About a week ago, word got out that Kanye West was having a listening party for his new album, 808s & Heartbreak, in L.A. Not much information was provided on the invite except the date (10.14.08), time (9 p.m.), location, an excerpt from one of the tracks, “Welcome To Heartbreak” — “My friends showed me pictures of his kids and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs” — and the fact that the event would be a collaboration with artist Vanessa Beecroft. So, a week later, the assignment of covering the event came to me. Lucky me!
As I got to the warehouse in which the event was held, was greeted by the sounds of A Tribe Called Quest … yay! As time went on, the celebs started rolling in: Besides Kanye, there was Rick Ross, Will.I.Am, L.A. Reid and the OTHER man of the night who could make both the crowd and music come to a halt: Jay-Z. As soon as Jay hit the spot, the crowd followed him and his entourage up the ramp and into a dark room filled with blue lights and, well …
If you’re not familiar with Vanessa Beecroft’s work, it’s often large-scale performance art. And it often involves live female models — and they’re often nude. Oh yes, Kanye West never fails to put on a show. So when we turned the corner to enter into the room, we were greeted by about 50 naked girls, standing in a dark room with a wall of light behind them. Needless to say, the music hadn’t even started yet and folks were already buzzing about the night.
After about 10 minutes, the show began, kicking off with the intro, “Welcome to Heartbreak,” and carrying on through “Heartless,” “Love Lockdown,” “Robocop,” “Anyway” and then “Streetlights.” As each of the songs played, the naked women, the music and the choreographed, constantly changing light wall behind them drew listeners deeper into the album. Up next came “Say You Will,” probably my favorite song on the album (I was just dumped, OK? So it hits home!). The album really feels like the cycles of a relationship, all its ups, downs, exciting and boring moments, etc. “Bad News” came next (the bassline kind of reminded me of Nina Simone’s “See-Line Woman”) and next was probably the only song on the album that sounded like a traditional rap song: “Amazing,” which features Young Jeezy. Lil Wayne guests on the following song, “Tell Everybody That You Know,” but the tune really shows how much of a rock star Lil Wayne is. Last but not least was the song dedicated to Kanye’s late mother, Donda, called “Coldest Winter.” The album is laced with frustration, pain and heartbreak, all of which you hear loud and clear in the closing song.
808s & Heartbreak is a rock record, a hip-hop record, an R&B record, a pop record … everything.
When the show was over, the man of the hour appeared and introduced Beecroft to the wowed audience. After politely asking the crowd to be still, he addressed the crowd.
He said this album is very personal to him and that it comes from the heart. He recalled working with T-Pain on the record, saying what great energy he has, and also defended the use of the Auto-Tune that’s a hallmark of so many of T-Pain’s records. He also mentioned that when the first single off the album “Love Lockdown” hit iTunes, he was asked if it should be filed “rap” or “pop” — he opted for the latter, saying if it’s popular music, why does it have to be labeled “rap”?
Kanye also encouraged those in attendance to “never lose their childhood,” and reminded us that everyone is born with confidence, born with self-esteem and that society puts limits on who we are and what we can achieve.