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Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak (Throwback Album Review)

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

To continue through Kanye's discography we come onto the 4th and the most influential album ever potentially '808s & Heartbreak'. This album was released in the wake of Kanye West losing his mother as well as his relationship breaking down with Alexis Phifer, which ultimately shaped the album to become what it became. This album is one of the most influential albums in modern day music mainly due to the auto tuned vocals as well as the 808 drums that are so prevalent among hip hop today. It ultimately birthed a new style of rap called trap, who also used other production elements from this album such as the heavy use of electronic synths. Kanye's new and experimental production still sounds as good as ever and his willingness to try something new can only be admired. As for the autotune, well this delivery aged well listening to it nowadays, and through this autotune Kanye's emotions seep through in melodic and more pop-based tones. The subject matter won't be very surprising if you read the title - Kanye focuses on love, heartbreak, loneliness and there's even a reoccurring theme of the negative side of fame and Kanye's career. Despite the highs, it's arguably Kanye's worst song writing or at least at this point in his career. Lyrically it's basic, but it also makes it seem very human and his simplicity makes him more relatable - yet compared to his previous projects it's the most underwritten. Kanye reduces his features on this album because it's more personal, but the features that are selected fit the atmosphere and mentality very well whether it be a hook or a verse.

The production on the opening track 'Say You Will' is simple but good. It creates the noise of a heartbeat which is fitting and we get our first look at the 808 drums. The song has four verses which are all two lines each as Ye focuses on an ex you call for a quick hook up - but they don't turn up. At times Kanye is a bit bland and the short verses aren't very impactful. The hook is alright but that's about it - I don't get why we get the long outro either? The following track 'Welcome To Heartbreak' uses drums, violins and pianos to create and eerie and desperate theme - which are key themes during this album. Ye talks on how alienated from normal life he is due to fame which is best shown during the third verse, "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 'fore they even cut the cake". Kid Cudi's addition is perfect due to his great vocals creating such a catchy hook. The most famous song of this album 'Heartless' is famous for a reason - it's great. The hook is so catchy firstly, then Kanye's verses speak on a woman being heartless towards him. He spits these verses with a hint of anger helped by the hard and aggressive piano. It's a pop track gone right that just gets stuck in your head. 'Amazing' has a catchy melody due to the drum and piano pattern in the beat as Kanye talks about how amazing he is despite what the media paint him as. A rare feature is on this album in the form of Jeezy, who does a good job but nothing too crazy. It's another key highlight of the album

'Love Lockdown' is a low point of the album mainly due to the beat. It's pretty basic on this one and the drum pattern is something we've heard on previous tracks - the bass on this is pretty great though. The beat does however amplify during the hook which makes it sound great and the outro too production wise goes ham. Ye talks about a girl not giving off the right signals and not showing enough love - but he does this with a repetitive flow that means the song gets kind of stale by the middle of the third verse. Things pick back up with the next track 'Paranoid'. Mr. Hudson & Kid Cudi give us guest vocals which are superb and fit the vibe brilliantly sinking into the beat. Speaking of the beat, it's literal synth porn, it's immaculate as Ye speaks on a relationship and the frustrations within it. The song keeps to the narrative and once again is very catchy.

'RoboCop' has a simple ultimatum - you change or I leave. Despite this, the grand orchestral beat puts you in a great mood and in spite of the track sounding Disney-esque, I can't help but love it and Kanye's vocals are really good on this one. 'Street Lights' is also a solid track, with a deep message. The streetlights are a metaphor for how fast paced life is for Kanye and how he has to deal with it. It's extremely repetitive, but there's good reason for that as he's showing the repetitiveness of life - a pretty relatable topic. The beat also is repetitive itself and emits emotion. On 'Bad News', the 808s and claps are at their absolute peak and this instrumental is great. The song like most is basic, but that's an issue here because the song speaks about how Ye finds out his girl is cheating on him. It's an easy listen, but for such a grating topic it's too basic and doesn't promote much sympathy. Kanye starts to take a grip on things on the track 'See You in My Nightmares' stating he doesn't love his ex anymore - and he fully says it with his chest. His hook is menacing, the beat is inspiring and Kanye's parts hit hard. However, it features Lil Wayne who once again on a Kanye project has a poor feature. His voice is annoying, and it seems like the anger in his voice is forced. His lyrics are questionable too, like what was this line, "You think your shit don't stank but you are Mrs. P-U". Ye was alright but Wayne was a let down.

Kanye's verses are a bit bland on 'Coldest Winter' but everything else is spot on. The foreshadowing drums and the sorrowful synths that wail during that emotionally charged, catchy hook creates such an emotional atmosphere and I definitely won't be skipping this one on the track list. The finale to this album is probably the most emotional but arguably the worst titled 'Pinocchio Story'. Kanye talks on being a 'real boy' which is a metaphor for wanting a real life away from the fame. He also blames himself for his mothers death at some point during song which is heartbreaking. The song is live, which reduces the replay value and the crowds addition are ear piercing at times ruining this song. It does show raw emotion and has hard hitting lines such as "I turn on the TV, and see me, and see nothing". However, it's my least favourite on the project.

To conclude, Kanye experimented on this album and it paid off. As well as rap, Kanye showed us signs of other genres such as neo-soul, pop, synth pop and all sorts which really showed his artistic abilities. At this stage of his career, it's his weakest project but by no means bad and still has some highlight songs of his career - not to mention it inspired a whole wave of rappers.

FAVOURITE TRACKS: Heartless, Amazing, Love Lockdown, Paranoid, RoboCop, Street Lights, See You in My Nightmares



*REVISED SCORE: Review may not match favourite tracks and overall rating because I've since re-listened and changed my score.*

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