808s and Earache

Any writer worth his sodium chloride—whether he be a novelist, poet, or rapper (yes, yes, I know, there are women novelists and poets; not so sure about rappers)—knows that it’s through the specific details that one gets to the general understanding. It’s through those specifics that alchemize into generals that I, a young kid growing up just outside the D (what up, 11 Mile Road), could actually understand what Jay-Z was talking about on his records, even if the closest my life intersected with his was this girl in my homeroom named Marcy (who kinda looked like a dude, but that’s a different post).

Kids all over the world—Black or White or even Barack-ish—could listen to Eminem and really feel what he’s talking about, because Em wasn’t just talking about growing up in Detroit or having a mother who sniffed glue or a girl who sniffed other dudes, he was talking about basic growing-up things we’ve all been through in one way or another. The artist paints the picture with the details, but the story behind it isn’t so new. That is: new details (Kim), old story (sniffing). That’s how most good art is made, whatever the genre.

Which gets me to human sunglasses mannequin Kanye West (gracias, Stephen Colbert) and his recent foray into the murky waters of heartbreak and break beats. As a whole, I really like the record, and I think it deserves the rating we gave it (check the next print issue of XXL to see the review). Buuuuuuuuuuut…

In the spirit of dudes who wear eyeliner, ’Ye really falls out, boy. He commits the crime of every naïve emo-rock band that warbles their songs as if no one in the world before them has ever come home, early because the movie they were supposed to see with their boys, The Departed, was sold out, to find the goalie from their soccer team all up in their girl on the blue leather sofa in the living room (hypothetically speaking, of course).

When Kanye says “the coldest story ever told,” in “Heartless,” his usual over-the-top bombast falls flat. I’m fully willing to listen to him talk about how he’s the greatest rapper/producer, Louis Vuitton sycophant, or this or that, because whether he actually is the best or the most or whatever, he’s usually not far from the truth. But when he says that his breakup is the coldest one ever, I can’t feel the slightest thing for Kanye. His abject solipsism is perfectly in line with the emo model of whoa-whoa-whoa-is-me songwriting, in that it trades in clichés and signifiers at the cost of insight and examination. If ’Ye was actually trying to make a record that would connect to listeners on an emotional, heartbreak level, he fails utterly. Which is, actually, my big problem with the record: I don’t think he was even trying to.

Instead of the clichés—“How could you be so cold as the winter wind when it breeze, yo,” for instance—he should have served up some actual details. ’Cause that’s what writing—or good writing, at least—is. And, no doubt, Kanye is quite capable of writing complex, inward-looking, outward-reaching songs (see any of his previous albums for proof). But 808s is so disappointing, with its by-the-numbers portrayal of heartbreak: the girl, a cold-hearted B, is completely in the wrong, and the only transgression Kanye will cop to is, “Ayo I did some things but that’s the old me.”

It’s saying something that the real emotional content, the main theme of the album, is carried by the Auto-Tune effect and the sparse 808 beats, and not at all by the words ’Ye penned. Kanye’s lyrics are almost beside the point, they’re so bad (which is why I didn’t quote more; there’s nothing there!). That the album is actually good says something, only I’m not sure what. —Devo

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  • FlapJack

    Agree with the lack of details..

    That the album is actually good is because it’s some heartfelt shit over some musical art. he isn’t as personal as he might should have been, agreed..

    But still, men say shit like that “Ayo I did some things but that’s the old me.”
    You don’t really wanna get into all the little things, right?

    I think a lot of these sogs are like speaking directly to his ex..

    • amar

      i think when he rapped, he didn’t get into all the little things and it worked, because he uses catchy/funny/ridiculous everyday-type language in his raps. It’s not exactly deep, but it works.

      But with this genre, it just sounds like shitty Fallout Boy gone electro-rock type bullshit. If you’re gonna sing over some repetitive boring electronic shit, you better make it worth it lyrically.

      And i’m so confused over here at xxlmag.com. You got different writers writing as “xxlstaff”, so one minute I’m reading u talking about how flawless the album is and the next something like this!

      • BIGNAT

        thank you someone who see that album they way i do. it’s good but it’s a couple songs that are very shallow. like coldest winter and street lights which everyone loves so much. he is basically repeating the same thing over and over again. i think 808 where a bunch of hooks kanye wrote that he could not do raps for so he thought. add a couple more words sing this shit these niggas will never know.

  • Lester Diamond

    I hate this album. I don’t know how Kanye can rebound from such a wack record? Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty open minded when it comes to music, but this shit is just flat to me. The lyrics are shallow, but I can just imagine Kanye sitting down writing some of this shit thinking that it’s deep as hell.

