Aggressive. Angry. Moody. Atmospheric. Dark. Inspiring. Scary. Intimidating. A house with no lights on a rainy Halloween night. An alley surrounded by brick walls and broken-down chain fences. A presence that bleeds violence. An attitude centered firmly in the middle of an all-out attack on everyone and everything around it.
It’s not a horror film. It’s just a 3:58 trip inside of Kanye West’s tricked-out brain.
The first of the two most important songs that appear on 808s & Heartbreak, “Amazing” might be the most interesting song that the rapper has ever put on a record. The pound of the African-sounding drums that beat as though a king is ready to walk down main street. The faint sound of what appears to be moans seconds before Young Jeezy navigates his way through the final floor of Kanye’s House of Horror. The chants that drop on the downbeat of every chorus like a three-ton cannonball drops into an empty ocean. And most importantly, one of the most brilliant usages of vocal effects in the history of hip-hop. Kanye West was clearly going for something with “Amazing”, and man, did he get it.
The driving force behind the track to the naked analytical eye is that awe-inspiring backbeat provided from the onset. But what truly puts this song in a class of its own is the genius piano line West penned to carry the harmonies. It’s the greatest example of good meeting evil in modern day rap music, and it’s an aspect of the track that is so hard to hone in on only because of that overtly hostile drum pattern the artist laid as groundwork to this spooked-out building. The keys provide such a sunny day sky to the obvious dark rainy night that the song is centered around, it’s a true move of subtlety that can and should be considered amongst the greatest tricks hip-hop has ever played. It’s so harmonious, it’s beautiful. Actually, it’s damn beautiful.
“I’m a monster / I’m a killer / I know I’m wrong / I’m a problem / That’ll never / Ever be solved / And no matter what you’ll never take that from me / My rein is as far as your eyes can see”, West croons during the second verse in a tone that sounds as inspiring as watching white paint dry in a 50-year-old dining room. But that’s the point. His apathy—his calculation—is such a contradiction to the rest of the song that it fits brilliantly into the message this track is trying to convey: a message of fear, of hopelessness. This isn’t just a warning to the world about how difficult it’s going to be to deal with Kanye West. This is a message to Kanye West about how difficult it’s going to be to deal with himself.
And the Auto-Tune. Goodness, the Auto-Tune. There is no gimmickry here. There is no pop-friendly manipulation. It’s a mere tool to add yet another layer of madness to this already insane portrayal of self-doubt. The song is the closest the rapper may ever come to completing a painting that is as disturbing as it is attractive. The counterintuitive elements on display suggest something far deeper within the artist than a mere time signature and a beat that could get any listener on his or her feet.
“Amazing” is an ode to insanity and how essential it can be within a complex person’s life. It’s liberating and it’s haunting. To any normal-thinking, somewhat stable person, the song is an inspiring four minutes of in-your-face hip-hop. To Kanye West, the track is a cathartic outlet for feelings he obviously couldn’t even begin to think about coming to terms with. To 808s & Heartbreak, the performance is as essential to the complete piece of work as the written word is to a poet. And ironically enough, “Amazing” is modern-day poetry at its finest.
// Notes from the Road
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