Kanye West - 808s and Heartbreak

In just five years he's won a Hummer load of Grammy Awards. He also owns his own record label. Plans to roll out his clothing line Past Tell are primed. So it's pretty much another slam dunk season when Graduation makes 50 Cent eat humble pie by securing the Billboard # 1 spot.

But the cracks in Kanye's narcissism are starting to show. For the second year in a row the MTV Video Music Awards snubs his ass. Two months later his world implodes when his mama dies unexpectedly. Cut to the 2008 Grammys: four wins and the chance to perform "Mama" helps him heal...sort of. 4/8 Grammys just isn't a home run. Not for Kanye. And when his fiancé annuls their two year engagement because he's spending too much time on the road, rap's most upwardly mobile playa has a meltdown.

The latest episode of his BEE soap opera that began with The College Dropout, evolved into Late Registration and pinnacled with Graduation is scheduled for a summer 2008 release. But how the hell's he supposed to pull off having A Good Ass Job when he's feeling bummed out and heartbroken?

He can't. So he takes a leap of faith. He steps out of his comfort zone. He shelves the braggadocio. And finally bares his soul by serenading us with a set of utterly dejected croons about how his life sucks.

"My friend showed me pictures of his kids/and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs," he sighs on "Welcome to Heartbreak". It's a despondent piano-powered confession about realising that money hasn’t bought him love. "Well, I got homies/ But in the end it's still so lonely" he mewls on the quavering keys 'n bass of break up ballad "Heartless".

You can hear he desperately wants to feel something, and hopes that his fans feel something too. But there's a problem. The dead sea of synth-pop soul sounds sterilised. What we hear is not so much Kanye's existential crisis, but an altogether more air-conditioned nightmare where Kanye simply feels shit about feeling shit.

Thing is, the Louis Vuitton Don is used to tailoring his emotions. So he immediately pulls his favourite bling-rap pullover back over his head. Bass humping, synth-rapper "See You In My Nightmares" finds him getting wasted with Lil Wayne while cataloguing all the gold-digging ladies who've done them wrong with the Auto-Tune cranked up to 11. It's a bad move cauterising what should've been a gutsy goodbye growl into a mournfully anemic mope.

But Kanye perseveres. He heads back to the ballads. "Street Lights" is a stylish emo pop ditty about searching for some peace of mind. But he just can't get off that celebrity pity pot. He wastes his wordplay on dissing sexed up crack whores over a faux Herbie Hancock Blaxploitation-disco groove ("Robocop").

He even has to hire Young Jeezy to remind him how to rap on pop-hop empowerment ode "Amazing". But he doesn't really get his flow back. Instead he sounds like R. Kelly without the necessary soap operatic spontaneity: "They're like, 'Oh God, why he go so hard'/look what he’s been through/he deserves an applause'."

No he doesn't. Not until he actually gets real. Not until he confesses as much on the bonus "Pinocchio Story" freestyle (recorded live in Singapore)":

There is no Gucci I can buy, there is no Louis Vuitton to put on. There is nothing they could sell to get...my mind out of this jail....There is no vacation spot I could fly that could bring back a real piece of real life. Real life, what does it feel like? I ask you tonight, I ask you tonight: what does it feel like?....I just want to be a real boy. They always say 'Kanye, he keeps it real boy'. Pinocchio story is: I just want to be a real boy. Pinocchio story is to be a real boy. It's funny, Pinocchio lied and that's what kept him from it? I tell the truth and I keep runnin'. It's like I'm looking for something out there trying to find something. I turn on the TV and see me, and see nothing. What does it feel like to live real life, to be real?

It's the only moment on the entire album where he rides the 808s hard enough for you to actually feel his heartbreak.