  • FLIP

    Wow. This is an uncharacteristically good post from the XXL team. Good shit.

  • Macdatruest

    Is this an album review? Or a smear article? Comments get low when the hatred start. Plus Kanye seem like he make music for himself, not so much to sell great big pop hits, even though people tend to rock with his shit from the hood to the burbs. let that man express how he feel. By the numbers???? XXL….(smh)

  • http://www.theunderwriters.blogspot.com THE UNDERWRITER

    This is exactly right. My girl made me listen to 808′s Sunday evening on the way out of town, and with the exception of “Heartless” I was about to lose my damn mind.

    She also made me listen to Usher and Neo’s whole albums for the first time this year. [ll] That Usher album isn’t that bad after all, just unfocused. But Kanye’s album is just not good. If I were him I’d pull it when it hits a million sales and remove it from the Def Jam catalog. Every person that buys it will probably think twice about the next Ye album.

    Seriously, I hope he didn’t put himself out of the rap game with this weird ass, too emo for tv, robotic Ralph Tresvant album. Would be a shame for Hip-Hop.

  • http://idontcareifyouwouldntiwould.blogspot.com/ LOL

    He’s the voice of this generation of this decade

  • Eman

    a young kid growing up just outside the D (what up, 11 Mile Road)
    what up 8 – 32 mile rds Roseville, CLinton Township, Sterling Heights. Yeah its like Kanye said fuck all his true fans and let me put this is out b.s.and im rich either way all the while it seems like the average hip hop fan is just getting spit at by main stream so fuck it any form of real hip hop is dead in main stream. But that I said I do bump heartless and I dont think he coundt off wrote it better cause you have dumb shit down for an average listener especially if its on the radio.

  • Lowedwn

    This is the first review of this album where I actually agreed with all that was written. Good Shit, and like you I still really dig this album.

  • http://www.incilin.blogpsot.com Incilin

    Geez, can you guys write about anything besides Kanye? You’ve given so much analysis to this album and his life and his girl etc. etc. without adding any substance to the debate about the album (except that you admit you have no real reason to like his god-awful album). I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are other things going on in hip hop. And with this post you’ve effectively become Kanye; you wrote a whiny post about a whiny album.


    Worst Kanye album EVER. Shit was garbage. Only liked Hearless and So Amazin. Thats it.

  • niggaplease

    Good writing on XXL not coming from Ron Mexico? Its an X-mas miracle!

  • Chris S

    very well written article. i can definately see where you are coming from. but personally, the lack of lyrics don’t bother me a bit because that was not his goal for the album.

    he expressed his thoughts and emotions through the outstanding beats. for that reason, this album will and should be considered a classic one day.

  • geico lizard

    I agree with this article because kanye is a rich young famous guy why the hell would i feel sorry for him because he cheated on a girl and she broke up with him for it. I bought yeezys first 2 albums but right now he can kiss my ass he should feel sorry for me because im not rich and im not famous but im his age which means black women expect me to have the same money he has to be considered a “good black man”.

    Kanye cant throw a rock in his house without hitting a naked woman waiting to fuck him so he will be just fine and get another girlfriend as soon as he wants one. I feel for anyone who loses a parent but i dont feel sorry for you cheating and then expecting the person to comeback so you can lie and cheat on them some more. His ego needed this hit from a woman anyway now maybe i can get that good music he used to make.

  • yoprince

    best kanye album ever

  • Rob The Music Ed

    I don’t agree. Kanye’s lack of details makes the album relatable. First-off the album seems to be a mix of heartbreak from his break-up with Alexis Phifer and the death of his mom. But whatever the case, everyone can relate to a bad break-up and no matter the circumstance you always feel like your heartbreak is the worst in the world.

  • http://www.theunderwriters.blogspot.com THE UNDERWRITER


    Rob, I can agree, but still that album didn’t have to be released in album (read: record label money) form.

    808′s is missing Kanye the rap artist. Even as I shun the album, I still think that Ye is the best example of what a rapper should be in this era of this decade. But he still needs to rap at least once. If I let a woman take from me my most golden talent, what does it say about me?

    It says that I’m vulnerable to the common weakness than men have when it comes to the pursuit of greatness–the wrong woman. Sure, she’s great as a temporary muse, but what after?

    She was wack. Let that be that, and don’t give her the honor of making an album that’s wack just to show her how wack she made things. That’s what you’d call a transfer of emotions. And men aren’t built to carry female emotions. Not being mysoginistic or sexist; just speaking the truth.

    But I do like “Heartless” and “Amazing.”