Sunday, November 30, 2008

Why People Hate 808's and Heartbreak

TwitThis

Kanye and Alexis

I listened to 808 and Heartbreaks last week for about two days straight.
It is an album that needs to be played loudly, in your trunk, on your
headphones or in the living groom.

I came to it through the back door as I wasn't really tripping off of it
until I saw folks at The Smoking Section speak and I read the comments
section. I figured if that many people were hating on it, then I should give
it a listen.

Besides, I typically rock for the underdog.


I also knew that given the loss that he experienced in the last year
and the fact that he is a Gemini, he was going to go all out on the album.

Word to Tupac.

The more I listened to the album, the more I realized that this
cat was in a lot of pain, and trying to articulate it.

To say that he "sounds like" T-Pain misses the point by looking
at just the sound, but ignoring the content. T- Pain ain't never
said anything that made me think about nothing.

Whereas, 808's and Heartbreak, helped me with being in
reflection mode last week.

Besides, listening to the beat and not the lyrics has been a troubling
issue in hip hop since The Chronic.

Break up albums allow an artist to lay it on the line. 808's is no different.
In fact, Marvin Gaye's Here my Dear, Erykah's Mamas Gun are some
other examples that come to mind.

Other than the loss of someone, when are you really vulnerable?

Listening to the album and hearing him describe those
post break up slug penetrate moments, I came to realize
that he was being both vulnerable and in pain and in our culture that
is a no no for men, and antithetical to Black manhood. That is if
if you believed what you saw in hip hop.

It was then that I realized that the only acceptable emotion
for Black men to publicly express and still retain their
masculinity
is rage.

Kill a hundred fools? Cool.
Murder, stab, rape? Fine.
Sad over losing our ex? Blasphemy.

In many ways, 808's and heartbreak is a blues album.

That classic since my baby left me blues music.

In fact, the beef over this Kanye album underscores
the stark differences between the Blues and hip hop.

With the blues, Black men could be complex, emotional
human beings.

With hip hop, at least with regard to the dominant narrative,
they can only be self destructive machines.

I wonder what BB King thinks?

32 comments:

Vee (Scratch) said...

Rage? That's really limiting the scope. There's also apathy, self-deprecation, love and many other emotions. I will agree that the dominant narrative is self-destructive for the most part, but there are many artist in and out of the mainstream that have used the blues to express their emotions.

Did 2Pac not recently express sadness a song for his mother? or the tragic plight of Brenda?
Heavy D dealt with the loss of a friend in his untimely death?

C.L. Smooth dedicated an ode to his extended family?

Lauryn Hill's debut CD was wrought with hurt, pain and love? (OK, she's obviously not a man)

Is Eminem just an artist that caters to teenage angst or is their something more to it?

And last but not least, didn't Jay-Z make his song cry? or ask the question, you must love me?

My point, Kanye ain't the only one to do it, but it is very interesting how he approached the subject matter?

M.Dot. said...

My point, Kanye ain't the only one to do it, but it is very interesting how he approached the subject matter?
============

I am not saying that FOLKS don't do it in HIP HOP.

My issue is with Kanye, being one of the MAJOR dudes, who has done it, and its dismissed like last year's Christmas toys.

And comments such as "anyone who likes 808's needs to have his balls cut off".

Ouch.

M.Dot. said...

Oh.

Your list proves my point.

CL- Raps but is a minor.(TROY is on my 808's mix along with HEARD EM SAY)

Lauryn- Don't rap no more

Pac- Is dead

Em- Is white.

Jay- Hmmmp. Song cry....Yes. Absolutely.
I concede that. BUT IT STILL AINT NO BREAK UP ALBUM.

Thank you for commenting dude.

You showed me where my arguement is weak.

Luvs,
~m.d.

M.Z. said...

Kanye is however one of the few (only of the ones mentioned) to dedicate a whole ablum to the topic. It's so much easier to bare your soul on one song as an aberration from the standard fare. Song Cry is my song & it helped me get through the death of my grandfather. Take Jay, Nas, Big, Pac, & whoever has an extensive catalog and you can compile enough songs to show the range of emotion and hurt 808's has.

But to do *one* album in it's entirety and promote it as such is entirely different.

Crew54 said...

