Last night, Kanye West publicly debuted his new album, 808s & Heartbreak, at the Ace Gallery in Los Angeles via a collaboration with Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft. After waiting in a loading area with an open bar and a DJ, we walked up a driveway illuminated by florescent lights to a darkened room where approximately forty nude women, most of them wearing face-obscuring masks seemingly made of faux lamb’s wool, stood in the middle—black girls in the front, white girls in the back. Then the entire album played without introduction or explanation. The women were backlit by glowing lights—mostly red and purple, sometimes strobing, often pulsing and sporadically illuminating. When “Love Lockdown” played three songs in, some of the models started sitting down on the floor, others going so far as to fully recline by the end of the album. Mos Def sat down front-and-center, Michael Rapaport talked excitedly to the security guards, Will.i.am watched from one end of the U the audience formed around the women, Rick Ross watched from the other end (even singing along to some songs after an apparent even sneakier sneak preview). As for album: yes, it’s almost entirely sung by West, aside from one verse by Young Jeezy on “Amazing” and a duet with Lil Wayne; yes, it is sung almost entirely through Auto-Tune; yes, some people are not going to be sure what to make of it, but we applaud West’s decision to step off a creative ledge wearing a jetpack that no one else is sure will actually work.
Considering the conditions 808s & Heartbreak was played under (we’re referring to the vast concrete room, not the presence of forty naked women), we don’t feel right giving a full appraisal, but we are definitely eager to hear it again. On this blog we’ve compared West’s recent productions to ARE Weapons, but maybe an even more apt reference is Adult. or Thom Yorke solo, with the dispassionate electro beats playing against the plainspoken ache of the vocals. Or maybe he’s creating a genre of his own. Call it Kanyeclash. Once the album ended with “Coldest Winter”—the one song on the album about his mother, the rest of this breakup album is about “someone else”—West appeared with a microphone. After eventually silencing the chatty room, he introduced Beecroft, who revealed that the piece was conceptualized and executed in one week, which is one third of the time it took West to record the entire album. Then West delivered a monologue about how this album is about the freedom to do what you want to do and that he used Auto-Tune because it is the most fun thing ever. Then he said 808s & Heartbreak was about emotional nakedness. Then he said he’ll have another album out next June. Then the DJ played “Good Life” and we went to get our car from the valet parking before the line got out of hand.