– Jacob O’Gara
At the risk of sounding pompously contrarian, I’m going to express a sentiment that verges on sacrilegious: Kanye West should get out of the rap game. Meaning he should stop rapping; if by “rap game” one gathers that I mean the genre of hip-hop as whole, then no, he should stay.
He started out as a producer wunderkind—working under Jay-Z and producing one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, The Blueprint, for him—and that’s where he should have stayed. The College Dropout and parts of Late Registration were great, but they’ve been overshadowed by the tepid Graduation and West’s cringe-inducing work as a featured artist.
Besides some creative rhyming, what has Kanye West as a featured artist given hip-hop, other than sophomoric junk like “You should go to school, Bueller”?
Unless you consider half-hearted and half-baked lines like the one just cited (from his verse on Drake’s “Forever” posse cut); in that case, he has given us a lot.
It seems as if he used up all his creativity and passion on his first two albums, and now he’s operating as a hip-hop hack, just as P. Diddy operated in the late 1990s, dropping in on other artists’ tracks, outshining them with his star power, and then delivering some milquetoast verses. Fortunately for him, and for us, there is some hope for West’s career: his foray into pop music, 808s & Heartbreak.
With this album, the zeal and imagination that electrified his first two is on full display, though West uses those energies in a different direction. Dealing with themes like death and heartbreak, West constructed probably his most technically masterful album; every beat is chiller than a gold chain on an Eskimo, and the much-criticized “singing with Auto-Tune” technique just straight works with the subject matter.
808s & Heartbreaks is an experimental album gone horribly right, a bona fide pop album that elevated West from hip-hop king to full-fledged pop music superstar. Of course, the only recourse West had was to self-immolate in a verbal wildfire of inane and vapid lyrics.
West can save his career by following the path 808s & Heartbreak shined a light on: become the black Elton John. Besides demonstrating the ability to pull off outlandish and flashy garb, like Sir John, West has shown us that he is capable of writing and performing pop ballads, those kind of songs that aren’t really hip-hop or electronica or whatever; they belong in that nebulous category of music known as “pop.”
In that realm, he can spare us from lyrical travesties and spare himself from further humiliation. He can expand what it means to be a pop star, making it more “street,” in other words. He can break down barriers and transcend the genre of hip-hop. His ego’s too big not to let a chance like that pass by.