On November 24, 2008, Kanye West shook the rap game with “808s & Heartbreak”, a depressing ballad sang with auto-tune, that did not meet any standard of the time. Receiving skeptical critics on its release, the album has nevertheless considerably shaped the current music we hear today.
Before the barriers between rap, R’n’B and pop evaporate in a cloud of auto-tune, there was a time, not so distant, where rappers were almost never singing. And then came Kanye West.
In 2008, the former Jay-Z protégé triumphed out of his distance duel with 50 Cent thanks to the success of Graduation, the last chapter of his student trilogy. A battle for the title, allowing him to become the new icon of American rap. Soon after, he tragically lost his mother and separated from his fiancée. He then locked himself in the studio during one month to heal, and carried out his introspection through music. “I emptied my soul, it was therapeutic,” Kanye told the Guardian at the time.
Out of this introspection was born a homogeneous album, born of the meeting between TR-808, the emblematic drum machine of the Eighties, and a broken heart. 808s & Heartbreak.
A catharsis album where the rapper does not rap … on any piece. Instead, he sings on all 11 tracks to describe his spleen, tell his sadness and portray his loneliness.
“In the rap industry, few artists really evolve: their songs on their seventh album sound like those on their eighth. Beyond an artist, I am a real person, and real people grow up. I just wanted to sing my evolution, “explained the Chicago superstar at the time.
At The time, the singer had collaborated with Kid Cudi, who was then making his debut in the industry. “Kid Cudi participated a lot in this record. I recognized similarities with other Cudi works I worked on, like Man on the Moon, “Larry Gold recalls. This cellist and composer is a regular contributor to Ye, for whom he oversees the arrangement of stringed instruments from his Philadelphia studio.
He is one of his musicians who thought about giving 808s this electro-pop sound so special, both cold, mechanical and foggy. Tablecloths of synths that come crashing on distorted batteries to produce an effect taken straight out of the 1980s.
Afterwards, it was clear that Yeezy’s fourth album considerably influenced the rap game, and by extension, pop culture. Mainly by democratizing auto-tune, which already existed, thanks to artists like T-Pain, but remained limited to specific uses. An expression of artistic genius for some, an easy option for others, this software is fully part of the rap game today. Above all, Kanye proved to the public that hip-hop stars did not have to be only alphas males, and had the right to expose their cracks. And by popularizing this “emo” rapping style, he has allowed a whole new generation, from Drake to The Weeknd, and from Young Thug to Future, to express themselves.
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