808s & Heartbreak is the prelude to what hip-hop music would become in the late 2000s into the 2010s. Kanye West created the album out of sorrow and sadness of his failed relationships and the passing of his mother Donda West. These factors drove a young Kanye to branch out and break the norms he had previously set within his previous albums. 808s & Heartbreak is a pop album through and through, however, it is forged by one of the most prominent rappers of all time. By combining his multifarious knowledge of writing and producing along with an inner desire and passion to express himself, Kanye West changed the face of hip-hop forever with 808s & Heartbreak.
Before 808s & Heartbreak there had been emotional albums and songs from the hip-hop genre, however, none of them could surmount the narrative that Kanye West culminated in 2008. Before 808s & Heartbreak, rappers such as 2Pac, Eminem, and Geto Boys were at the forefront when it came to emotional rap until the end of 2008. Kanye West set out to express himself and his feelings on the album and that is exactly what 808s & Heartbreak is. By switching his singing with auto-tune, Kanye set the guidelines for the future of hip-hop. Kanye West would even seek out T-Pain for advice on the program. Since Kanye West took this simple yet polished approach to auto-tune, his influence has remained fully intact over the years.
Kanye West decided that in addition to capitalizing on the capabilities of auto-tune, he would also prominently feature the Roland TR-808 drum machine that is referenced in the title of the album. By combining auto-tune and Roland TR-808 drum machine, Kanye West gave his fourth outing a chance to be one of the most sui generis albums in his entire career. Not only would this album be a talking point amongst fans and critics, but it also gave hip-hop a new sound to explore. There is a reason why so many artists in the musician industry have cited Kanye West as a major influence on their sound, style, and career since he first released The College Dropout in 2004. Kanye West isn’t afraid to take chances when it comes to his art and image. While he’s notoriously known for his interruption of Taylor Swift, sporadic rants, and odd views in regards to politics they never once have jeopardized his career in art, music, and fashion. Kanye West knows that his idiosyncratic choices in regards to his behavior and career will be rewarded with attention and profit. However, 808s and Heartbreaks wasn’t about the attention or the profit. 808s and Heartbreaks was about expression through his dark times leading up to its release.
While he was definitely a rising star at this point in his career, he wasn’t always jubilant. Shortly after Graduation was released in 2007, his mother and muse passed away from coronary artery disease following plastic surgery. Donda West was not only Kanye’s mother but also his biggest supporter. Kanye West appointed her as his first manager once he became serious about pursuing a career in the music industry. Donda West not only gave the world Kanye West, but she also gave Kanye the opportunity to achieve success. With Donda West playing such a crucial and supportive role in Kanye’s life, her passing was devastating. After this damaging and unfortunate loss, Kanye West would suffer again just five months later when his engagement was called off with Alexis Phifer. Losing the two most important women in his life at that time had a profound effect on Kanye West moving forward. After loss and heartbreak, Kanye had more than enough reason to create 808s & Heartbreaks.
As Kanye West was on track to be the mega-celebrity that he is today, he quickly realized that it wasn’t entirely what he thought it would be. In order to achieve his success, Kanye West would inevitably have to lose those that meant the most to him. As Kanye’s career was about to spike with the release of songs such as “Love Lockdown”, “Heartless”, and “Amazing” he had lost all that he cared for. From 2007 until the release of 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West’s life was seemingly ruined. Everything Kanye West knew and loved was wiped out from existence within four years of starting his music career. Kanye West did what any capable musician would do and channeled his loss to create an album that can resonate with everyone. Everyone in life will suffer loss until eventually suffering one’s own, however, it is what we do with this heartbreak that conveys humanity unlike anything else. Whether it’s changing one’s ways, honoring promises of those who were lost, or making a piece of art we all have a way to cope through the sorrow and sadness. Heartbreak is a guarantee in life, but for Kanye West, he used the loss of the two women he loved the most to escalate his career and become one of the biggest names in the world.
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