No one expected the follow-up to Kanye West's brilliant third album, Graduation, to sound the way it does: electronic beats, emotional singing, Auto-Tune effects. Kanye's 808s & Heartbreak LP, which celebrates its fifth birthday today, was an experimental diversion from the soul samples, rapping and higher-education-to-real-world motif that characterized his previous works.
Heavily influenced by former G.O.O.D. Music rap-crooner Kid Cudi and producer Jeff Bhasker, Kanye's fourth LP became his most polarizing project up to that time. When Ye's tourmate Kendrick Lamar spoke with VIBE back in March, the Compton lyricist praised the work as a project that inspired him to embrace his own originality.
"808s & Heartbreak could've ruined Kanye," Kendrick said, "but he did it so smooth and different, it just felt right. And that's one of his greatest albums. He wasn't really rapping on it, but that was a chance he took to be ahead of the game."
An album that seemed like an adventurous, cathartic release to cope with the passing of Kanye's mother Donda West and demise of his long-term relationship with his fiancée Alexis Phifer became a game changer that cracked the door for a new generation of artists like Drake and Frank Ocean to bring fresh sounds to the mainstream. .
"That's good for the culture of hip-hop, to know that we have people in the game before us that are willing to explore," K Dot said. "It gives me a little more confidence in what I'm doing when I think back on all the emcees that have done that."
Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak is still a staple in his live show—during his Yeezus Tour, the Chicago MC performs "Coldest Winter" an emotional dedication to Mama West. Did you even imagine the album would leave such a legacy? —John Kennedy