Kanye West Focuses On Melodies On ‘Minimal But Functional’ 808s & Heartbreak

'There's limitations to just rapping,' West says of Gary Numan-influenced new album.

When it comes to straight-up vocal prowess, [artist id="1230523"]Kanye West[/artist] will never be compared to some of the all-time greats, such as Luther Vandross or Stevie Wonder — and he’s fine with that. With Kanye, it’s more about feeling — he wants you to feel his music, not concentrate on the range of his voice.

So, when Kanye was onstage singing “” at the MTV Europe Music Awards in front of a worldwide audience of millions, and his voice obviously cracked into a shriek that was about as far from harmonious as Liverpool is from Chicago, Kanye didn’t miss a beat. The audience members didn’t cringe — they kept singing along and cheering. For the multi-Grammy winner, the singing on his new album 808s & Heartbreak is all about being raw and emotional — and it’s still hip-hop, despite what 50 Cent or any other critics say.

“Yeah, like [artist id="1446744"]T.J. Swan[/artist] [who sang on records such as [artist id="700"]Biz Markie[/artist]‘s ‘Nobody Beats the Biz’] or like [artist id="1000"]Nas[/artist] when he first started singing hooks and stuff,” Kanye told MTV Base a couple of days after the award show. “It’s, like, you know, hip-hop — there’s limitations to just rapping. I can get a rise out of you by spitting a really good punch line and stuff, but what if I tried to … what if I tried to teach you your ABCs like this: ‘A… B… C… D…’ — as soon as you think ABCs, you think of the melody. You were taught with it. I’m trying to deliver a message and melody throughout the entire [album]. I still come from a hip-hop vibe though, yeah.”

808s is the culmination of a series of events from Kanye’s life, such as the tragic death of his mother , his breakup with fiancée Alexis Phifer and Kanye’s struggle with his growing celebrity . At one point in his life, ‘Ye wanted to be the most famous star in the world — but if you listen to him now, it sounds like he would love it if he could go to the grocery store unnoticed. ‘Ye’s balance, or lack thereof — as well as his readiness to start a family — is expressed toward the beginning of the album on “Welcome to Heartbreak.”

“My godsister’s getting married by the lake,” he laments on the last verse. “But I couldn’t figure out who I’d wanna take/ Bad enough that I showed up late/ I had to leave before they even cut the cake/ Welcome to heartbreak.”

The Louis Vuitton Don does have what appears to be a serious relationship on “Paranoid.” Unfortunately, Kanye’s lady love “worries about the wrong things” and is pushing him away with her mistrustful thinking.

The suspicions carry on in “Robocop,” where Kanye meets a girl that looks good enough to be a beauty queen or movie star, but is crazy enough to be a character right out of a Stephen King novel. “You know how you hear some songs and they just sound big?” asked [artist id="1243444"]Young Jeezy[/artist], who appears on 808s. “That’s one of them. Right away, it just sounds like a big hit.”

When discussing who his musical competition is right now, ‘Ye doesn’t list 50 Cent, Lil Wayne or anyone else you’d expect to be considered his contemporary.

“[artist id="1118"]Pink Floyd[/artist], [artist id="1022"]U2[/artist], [artist id="1123"]Radiohead[/artist], [artist id="1119"]Portishead[/artist],” he answered. “I mean, I listened to [artist id="1116"]Phil Collins[/artist], [artist id="3404"]Boy George[/artist], [artist id="1143"]the Police[/artist], [artist id="624"]Gary Numan[/artist] … I ended up getting more polished as a designer. I designed the tracks. I’m kind of a minimalist. The more and more skilled I get at interior design and architecture stuff, the things that appeal to me are very minimal but functional spaces. So I wanted my tracks to be minimal but functional. So the function is the 808 — the snare — it gives you the groove but it doesn’t confuse your ear.

“The first track ['Say You Will'] is one of my favorite songs I ever did,” he added. “I don’t even know if people appreciate how good that is yet, but just to have those ominous monk choirs and the snare’s little bleep noise — any producer that hears that should be like, ‘That’s incredible. Listen to that snare, what is that?’ ”

“Heartless,” the album’s second single, hearkens back to the days of the [artist id="1122"]RZA[/artist] with its jittery bounce.

“Listen to it,” West said, when asked why he chose the record as the follow-up to “Love Lockdown.” “That hook is, like, [really] good. I also thought it was good because, first of all, ‘Love Lockdown’ — if I had rapped on it [it] would’ve just been a rap song and it wouldn’t have sounded quite as different to people as it sounds for some reason. But ‘Heartless’ is definitely like … Any rapper would’ve loved to rap on ‘Heartless,’ from a [artist id="1025"]Wu-Tang[/artist] [member] to a West Coast rapper to a down-South rapper. ‘Heartless’ is a perfect rap beat, and the hook is like straight Broadway melody. The message is just incredible: ‘In the night I hear them talk/ The coldest story ever told/ And far along this road he lost his soul.’ It could be an opera.”

“Coldest Winter” closes the album out, with a dedication to his mother. West borrows melodies and some lyrics from Tears for Fears’ 1983 song “Memories Fade.”

“Memories fade but the scars still linger/ Goodbye my friend/ Will I ever love again?” goes the original. In Kanye’s version, he says, “Memories fade in the coldest winter/ Goodbye my friend/ Will I ever love again?” It is undoubtedly the most emotional moment on 808s & Heartbreak, as well as the most relatable. Everyone has lost somebody they love; however, not everybody can talk about their losses in public.

“It was just what was in my heart,” Kanye explained. “The type of ideas that I was coming up with, the melodies that were in me — what was in me I couldn’t stop. I think it’s a path; it’s a road that’s been paved and given by God. There’s so many signs and I just have to follow the signs and the arrows of where he wants me to go and just be fearless about it. It’s so crazy — hip-hop used to be about being fearless, and now it’s, like, all about being afraid. It used to be about standing out, and now it’s all about fitting in. Like, you know, I wear my tight jeans and stuff and stand out and people want to talk about me. Now hip-hop is like a big high school or something — so that’s why I respect people who just do whatever they want to do.”