Peace, M.D.,

Overall I'm a Kanye fan and being a dude I can definitely see where the point that "emotional soul baring" is highly unfashionable in most hip-hop, well at least the "popular major" artist. I mean if you really listen to most albums, there is that one track about family or love or whatever, but yeah you hardly see a whole album like this unless its some emo act like Atmosphere.

BUT!!!

My point comes to this, when does it come to if the music itself is GOOD or NOT! I always hear artist getting so much praise for "stepping out of the box" or doing something like this that is so "creative and different" but does that automatically make the music sound good?

Hey though, I actually like love lockdown now so...

-mos

Vee (Scratch) said...

Hey two more works to add to the mix.
A Tribe Called Quest dedicated an entire CD to love (The Love Movement), but although not entirely successfully.

And let's not forget Dre's The Love Below which was a complete departure from the expressions of most emcees.
Trust me there are many more but that's what quickly comes to mind. OH yeah, one more . . . Does Ghost bare is soul on the mic in a comical-but real way over old soul tracks?

Here's the thing about Kanye where I don't think his break-up CD is entirely different. He doesn't really compare this project to other hip hop CD's. He even boasts that he doesn't listen to hip hop in his own apartment. Compared to other pop music, it is nothing new. He's just borrowing different ideas and putting his own spin on it. But far from innovative or really changing the game like and consistently putting themselves out there like De La Soul. Which is usually far from the emotional range of many hip hop acts although they do not do it thematically in one CD. They've been addressing the masculine identity since their first CD.

Ain't no way Kanye will be dismissed or forgotten any time soon. His catalog is too strong and he's not putting out garbage material. He's making folks think. But 808 & Heartbreaks ain't the Love Below.


-----------------
"You, You Got What I NEEEED, And you say he just a friend, and you say he's just a friend." - Biz Markie

M.Dot. said...

Does Ghost bare is soul on the mic in a comical-but real way over old soul tracks?
=======

No vulnerability in his work, at least not to the extent that Ye ye is on 808's.

We often use humor to obscure the pain.
Hence we say mean shit and say, "I was just kidding"....and its like no you were...you were hella serious..

He even boasts that he doesn't listen to hip hop in his own apartment. Compared to other pop music, it is nothing new. He's just borrowing different ideas and putting his own spin on it.
=======
Aye blood. Its not about Yeye.
Its about Black men BEING ALLOWED TO BE SOMETHING than a thugout out rape/hustling machine. Yeye REMINDS me of how ABNORMAL IT is.

Its like Black women being able to TALK about having sex and not being 50 million ho's.

DIOS mio.

Big picture. Come with me. You can do it.. Like the little engine...lols.

M.Dot. said...

But far from innovative or really changing the game like and consistently putting themselves out there like De La Soul. Which is usually far from the emotional range of many hip hop acts although they do not do it thematically in one CD.
=======

Funny because I went from 808's to Stakes is High, Man.

Vee (Scratch) said...

True. I see the big picture. Abnormal yes.

After all, We Real Cool. It's going to be a minute, a long minute.

Passion of the Weiss said...

Exactly. Well done, M. Dot.

tray said...

Exactly, Weiss? What about Z-Ro? Why do people hate him? Oh wait, they don't, he's the most slobbed-on rapper on every blog in the world. People are totally cool with whiny RAPPERS, they just like their whiny rappers to rap and not sing/write poorly written pop songs.

Jordan said...

I dunno, I mean Z-Ro's one of my favorite rappers, even though his sadness is all thug-based, dude is really sad. My main problem is that a lot of the songwriting on this is just too vague. Like Noz wrote in his review, everything's cold and he doesn't have that much to say.

Model Minority said...

Weiss, Really?

Shit, if you being nice...then Rafi mean ass must be right behind you...Wow...the male response to this post has been amazing....I was telling my folks today....Dude...the dudes are feeling it..Imma send it to yeye...on the strength...

tray said...

Oh yeah, Z-Ro's one of my favorite rappers too. I'm just saying, people have no prob with black men being sad. Okay, that's an overstatement, but no critic has ever knocked a rapper for showing a sensitive side. I mean, I really dare anyone to show me an example, unless it's something ridiculously whiny like Murs. It's just, as you say, what Noz said. Bad songwriting, not much to say.

