The 808s & Heartbreak review OkayPlayer rejected

Written by Wil

The 808s & Heartbreak Review that deemed “not in the best interests of hip-hop.”

This was the moment I stopped partnering with other websites and started writing for myself.

PS – 5 years later, 808s is considered one of the most influential hip-hop albums of its era.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Gi*** S*** ‪<Gi***>
Date: Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 4:44 PM
Subject: Re: kanye

To: Culture VI Records <>

It was a very well-written piece and we would love for you to continue writing for our site. Unfortunately, we don’t view this album as a positive reflection of hip-hop. It is seen to us more as a gimmick and a weak attempt at quick sales and has no place in our genre. You called it important in hip-hop, but we couldn’t feel more opposite. Hip-hop will never embrace this type of attempt.

We are disappointed that you feel differently, but respect your opinion. I think you are a little too close to this album, perhaps because of your mother’s passing. We will not be posting this on our site. We don’t feel it’s in the best interest of hip-hop. I hope you understand.

Vi*** S***
The Roots and Okayplayer
84 Wooster St. Suite 503
NY, NY 10012

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Culture VI ‪<>
Date: Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 4:34 PM
Subject: Is Everything Okay?
To: Gi*** S*** gi***

Haven’t heard from you in almost two weeks. The feature I sent you on Kanye is wasted obviously because the album has been out for a week already and by now there are hundreds of reviews. The major sites already published their piece. I wish you would have told me earlier so I could’ve used it on or (all of which asked me for a review, which I denied, and have since published their own). Last we spoke, you said you were very interested, but just needed to finish reading it.

I’m hoping everything is okay with you. I’ve enjoyed working with, which is a site I respect more than any other. But the lack of communication, especially as you knew I was waiting on an answer from you, was extremely disheartening. I put a lot of effort into writing that piece. If you weren’t interested, that was fine. But now it feels like time wasted.

I’ll take your silence as a sign that there is no place for me at OKP at the current time. If things should change, or if there’s anything you need from me in the future, please do not hesitate to ask. I am still a supporter of OKP, just with a little less passion than I once had.

All the Best,

Wil Loesel
Culture VI Records, Inc.

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Gi*** S*** ‪<Gi***>
Date: Thu, Nov 20, 2008 at 2:02 PM
Subject: Re: kanye
To: Culture VI Records <>

Wil I am interested- let me just finish reading it and I’ll get back at you

Vi*** S***
The Roots and Okayplayer
84 Wooster St. Suite 503
NY, NY 10012

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Culture VI ‪<>
Date: Thu, Nov 20, 2008 at 2:00 PM
Subject: kanye?
To: Gi*** S*** <gi***>

hey ginny – just wanted to follow up on the kanye review i submitted. wanted to get your thoughts. if you’re not interested, please let me know soon. i’d like to post it on artofrhyme or rapmusic before the album drops and thousands of reviews are on the web.

obviously if you’re interested, i will keep it exclusive for OKP.


———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Culture VI Records ‪<>
Date: Tue, Nov 18, 2008 at 11:34 PM
Subject: Kanye West: 808s & Heartbreak Review
To: Gi*** S*** gi***

Hey Ginny – I still have a bit of editing to do on it, but I figured I would shoot the almost-finished product your way to get your feedback. I would love to hear your thoughts and welcome any criticism you might have.

If you think you would like to use the piece for OKP, please let me know and I will finish it off later today. If you don’t think it will fit the site, just let me know and I’ll have it posted elsewhere.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks!!

808’s & Heartbreak – Kanye West
Review by Wil Loesel for Culture VI

Let me preface this review by saying that I am reviewing the official album; not the pasted together Mp3’s and radio rips that are floating around online. Kanye spends an exorbitant amount of time mixing and mastering, so I feel it is only right that I review the project the way he intended. It’s disgraceful to me that so many sites are doing half-assed reviews so they can be first instead being accurate. 

Two years ago, my mother lost an eight-month battle with cancer, twenty-three days shy of her 50th birthday. I bring this up because only people who have lost a parent can understand the extreme emotion and depression that can set in; the loneliness that a person feels. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing wife, which is the number one reason why I am even here today to write this review. So I can understand the emotions that Kanye is struggling with. His music speaks to me. Add the fact that he lost his fiancé, a woman he has been with for 6 years (that’s 42 in celebrity years), and the result is…well…808’s & Heartbreak.

You can hear regret in almost every song on the album. Kanye West sounds like a man who spent his entire life chasing something, only to realize that all he ever really needed right there in front of him the whole time – only now, it’s too late. The man who ‘regular people’ are jealous of is now jealous of regular people. Take the lyrics on the album’s opening track “Welcome to Heartbreak”:

My friend showed me pictures of his kids
And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs
He said his daughter got a brand new report card
And all I got is a brand new sports car

Dad cracked a joke, all the kids laughed
But I couldn’t hear him all the way in first class
Chased the good life my whole life long
Looked back on my life and my life’s gone
Where did I go wrong?

My God sister getting married by the lake
But I couldn’t figure out who I wanna take
Bad enough that I showed up late
I had to leave before they even cut the cake
Welcome to Heartbreak

And my head keeps spinnin’
I can’t stop having these visions
I gotta keep winnin’

It sounds like the joke’s on him. Yes, he achieved financial and commercial success, but at what cost? If he never would’ve become famous, would his mother still be alive today? Did he unknowingly sell his soul to the devil? His lyrics, though in much less abundance than any typical rap song, are as poignant as they’ve ever been. He has become more a poet than a rapper. His tremendous ear for creating melodies cannot be overlooked either. He is a songwriter now, and he may never again go back.

