The worlds of hip-hop and art collided when Kanye West threw a listening party for his new album 808s & Heartbreak on Tuesday night in Los Angeles. The event, a collaboration between Kanye and Italian artist Vanessa Beecroft, was unlike anything we’ve experienced before. After sipping on Veuve Clicquot and Moët, several hundred guests, including Jay-Z, will.i.am, Mos Def, Rick Ross, L.A. Reid, actor Jonah Hill, Sa-Ra’s Taz Arnold, and director Chris Robinson, were led upstairs into an open gallery space where 40-50 naked women stood against a blue light panel. At approximately 9:45 p.m., the lights went off and the spectacle began.
Blue, red, and yellow lights flashed across the giant panel as Kanye’s fourth studio album blasted through the speakers. Skinny, mixed race models, wearing nothing but black stiletto heels, posed through the entire 11 tracks. Some changed positions from time to time, sitting down, stretching, and performing other body contortions. The no photography rule was strictly enforced.
After the last track off 808s & Heartbreak played, the lights came up and Kanye appeared in a T-shirt and jeans. He went on to thank everyone for coming and expressed his gratitude to Beecroft for her hard work. He told the story of how he contacted the artist a week before the event. She said she listened to 808s and the album touched her “personal life” in a few ways. Kanye responded by saying he also felt touched by her work, referencing the naked women, which drew a laugh from the audience. We hear that the models were hired through an open casting call and reportedly paid $1000 each.
As rumored, the entire album is in Auto-Tune. Kanye launched into a speech about how much he loves using Auto-Tune and that lately the term has been associated with being “wack,” much to his dismay. “Never lose your childhood,” he told the crowd, explaining how he wanted to go back to feeling like a child, overwhelmed and carefree. Auto-Tune reminded him of those early days. As a kid, he thought the color pink was cool until someone told him “it was gay.” He then excitedly exclaimed, “Pink is better than blue!” ‘Ye expressed his admiration for T-Pain, saying “his light was so bright.” He further explained his belief that society and culture steal confidence and self-esteem from you when you’re a child. You’re born with it, but society takes it away. If he was 8 years old, he would have walked into a recording studio and told the engineer, “Give me Auto-Tune!” He officially declared it “the funnest thing to use.”
The album, which he completed over three weeks in Hawaii, is unlike anything Kanye has done. He happily classifies it as “pop” featuring heavy drums and pulsing electronic sounds. “People think pop is bad, but Michael Jackson was pop and who can compare to him?” Kanye asked, adding that he wants to categorize the album under “pop” in iTunes. Even though it was hard to make out lyrics over the booming system, we believe we heard Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy rapping on two tracks. The raw and revealing album puts Kanye on another level of artistry and a few strokes away from genius.
Responding to reviews, the Louis Vuitton Don said, “I don’t give a fuck if it’s hot or not, it’s from the heart… Would you judge a grandmother’s love? Give it two-and-a-half mics out of five?” Kanye said that he went to the Def Jam label heads and expressed how important it was that this album was released this year. He didn’t care if it wasn’t on the schedule or if they wanted a holiday push. He mentioned that he does have another album coming in June and he may be singing or rapping.
As the evening came to a close, the Chi-Town MC declared, “I’ve always been a fan of Vanessa’s work and strong imagery.” He liked the “idea of nudity because society told us to wear clothes at a certain point.” The night’s most poignant moment came when the rapper said, “The irony for me… I’ve talked about so many labels, Louis Vuitton this, Benz that… For me to lose the most important person to Hollywood.” He explained that the album’s closing track, “Coldest Winter,” is about his late mother, Donda West. According to him, the first ten tracks are about someone else who was close in his personal life, most likely ex-fiance Alexis Phifer.
“I don’t know if you noticed, but I don’t talk about any of that stuff on the album—no stuntin’, no flashin’, just real things.” And for one night, Kanye West bared all.
Here is a tracklisting for 808s & Heartbreak based off what we could make out. No official titles were announced so take this for what it is.
1. “Welcome to Heartbreak”
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