Critics and fans were perplexed by Kanye’s pivot from backpack-raps to auto-tune over Phil Collins-inspired beats. The album was about more than just his heartbreak; it showcased his affinity for experimentation and deviation from expectations around his sound. Previously, Kanye called upon Jon Brion, who has worked with artists like Fiona Apple and Rufus Wainwright, to co-produce Late Registration; it was an odd choice for Ye that eventually proved to be a success. But with 808s, Kanye brought a new level of emotional lyricism to the mainstream. We’d seen rappers play around with these elements before—Biggie’s “Suicidal Thoughts” is a deep look into the mind of the late MC; A Tribe Called Quest experimented with jazz beats on their classic Low End Theory. But Kanye took things to a new level.
Only a year after 808s dropped, then-rising-Toronto rapper Drake released So Far Gone; Noah “40” Shebib sampled Kanye’s "Say You Will” on the standout track "Say What's Real." The tone of that record would come to define Drake’s sound and legacy over the next decade. In many interview, Drake credits Kanye to influencing his music.

808s, in many ways, helped to bridge the gap between hip-hop and R&B at the time. In 2008, bedroom ballads from the likes of Robin Thicke, T-Pain, Chris Brown filled the clubs while hip-hop and R&B collaborations like Usher’s “Love In This Club” featuring Young Jeezy dominated the charts.

After 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye’s sound changed significantly again. His sixth studio album, Yeezus, incorporated more synths, 808s, and melded punk-infused tracks with noise-rap influences. He tapped legendary producer and Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin to help strip down the record’s sound, similar to the minimalistic approach on 808s.

On more recent works like the Sia and Frank Ocean-assisted “Wolves” from The Life of Pablo and his collaborative project, Kids See Ghosts, with Kid Cudi we see Kanye veer farther away from rap and focus on genre-bending albums.