There are plenty of closed-minded individuals who don’t really listen to music, they just hear what they’re force-fed by the media outlets. There are also people who as simple-minded as to think the Beatles suck and that music does not exist outside of rap. This album isn’t for them. Even people who are open to new ideas may not embrace this new direction, but I challenge you to at least listen to what is being expressed.

The album has a decidedly dark tone, with the exception of Paranoid, which uses 80’s synths as the backdrop to the most cross-over track on 808’s. It’s a welcome break from an otherwise gloomy mood.  Songs like Streetlights fully display Kanye’s songwriting ability. He uses a cab ride through the city as a metaphor for life. He gets into a cab and rides around, gazing at the streetlights as he passes them. But those lights represent moments in his life that have passed him by. Memories. He can see them clearly, but he is no longer there. Beautiful lights which he can see, but not touch. Amazingly written and produced.

All the streetlights glowing
Happen to be just like moments passing
In front of me

Amazing is another standout track, though not as deep or metaphorical as some of the other cuts. Basically, he’s just talking about the success as a musician he’s achieved. It’s the decision to have such a depressing beat as the background to a song titled “Amazing” that gets me the most.  Hearing him recite the words “it’s amazing” in such a dismal voice makes it seem purposely ironic and/or sarcastic. He and Jeezy have developed a great chemistry.

I’m exhausted of grieving

Say You Will has a mesmerizing beat. Good thing too, because the instrumental plays for the last three minutes or so of the song. The song is about broken promises and is best heard if you close your eyes and let the song lead you. I’ll skip past Heartless and Love Lockdown, the album’s two lead singles (Heartless being my favorite), only because I have to imagine that almost anybody reading this review as heard those tracks a thousand times already. Robocop is my least favorite cut on the disc, even with the improvements by Herbie Hancock. He has at least made the track listenable to me by adding some great strings. Still, the song doesn’t move me and is the only skippable title on the album.

My favorite part of the album is when Bad News plays. The drums and piano are Kanye at his absolute best. You have to hear this song in high quality in a good system to truly appreciate it. The leaked version doesn’t do it justice. I don’t read the gossip mags, so I don’t know much about Kanye and designer Alexis Phifer’s breakup, but from the sounds of it, she broke up with West and almost immediately had someone there to replace him. He seems to feel that she knew the direction the relationship was headed for quite some time, as it was old new to her. So following the breakup, she was already ready to move on with a new boyfriend and new direction, but to Kanye, he was just learning of all this. The lyrics drop out for a while on this track too as the strings pick up and fill in the void left by West’s absence. This is a subtle reminder that his voice is nothing more than another instrument on the track, which is why he is so damned good. The strings are so dramatic in this song that it’s easy to forget you’re just listening to a song and not watching a movie. By this part of album, by the way, I don’t even realize that Kanye is using the auto-tune anymore. It just sounds so natural with his voice that I forget he hasn’t been using it his entire career.

What haven’t I covered? Oh, the collaboration with Lil’ Wayne. The song itself isn’t bad, but I can’t stand the whole “T-Wayne” thing. Kanye uses auto-tune for a reason. Lil’ Wayne is just an idiot. I’m sorry, I’m being biased with this part of the album, but I think Wayne sounds like an old, creepy, perverted uncle. He ruins the song for me. My apologies to the editors and readers of OkayPlayer, but I can’t justify him being on this song. I literally shut the song off when I heard him say the line: You think your shit don’t stink, but you are Misses P.U.

Anyway, the album closes out with Coldest Winter, which is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Though I’m not crazy about the snare roll that sounds more like static than anything musical, the song itself has so much emotion. The first ten songs were written about his ex, but this one is about his mother. The hair on my arms stands up when I heard this song for the first time in high quality. His vocals are so powerful. I thought calling his mother his “friend” when saying goodbye was brilliant. The drums are incredibly powerful in this song, even though the track has an overall open feel.

He is a tremendous songwriter and this album proves it. Experimenting is one thing. He deserves applause for stepping out of his comfort zone and trying something bold and new, which is rare in today’s cut & paste brand of music. But successfully executing a new type of music is the true accomplishment. I’m certain there will be people that see this the opposite as I do and give this album an extremely horrible review – and I couldn’t fault them. In this case, the beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. I am probably prejudiced based on my similar life experience, but I’m not the type of person to praise anything an artist does, even if I am a fan (which in this case, I am). I’m always looking to be objective on an artist’s work. But in this case, I really believe Kanye has reached new heights and I feel that other artists will look to duplicate the trend that he’s setting. This will end up being an important album in hip-hop.

Having said that, I do hope that Mr. West’s next album, which he is said to be releasing in June, will incorporate more rap. But this was a really good listen and I hope that others have the creative flexibility to judge the album based on the music and not by the cover of the book (or in this case, the funny little hands around the heart on the album cover).

Overall Rating:

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  • Good read. Even better that you included the emails to/from Okay Player. Not to slander them per se but to give a bit of backdrop and to show that its professional to respect peoples time and talent. I’m big on that and as I try to ascend through my profession and get things done I try to be prompt and handle tough situations even when I don’t want to. So I learned two lessons today, thanks! I liked the album when it first dropped too. I felt like “rappidy-rapping” through those emotions would’ve been to sloppy and hectic and not allow the listener to connect to the emotion that music is suppose to give. Good review.

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