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It’s a safe assumption that there are no gray areas in Kanye West appreciation. Either you consider him a genius or you want to send him on a shopping spree with Sarah Palin using an an expired Amex Black card and a stack of I.O.U’s from MC Hammer. After listening to the leak of 808s and Heartbreak, I won’t be petitioning for his MENSA membership anytime soon.

Mr. West has been tried in the court of public opinion ever since he announced this ambitious (or pretentious, depending on what side you’re on) project. But before you render a final verdict on this most-likely unfinished version of 808s & Heartbreak keep these observations in mind:

The Truth: Kanye West fell asleep with A-Ha’s “Take On Me” playing on his 80 inch plasma and woke up with this album in his head. Realizing that his natural-born vocals couldn’t adequately convey what was burning inside of his soul (or some other part of his anatomy) he enlisted computerized help. Bundle this with some heartache over losing his mother (as he insisted in interviews, though I hear no evidence of such) and some anonymous love interest/supermodel that we’ve never heard of and you have the makings of The Miseducation of Kanye West.

The Secret: The title is actually a typo. The actual title is 80’s Heartbreak and that makes much more sense given the Don Johnson and Punky Brewster-era synthetic sonics that define this disc. It appears Ye’s white blazers and open shirts were not just a fashion statement, that is indeed his state of mind.

The Good: “Heartless.” This is pretty frickin’ dope. Not just because Kanye is rapping for most of it, the beat is simply superior to “Love Lockdown” and when he does use the auto-tune it is actually… in tune. This is a great post-argument-pre-break-up driving to the strip club for a revenge lap dance track. “I’m gonna take oooofff tonight…”

“Anyway” Melody is an inviting example of Reagan-era nostalgia done right. It also helps that he enlists actual back-up singers to fill out the hook and leans off the auto-tune a bit. Again, he’s rapping more but the balance works.

“Tell Everybody That You Know”  You can tell Kanye has been hanging a lot with DJ Toomp and its been rubbing off in a good way (pause).  It’s a good track with a catchy hook but Jeezy would have sounded better on this than “Amazin,” and Lil Wayne’s granola bar : “Girl you think your shit don’t stink but you’re mrs P-U…” pushes it closer to the laughable end of the spectrum.

The Bad: “Robocop.” This is a bad case of “I found this cool sound effect and I really wanna use it, but no theme makes sense.” It reminds me of a chopped & screwed version of that AT&T “zero bars” commercial where the guy is stuck in the hostile with Slad and Veter the Techno Twins and their boombox. Except it’s not funny.

“Love Lockdown” This leak version is clearly the unpolished demo because it’s even more off-key than the official joint. People like this because it reminds them of cheering on your best friend at the high school talent show. You admire their balls for getting on the stage regardless of how they sound and they autographed the homemade burn of their CD to make you feel special. The problem here is that Kanye has already forgotten the little people and the addition of R.Kelly just underlines why Ye shouldn’t be singing.

The In-Between: Kanye channels his inner N.E.R.D for a danceable “Coldest Winter” that would have better served Chris Brown or Omarion. Topically, Kanye taps into some pretty dead-on observations of relationships that few people like to express, it’s just hard to take him seriously sounding like a chipmunk drowning in a toilet bowl.

Verdict: Kanye West can’t deal with our acceptance. He likes being the underdog. When he first came on the scene he won us over and made us see him as a legit MC, not just a producer lip-synching in the mirror. But as he became successful (sales and critically) he just couldn’t chill. Being an asshole is way more fun and it’s hard to be that when people like you. So in the name of pushing the envelope he’s concocted this experiment. The irony is that Ye is doing just the opposite here. For the first time in his career Kanye is a follower and to call the disc derivative is being kind. There are definite bright spots but merely being different does not make you brave or innovative. Manson was different. (Marilyn or Charles…take your pick). Either way the results were mixed, just like this album.

Sentencing: Check out The Death of Auto-Tune on Rappersiknow.com.

To hear a stream of the complete 808’s & Heartbreak go to Kanye’s Myspace page!

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