In the expansive career that Kanye West has had over the 20 plus years in the music industry, he has covered nearly every feat possible. From Chicago to the hills of Hollywood, from Paris to Tokyo, it is fairly hard to encounter someone in the mainstream audience that has never heard of Yeezus. The 2008 record, 808s & Heartbreak, however, was a turning point in the artist’s career that almost immediately shifted all eyes on West.
Known for its crisp production and approachability, 808s & Heartbreak quickly taps into the broken and non-mendable crush of defeat in love life. But also manages to filter in a silver lining where despair creates exhilarating art. A step away from his 2007 release, Graduation which quickly rose to charts with an accompaniment of hits and singles that are still in rotation even 12 years later. 808s & Heartbreak follows a similar vein of being replayable, but ultimately the sound is so versatile that it feels as if it could have been created by an entirely different artist. The two records as a comparison sound and feel like night and day. The sunny work of Graduation that floats high above the clouds in this burning ray of sunshine, and 808s which works to become the shadowed and distant under the security of nightfall.
With the second track “Say You Will,” West is quick to illustrate the differences between him and the people that surround him. He describes even his friends and family that alienate the life of a performer and the social normality’s that come with the day-to-day lifestyle. West begins, “My friend showed me pictures of his kids, and all I could show him was pictures of my cribs. He said his daughter got a brand new report card, and all I got was a brand new sports car.” West then moves on into the third verse where he describes a wedding scene and how heartbreak truly begins, “my god-sister getting married by the lake, but I couldn’t figure out who I’d wanna take. Bad enough that I showed up late, I had to leave before they even cut the cake.” As he then draws the curtain on the track with a simple, but effective and chilling saying, “Welcome to heartbreak” while the chorus which features Kid Cudi overlays the last moments.
There is hope on 808s & Heartbreak however as even though the stories described on the record are wounded and account for loss, the music can be uplifting and truthfully create movement. On “Paranoid” which features Mr Hudson, West describes annoyance in a past relationship, but in his charismatic and comedic tone. “You be up in mine checkin’ through my cell phone, baby no. You wanna kill the vibe on another night, here’s another fight, oh here we go,” describes West through an almost audible smile. He somehow molds heartbreak into something more approachable and relatable, from the constant fights on the synth work that creates a light show for “Paranoid” and moves him to the spotlights of pop music.
Even though the record as a whole picture tackles the topic of failure within relationships, West manages this genius mentality in making the record a productive journey. From the blaring instrumentals that were far left of what West was doing at the time, making a staple for his career that continues to adapt and decode musical progress. In one of the strongest displays on a record, 808s & Heartbreak kills the production and makes no apology.