Do you remember when 808s & Heartbreak was first announced? It was mayhem. Kanye wasn't going to rap? He was going to sing entirely in Auto-Tune? Couldn't be true.
On Nov. 24, 2008, Kanye dropped his fourth studio album and people lost their goddamn minds. This was the beginning of the late aughts - the Auto-Tune ages as historians will declare it. Megastars of the decade like T-Pain, The Black Eyed Peas, and Lil Wayne egregiously abused the audio processor. Now Ye was using it? He was better than that.
Kanye's original teddy bear trilogy was a near-perfect epic of his rise from a Chicago kid to THE biggest superstar on the planet. His lyrics were playful and his beats energetic. Kanye's charisma was magnetic and we loved everything he gave us. Maybe because people saw themselves in him, or found hope in his story, or used his music to escape their realities. Whatever we saw in Kanye totally changed when he dropped 808s & Heartbreak.
I don't think people knew how to respond to 808s & Heartbreak at first. The Auto-Tune balanced well with Ye's new, unorthodox beats, but still totally alien compared to his original trilogy. What was even more shocking was how Kanye, arrogance was the steam to power my dreams West, poured out his vulnerabilities in front of us. He never did that before. Just read this verse from "Welcome to Heartbreak."
"Chased the good life my whole life long
Look back on my life and my life gone
Where did I go wrong?"
The album is incredibly human. It's about suffering, loss, and rejection - emotions common throughout our existence but unbearably difficult to articulate. We never thought about relating to Kanye on this level before, but here we suddenly were, confronting our own traumas with Ye. Relating our stories to the ones found in music creates a deeply personal connection with an album, but it takes time. And that's what this album needed.
Ten years later, 808s & Heartbreak is regarded as one of the best albums of the aughts. Now that the Auto-Tune deluge of the era has faded, Kanye's use of it doesn't feel as cheap as it once did. His audacity to experiment with introspective lyrics helped influence monumental hip hop albums from Drake, Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, and Frank Ocean.
808s & Heartbreak's role in shaping the current generation of hip hop stars is undoubtedly huge, but its most significant contribution to pop culture will be its successor. The creative risk Ye took allowed him the confidence to create My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy two years later. Not only is it regarded as Kanye's best project, but it's one of the greatest albums of all time. Without question. Every single person should own that album.
Kanye is a difficult subject to write about. His recent comments on Twitter have been incredibly disappointing at times. I understand why people have stopped listening to his music and I don't blame them. Even without the comments, his recent work has dropped in quality and he's indefinitely delayed the release of his latest project, Yandhi. Something's up and I don't know what it is. Whatever Kanye is battling, I hope he finds the peace he deserves. He's given us a lot, and the least we can do as fans is try and understand Kanye's journey as both an artist and a man isn't linear.
I write the words I'm too uncomfortable to say.