Hip-Hop’s Heartbreak: Kanye West – "Coldest Winter" and "Pinocchio Story"
808s & Heartbreak -- and this Between the Grooves series -- wraps up with a two-song tandem that exemplifies everything Kanye West's masterpiece-before-the-masterpiece is about.
Kanye West ends the most introspective pop-hop album to date, 808s & Heartbreak, with the tandem of "Coldest Winter" and the bonus "Pinocchio Story", two tracks that prove a worthy end to the angst and hopelessness the rapper's fourth studio LP is smothered in. It's fitting, really. Instead of offering a last glimmer of hope for the future, West takes the opposite approach with these two songs aimed at putting the final nail in a coffin that holds his happiness.
The call-and-response of such lines as "On lonely nights, I start to fade / Her love's a thousand miles away" sums up the record perfectly: It's a battle—a battle within himself. The initial recital is aimed at the raw emotion the rapper is seemingly beginning to feel, while the follow-up utterance is more reflective—almost as though the man is questioning the thoughts and actions that have plagued his recent memory.
What also adds to the intelligence of the move is the placement of "Clodest Winter" on the album. One listen of the soothing, synth-y verses battling the African drum-laden chorus is completely and utterly indicative of the entire work as a whole. If there was one thing West wanted to convey on 808s, it was the combined notion of confusion and doubt. Those two emotions bleed through "Coldest Winter" more than they do on any other track.
The most poignant moment? The song's chorus of the three-times repeated "Goodbye my friend / Will I ever love again?", followed by the final line of the final (official) track the CD offers, the finely nuanced change from the former to "Goodbye my friend / I won't ever love again". It's an admission of defeat. It's weaving a way through the pain and suffering a string of awful experiences can provide, only to finally reach the journey's end to find no resolution, no proverbial light at the end of a tunnel. It's the purest and most honest form of hip-hop heartbreak.
And that's all followed by a bootleg, no less. "Pinocchio Story" is essentially a reaction to a reaction. It's West looking back at this moment of his life captured on record and adding reflective pain to the actual pain. Thrown on the CD as a bonus track, the live performance from Singapore features a freestyling West rapping about everything from YSL to "what it's like to live a real life". The most interesting facet of this all, though, is that it works. Various forms of the verses have since worked their way into many Kanye West live performances and each time he recites the lines, it ends up being one of the more plaintive moments of each evening. Take, for example, this insertion during his VH1 Storytellers performance:
Let's face it: there aren't many rappers (or artists, for that matter) who can sing the lines "There is no Gucci I can buy / There is no Louis Vutton to put on / The is no YSL that they could sell / To get my heart of out of this hell / And my mind out of this jail" and still be taken seriously. But because of who Kanye West is, and because he's never been one to shy away from opportunities to showcase exactly what he stands for, the move comes across as sincere and emotive rather than corny or flippant.
So in reality, "Pinocchio Story" is a microcosm of everything 808s & Heartbreaks is. Odd, but honest. Artsy, but superficial. Pretentious, but accessible. A victory, but a loss. There would have been no My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy--his 2010 follow-up--if there was no 808s & Heartbreak. The album in and of itself was an act of liberation for the rapper. It was cathartic. And regardless of the seemingly endless pain and obvious tragic circumstances that had to occur for the album to formulate, 808s & Heartbreak is a Kanye West masterpiece. With or without Auto-Tune.