This piece was not written by Marc. It comes from the wonderful mind of Danielle. She’s an avid Kanye fan, the San Antonio Spurs #1 fan and an overall cool ass human being. I asked her to contribute and she graciously obliged. Enjoy.
With a title like 808s & Heartbreak, you might expect this to be a low budget Sci-Fi movie from the 80’s. When I first heard that this would be the title of Kanye West’s fourth album, to say that I was curious would be an understatement. At this point in his rap career, Kanye had already proven his talent and solidified a spot as one of my favorite rappers, so I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. And looking at everything that Kanye was going through in 2008, he deserved at least that.
All of Kanye’s albums have mirrored what he going through at the time of their production. From his struggles to his successes, he’s never been shy about sharing his life through his music. So why should his pain be an exception? Shortly after the release of his third album, Graduation, Kanye’s mother, Donda West, died from complications during a surgery. As someone who is, also, an only child that was raised mostly by a single mother, I mourned for him; it’s a pain that I could not nor do I want to imagine. This tragedy coupled with Kanye’s struggling adjustment to his relatively new fame conceived what is still regarded as one of his lesser albums. But just because something is different, doesn’t necessarily mean its subpar, right?
This is an unconventional rap album, there’s no denying that. Kanye traded his iconic use of samples for more electronic sounds thanks to the heavy use of auto tune and the TR-808 drum machine. These elements would create a mix of pop, disco and R&B that I’m sure most would expect to be fun and colorful. But, as people came to find out, any lighthearted melodies would be covered by mournful lyrics. With songs titled “Welcome To Heartbreak”, “Heartless” and “Paranoid” (the list goes on; it’s a sad album), it’s easy to want to skip over this album. I understand that. Most people wouldn’t want to listen to sad music even when they have something to be sad about. But what Kanye did with 808s was therapeutic. It was a face to cope with loss and other problems he was facing. He was open and vulnerable while doing something creative and innovative with music. It was something new done in a way that only Kanye could do at the time.
Maybe you hated 808s because you fell in love with the Kanye that used speed up soul samples, or maybe you simply couldn’t relate to the lyrics. Even if you have never experienced loss of any kind (which is highly unlikely), what Kanye did with this album was special. It was beautiful and cold; hopeless and emotional. It was an experiment that showed how a hip-hop artist could give rise to a new subgenre that would make it cool for other rappers to show their emotions (I’m looking at you, Drake and Kid Cudi). The next wave of rappers that would emerge in 2009 would be more open to sharing their sensitivity through music. 808s & Heartbreak lit a fuse that continues to burn through the artists it helped shape. This influence is what I like to call “The Kanye Effect” and I will always be grateful for the chance he took with sharing this album with the world.