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The Most Important Album Since the Dawn of the Millennium – A review of Kanye West’s 808’s & Heartbreak

In 2018, Kanye West’s fourth solo album, 808’s & Heartbreak, celebrated its tenth anniversary.  To date, the project remains his most polarizing, culturally significant and enduring offering.

The album was released during a time that the Chicago rapper was at his highest, and lowest points in life.  In 2008, Kanye stood unrivalled atop the rap game.  Still riding a wave of momentum off his commercially successful album, Graduation, and a continent hopping world tour on the books, West appeared unstoppable.

Privately though, Kanye was far from living the ‘Good Life,’ mourning the untimely passing of his mother, Donda, as well as the breakup with then-fiancé, Alexis Phifer.  These events weighed heavily on the rapper’s mind, ultimately leading to a watershed moment in his career and the music industry as a whole.

808’s & Heartbreak set the melancholy tone early on, opening with Say You Will, a stark departure from the production present on his previous work.  Rather than continuing to lean heavily on deftly sampling gospel songs, West readily embraced auto-tune assisted crooning and pounding electronic synth beats.

The backlash was instantaneous.  Kanye’s newfound audacious sound was lambasted by pundits and his peers.  “I don’t think the fans will forgive him for this,” hip-hop artist, 50 Cent, was quoted at the time.

While purists weren’t sold on the album, a starry-eyed upstart from Toronto was feverishly taking notes.  A year later, Drake released his breakthrough mixtape, So Far Gone, freestyling over the aforementioned instrumental and crediting Kanye’s album as the foremost influence on his sound.

He wasn’t alone.  The seed had been planted and a new generation of rappers would find inspiration in 808’s heavy melody-driven and downtrodden harmonising, and the courage to lay bare their fractured hearts for their listeners’ perusal.

The impact of 808’s & Heartbreak is still being felt to this day, as every year, more and more disciples of his album find their way onto the charts.

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