A few weeks before the release of 808s & Heartbreak, the world watched the premiere of “Love Lockdown” live at the 2008 VMAs. The Fader called the song a “clear departure from his entire catalog,” an accurate description for the project that marked a creative shift in Kanye’s career.
ABOUT THE ALBUM
Different from his previous soul-sample heavy albums, 808s only features three unique samples, according to Central Sauce. In lieu of the of his sampling technique, Kanye used the Roland TR-808 to evoke the electro-pop sound of “heartbreak.” Kanye had dabbled in auto-tune before but 808s was different. He previously used auto-tune in background vocals io “Never Let Me Down” and “Jesus Walks” on The College Dropout. On Graduation, Kanye collaborated with T-Pain on “Good Life,” an auto-tune heavy track and later called on T-Pain to help him perfect the use of the technology.
Kanye also played with the technique on singles and features before the album like Jeezy’s “Put On” and the posse cut “Swagga Like Us.”
The album proved to be polarizing among fans and critics. Spin Magazine Kanye’s new style saying “the musical structure overshadows his attempts at introspection.” On 808s, he rapped mainly of his failed relationship and touches on the emptiness of fame and luxury. It’s not until the album’s two closing tracks, “"Pinocchio Story” and “Coldest Winter” that Kanye touches on the death of his mother.
Although his fourth studio album was met with aggressive reviews and received a lack of Grammy nominations in comparison to his previous projects, it eventually became a multi-Platinum success and influenced a myriad of rap-singing, warbling rappers, and singers.
Some of today's biggest hip-hop stars have incorporated elements of rap-singing to their catalog which can be seen as directly influenced by 808s. Months after the album’s release, Drake told MTV News he’d “even go as far as to say [Kanye’s] the most influential person as far as a musician that I'd ever had in my life.” In the post-808s era the world saw the rise of Kid Cudi, who worked on tracks "Heartless," "Welcome to Heartbreak," "Paranoid," and "RoboCop" and later signed to Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music.
Just like The College Dropout made soul-samples and backpack rapping cool, 808s & Heartbreak popularized heavily distorted, emotional storytelling.