Each week, Sunday School takes a second look at a classic album worth revisiting years after its release. EMMIE staff handpick releases that shaped a genre, defined a generation or deserve recognition despite being left in the distance. Keep up with Sunday School for your weekly dose of dusted-off classics and throwbacks that merit a second spin.
808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West
Release Date: November 24, 2008
Good For: A breakup, a good cry, losing a loved one, when you’re feeling lonely
Standout Tracks: “Love Lockdown,” “Heartless,” “Amazing”
Even 10 years after its release, Kanye West’s fourth studio album 808s & Heartbreak remains his most atypical work. His work prior to 808s might be described as borderline arrogant rap music expounding Kanye’s triumphs. However, 808s & Heartbreak is different; presented is a more broken, vulnerable Kanye charging into an electronic-pop space which he’d never explored before.
When writing 808s, Kanye was in a dark place. He was dealing with a breakup and the tragic, unexpected loss of his mother. Kanye’s pain is expressed in his music. There are no raunchy rap verses or allusions to how many women he has been with, just a heartbroken man. On tracks like “Coldest Winter” and “Pinocchio Story” it is evident that Kanye was not in a good place at this point in his life. The loss of his mother makes him truly reflective on his life, which is demonstrated through his powerful, dark lyrics.
The album opens with “Say You Will,” which was highly controversial upon release for its use of auto-tune, as was the entire album. Pop singers are often ridiculed for using auto-tune. Kanye’s position as a rapper and one not known for a flawless voice means that his use of auto-tune helps complete the album and makes it more authentic. There’s no pretense here; the auto-tune isn’t a crutch as it is for some singers.
Kanye also shifts away, here, from his previously materialistic views. On “Paranoid” Kanye preaches about the importance of relationships and bonds rather than of things and social status. The song features the iconic lines “you worry ‘bout the wrong things, the wrong things” and “you really wanna spend your whole life alone?” It is clear from these lyrics how much Kanye had grown as a musician, as well as a person, when 808s dropped.
808s & Heartbreak proves that Kanye West is so much more than a rapper; he is a true artist. While his first three albums were ideal for a pregame, 808s shows his incredible talent and the despair in his life. 808s & Heartbreak is brilliant in the way it turns such a dark time in West’s life to some of his most profound, influential songs. Ten years after its release, the lyrics still speak a lot of truth and are still relatable. Whether you love or hate Kanye, it is undeniable that through his versatility and emotion he is one of the most influential rappers of our generation.