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Kanye West: 808s & Heartbreak

Despite what's been written, Kanye West's new style on fourth album 808s & Heartbreak, which incorporates "tribal"-style drum machines and auto-tuned vocals, doesn't sound especially shocking. Immediately satisfying singles like "Robocop" and "Love Lockdown" make Young Jeezy's much-discussed crooning and his T-Pain-assisted use of vocoder nonissues here. Kanye was never much of a rapper anyway, and in fact Yeezy sounds absolutely Paleolithic doing his usual thing on "Amazing." Thematically, the album plunges deeper into West's usual neuroses — insecurity, spiritual unease and the difficulties of celebrity — and the death of his mother and a relationship fissure bring these concerns into sharper focus. Still, Heartbreak's tracks avoid many specific details about Kanye's losses, and instead deal in generalities. On "Coldest Winter" he sings: "Goodbye my friend / Will I ever love again?" The move from slang-heavy rap particulars to clearly articulated pop universals completes a transition he started with his last album, Graduation; the idea is to enable crowds worldwide to sing along at his shows like they do at U2 concerts. Heartbreak's strict commitment to its aesthetics helps West achieve what he's set out to create: an immediately gelling, singular testament to indescribable suffering.

 
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