Since everyone’s pissed at Yeezy again, this seemed like the perfect week to write about how fucking great 808s & Heartbreak is (Kanye’s a dick, yeah yeah yeah. Did you hear that Mark Kozelek is also not a nice man? Shocking, I know). It’s hard for me to quantify just how much this album changed for me the music I listen to and the way I approach hearing something for the first time. Pre-808s I didn’t listen to a ton of rap, r&b, hip-hop, & popular music in general (mostly because I was dumb as hell and hadn’t entirely shaken my 14-year-old’s mindset with regard to that sort of thing. Sad.)
Anyway, 808s & Heartbreak still sounds fresh as hell even with a hundred auto-tune hip-hop records released in its aftermath. But none of those albums – Future, Drake, etc – they don’t exist without 808s being what it is (as my friend Jack said to me the other day – how many era shifts in rap can be marked by Kanye at this point?). At the time this came out, it was not just a weird ass record, it was the last thing anyone expected from Kanye. When I first heard it, it was the last thing I expected to hear from anyone. The dichotomy of the sad robot vocals and utter, tear-your-guts-out-heart-on-your-sleeve emotions laced all over destroyed me. The whole thing feels like it came from an alien world where early 00s pop music was synthesized via whatever bizarre, fucked-up technology they had handy. Don’t tell me how Kanye can’t sing (he’s a better singer than people give him credit for actually), either, because on so many of these tunes his voice is just another instrument in the mix. Musically, Kanye is fearless. I can barely deal.
808s & Heartbreak was pivotal for me in that it proved just how great and forward-thinking popular music could be in the right hands, and that by ignoring such a large swath of tunes I was doing myself a huge disservice. Even now I listen to this record at least two or three times a week. It never gets old.