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.
Ask people my age about Voyager and I think most would say they've at least heard of it. Maybe they'd even remember it was a set of twin satellites that took photos of the gas giants? They might even bring up the Golden Record. Maybe I'm giving people too much credit? But after watching The Farthest - Voyager in Space I need to ask:
Do people forget how awesome Voyager was?
I know I do. Both Voyager satellites launched 10 years before I was born. Voyager 2's final image of Neptune beamed back to Earth when I was 18 months old. I've always had the luxury of comprehending the enormity of Jupiter's Great Red Spot, or seeing the shadow of Saturn on its magnificent rings. I've been blessed with data.
These enormous giants were once immeasurably distant specs of light moving among the stars. They captivated our imaginations, serving as the pillars of early religion and inspiring the names of all seven days - names we still use today.*
Voyager happened at the right time. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory calculated a rare alignment of the planets favorable for a fly-by mission. How rare was it? The last time an alignment was this ideal, Thomas Jefferson was our nation's president.
With an audacious plan, NASA built two small bus-sized satellites designed to take photographs and collect data of the gas giants. Each encounter would last several weeks, followed by a slingshot to the next alien world using gravitational assist, eventually slipping beyond our solar system at a speed of 10 miles per second.
Voyager 2 launched first. As it approached its initial target, the images poured in. Early on, it was a small dot on a screen. Faster and faster, the details emerged - swirling stripes and tumultuous storms. Finally, we arrived at the king of planets. Our Roman god.
Voyager 1 left Earth a few months later. Using a shorter, faster trajectory, it zipped past Voyager 2 to study one of Saturn's moons. Titan. The reason being Titan's surface was believed to be similar to that of an early Earth's and we could learn a lot about ourselves from this distant moon. Despite the scientific intent of studying Titan, what we remember most was experiencing the grandeur of Saturn's rings up close for the first time in human history. Cosmic dust dancing endlessly in orbit and we had courtside seats.
Brevity is impossible when describing the scientific significance of this mission. Writing the details would take weeks and who the hell wants to read that. After all, this isn't a scientific article. It's a love letter to Voyager.
I'll leave this blog with one final thought.
At the end of Voyager 1's orbit around Titan, the illustrious Carl Sagan asked the satellite for one last job before taking off for interstellar space. Turn around and take a picture of Earth. An asinine request in nature because, at 4 billion miles away, Earth is just a small spec of light. But you don't tell Carl Sagan no. The command was sent and the photo was snapped.
What came back served zero scientific purpose. But rather a poetic reminder of how far we've come, yet how far we still have to go.
On a day like today, where the news is all too familiar, it's a reminder of Voyager's most significant legacy.
That's us. One single pixel. A pale blue dot suspended in a sunbeam.
I write the words I'm too uncomfortable to say.