Jordan said...

Tray- I actually wasn't responding to your post, it wasn't on the page when I wrote my comment, we basically agree.

Mdot- I'm kind of uncomfortable with the idea of explaining why people who aren't you don't like an album you like, the whole thing is very presumptuous. There are probably a variety of reasons to like or dislike this album, singling out one sociological one and using it on everybody seems cheap or dishonest.

Ye himself has encouraged people to really take sides on it though, every time he speaks it's about how he's this great artist who can't be judged, this makes me feel like I'm a non Kool Aid drinker when I have problems with the album in the same way a bunch of people say Citizen Kane sucks the first time they see it.

One thing that's interesting about Kanye is that his persona has always fallen outside stereotypical ideas of black masculinity, but he's become this huge pop-cultural force despite this, or maybe even because of this. One of the problems with that Barack vs 50 movie they made a while ago was that 50 was held up as this straw man representative of hip hip, when in actuality the guys people care about in 2008 are Kanye and Wayne, who both present a much more complicated representation of black masculinity. What does it say about America's attitudes about race and gender that these are the most popular rappers?

Also, acting like one of the biggest pop stars in the world is an underdog is a little silly.

On the blues comparison: many scholars see the blues as ultimately joyful music, dwelling on sorrow only to transcend it through catharsis. I don't see that in this album. To me, it's just wallowing in self-pity.

HustleKnocker said...

Kanye's biggest barrier is two-fold:

1) He's not a singer. I don't mean he's not a good singer, i mean he's not a singer by any definition of the word. He sings about as well as most of us sing in the shower. No amount of autotuning/vocoding can save that.

I have the same problem with 808s that i had with Lauryn Hill's guitar playing on her MTV Unplugged joint. Had she hired a guitar player or become an accomplished guitarist, that album would've been a classic instead of the album it was.

Second problem with Ye is his ego. It's hard to root for someone whose spends every other breathe telling you that he's worth rooting for.I'm from Chicago, i know cats that know him... his life wasn't so screwed up as to have the chip that he has. He's been a working producer for such a long time and people have respected his work for so long that ego/attitude just rubs folks the wrong way.

if this were mos def, we'd luv this album because mos is a reasonably humble cat (and a better singer).

Perfect Storm said...

Yup! This ties into my recent post about how we expect Black men to behave and why anything antithetical to that is deemed wack.

DrewBreez said...

Church.

DanFodio said...

that was deep!
as a black male who has no qualms about expressing emotions, i appreciate this chat. i have not given the new kanye's 808 time to breathe on my speakers because i think he has overexposed himself and plus everyone is hating on the album. after reading this i will hear him out.

kudos

Model Minority said...

Well. Thank you Dan.

Thats what we do around here,
listen, critique, support and try and make some art of our very own.

I would be interested in hearing what you think of it.

Penni Brown said...

M. - Thanks for sharing what you thought about 808s. I LOVED it too. I think you are right that hearing a black man express pain and sadness is rare in hip hop.

It's not rare for them to express those emotions with regard to their mothers, but for the loss of a rel'ship, this CD is precedent setting.

There are lots of songs where rappers express love for their moms and daughters, but love (not lust...not let's get married since we're both here and i have been able to stand you for this long - love) is rare

and I think Kanye is dope to be like, 'This is what I felt and F what y'all think about it...'

Model Minority said...

and I think Kanye is dope to be like, 'This is what I felt and F what y'all think about it...'
====

yes. Yes. Yes.

Birkhold calls it "underdog masculinity."

A man willing to embrace, what WE see as feminine
and saying EFF you if you THINK you want to say something.

neo said...

Its not so much that Hip Hop says NO to being vulnerable actually with the 'new wave' now its really deemed ok and folks are given credit for it. The problem with 808's is simply that musically it just sucked. Esp. from the standpoint of where Kanye was trying to go with it and based on his past success.

If he was going for electronica based music with a hip hopesque type attitude he didn't do a good job of it. I mean some of these ppl who don't like the album dig electronic music and are actually hardcore fans of the genre hence the 'hate.'

Honestly him feeling the way he did about his mom or the breakup with his girl is at least to me perfectly understandable. Nothing wrong with making a personal album or a concept around that either. It just wasn't well-done.

