Kanye West
808s & Heartbreak
(Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam)


This album is a “radical departure that abandons much of what Kanye West does best,” said Nathan Rabin in The Onion. Since 2004’s The College Dropout, the rapper usually has followed the “same winning formula” that made him a music megastar. But West’s tumultuous personal life provoked a professional detour. His high-concept, heavy trip of a fourth album arrives in the wake of a year in which West lost his mother and split with his fiancée. It “operates solely on the level of catharsis,” said Jon Caramanica in The New York Times. West pours out his bleeding heart using only a Roland TR-808 drum machine and Auto-Tune, which provides the tinny, vocoder sound of today’s hip-hop. Emotionally and musically stark, 808s & Heartbreak trades West’s “bombastic rapping” and thumping rhythms for “vulnerable singing” and a new-wave, electro haze. The straight-talk, skeletal approach gives the album an “immediacy, looseness, and rambling quality of a venting session” you’d find on YouTube. West’s surprising new album doesn’t sufficiently plumb the “depths of his pain,” said Jim DeRogatis in the Chicago Sun-Times. But it offers a fascinating, “undeniably fearless, and altogether unexpected piece of his troubled soul.”