening to this album is akin to looking at a piece of fine China with a Sloppy Joe on it. You know the plate is a great work, but you also know that Sloppy Joe (dude’s vocals) doesn’t belong.
    I want to believe that the album is dope, but just can’t. The production is amazing.
    Too much of his actual singing is just God-awful. It actually wears on the ear, and screws up some great production on some of the tracks.
    I want to hear Kanye out for his reasoning for using the auto-tune, but it’s not feasible. Yet in still, “Say You Will,” “Welcome to Heartbreak,” and “Heartless” are crazy dope records that are as good as anything out there in all of the genres.

  16. Shot Clock

    It’s always a pleasure when people resort to posting under my name when they can’t say anything meaningful.
    That’s why you all spend your days broke and running blogsites such as the one Brew City Drew runs. Can’t find a job Brew City Drew? I bet it sucks to be you, doesn’t it?

  17. There’s nothing counterintuitive about that. Michael Jordan is a great basketball player. That doesn’t make me want to go out to dinner with him. I’d just like to watch him hoop, and even that would have to be on ESPN Classic at this point.
    Kanye just isn’t my kind of guy. He’s fascinating, but that doesn’t make his persona likable. I’m just able to separate my opinions on how he carries himself from his art. Those two things are not inextricably linked.
    Think what you want, but your assumption is wrong.

  18. Brew City Drew

    Ahahahahahahahaha. Who are you? Do I know you?
    Our blog is a place for schmucks at work to bullshit and rib each other.
    “That’s why you all spend your days broke and running blogsites…Can’t find a job Brew City Drew? I bet it sucks to be you, doesn’t it?”
    I might be broke, but I have a job, jag.
    You don’t wanna fight this fight. And I don’t wanna fuck up Bo’s joint because of it. Now shut up & let the adults go back to having a conversation.

  19. Tree Frog

    Meeting your idols is always an iffy proposition. We only see or experience the products of thousands of hours of hard work and sweat, be it paintings, sports or music. We don’t deal with any of the daily mundanities, the process of creation or the toll they take on the people around them.
    I think the recent biography of V.S. Naipul puts this in perspective quite well: although some people can create staggeringly beautiful output, they are all too often world-class assholes (like Naipul, Kanye or Jordan).
    The number of idols that are truly spectacular people is probably vanishingly small.

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