Model Minority said...

The problem with 808's is simply that musically it just sucked. Esp. from the standpoint of where Kanye was trying to go with it and based on his past success.
=====
Thats cool that it sucked for you.
For me, it hit the spot.
That being said. Boo.

If he was going for electronica based music with a hip hopesque type attitude he didn't do a good job of it.
======
What constitutes a good job of it.
Like Rafi said, BRING EVIDENCE.

neo said...

Let's go with a very popular and albeit mainstream electronica-based group - Radiohead. Their first two albums esp. Kid A.

Portishead's last album anyone?

I mean I'm glad it hit the spot FOR YOU. But the excuse that black men aren't allowed to express their human-ness through and through is not a good supporting argument for how good or bad this album is. If we're discussing an album let's not just discuss musical intent, let's discuss the music. Do the beats bang? Did that xylophone take you somewhere, did the harp just smack you in the mouth? Was his/her voice coarse or did it just sing to the tune of your heartbeat?

P.S. Rafi ain't God. He's a good writer though.

LOL @ you...still.

Model Minority said...

But the excuse that black men aren't allowed to express their human-ness through and through is not a good supporting argument for how good or bad this album is
====
I never said that.
I said that i enjoyed the album AND the a particular criticism of it (its gay, you shouldn't like it and if you do you should have your balls cut off) reminds me of how Black men, in Hip Hop are only allowed to be
enraged.

The I like the singing and the rhythms reminded me of Spanish jazz at times. I was also reminded of Jay Electronica and Doom, with the rawness and eclecticism of the samples.

Neo, to be clear, this isn't an merely and "emotional response" but one of appreciation of the what the shit sounds like.

btw....did you see Jay Elec say "N.gga fuck yo blog." yesterday on twitter? Priceless.

Oh sush about Rafster. He makes me want to write better. As do little black children. Snarkyass.

neo said...

LOL admit you love for the snarky-ness. ha!

It was too funny, better to hear it over a beat even.

Its like dude just in one bar expressed how some of us emcees feel about the blog-game.

Btw, something I'd like for you to tackle is how, 'the blog game has turned into the rap game' about music blogs moreso. Do it whenever you feel, I've been itching to write a song about it but..

M.Dot. said...

the blog game has turned into the rap game' about music blogs moreso.
========
Evidence?

Heavy D! said...

I think hustleknocker and ne have it exactly right: the majority of people I know who don't like 808s and Heartbreak don't like for one simple reason:

Kanye. West. Cannot. Sing.

He is not Luther Vandross. He is not Marvin Gaye. He isn't even Akon. It doesn't matter what he says about love and relationships. He can expose himself and put himself out there as much as he wants to. He can experiment all he wants to. In fact, as a music fan, I love it when artists experiment; it keeps the genre fresh.

But the fact that he took a chance on (expressing) love doesn't mean that I'm going to give him a pass if he can't sing. And Kanye West can't sing. He can try all he wants to, but without actual singing talent to rely on, auto-tune can do but so much.

Model Minority said...

He is not Luther Vandross. He is not Marvin Gaye. He isn't even Akon.
=======
Thats hella funny, b/c I would Marry Marvin tomorrow if he were alive, and well and uhhhh, interested.

He can try all he wants to, but without actual singing talent to rely on, auto-tune can do but so much.
======
Thats a fine assessment.
I disagree. But I see where you are coming from.

Mc Lovin said...

Well I felt every song.. I went throw it last year lost ma grams..and my girl.. it was the coldest winter...and she has a cold heart.. every song i delt with.. but it made me feel like some one else goes though it to. stop hating .. If you been through it u feel it .. if not u wont ever know..

BrownBelle said...

I have to agree with Heavy D!. I think Kanye West has always been surprisingly vulnerable. Almost all of his raps go beyond the material aspects of hip-hop culture to his personal thoughts and feelings on a lot of different subjects. "Addiction" examined unhealthy relationships and substance abuse. "Jesus Walks" reveals his personal struggle with religion. The list goes on. I hate 808s and Heartbreak because...he can do better. Kanye West has real talent, lyrically and production-wise, and relying on Auto-Tune for an entire album just seemed like laziness.

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