Early in Kanye West’s Storytellers, the eccentric musical mastermind explains that many of the stories behind the songs on 808 & Heartbreak are simply too personal to share—and he apologizes to VH1 for not being more candid. So instead of providing insight into his best-loved songs, West uses the forum to discuss his favorite subject: himself. In an apparent homage to Lauryn Hill’s batshit-crazy installment of Unplugged, West subjects listeners to interminable stream-of-consciousness rants about fame, art, and his career. Ever the iconoclast, an unusually dour West undermines the back-porch, intimate, telling-stories-to-pals vibe of Storytellers ever so slightly by performing in a suit and shades on a bare stage, surrounded by an extravagant light show and a small army of musicians.
West’s performance, which focuses heavily on Heartbreak, seems to violate the entire spirit of Storytellers. He’s one of music’s great shit-talkers, but the rambling semi-stories here are disappointingly dull. Performances of tracks like “Robocop” and “Amazing” sound tight, accomplished, and polished to a blinding sheen, at least before West goes off on a tangent or painful freestyle. Storytellers should be the perfect showcase for a colorful character and brilliant storyteller like West, so why does this feel like such a mismatch? Even diehard fans will likely have a prohibitively hard time listening to this footnote of a CD/DVD more than once.