808s and Heartbreak, alternative R&B and the birth of emotional rappers

When you think of an emotional rapper, Drake instantly comes to mind. We’ve all seen the memes. “Drake the type of nigga to wear two condoms and still pay child support”. Many regard him as the man who birthed emotional rap, but they are mistaken.

Kanye’s 808s and Heartbreak album was released on November 24th 2008 and received some harsh criticism from the mainstream audience. Why? Because they simply were not expecting the sound they received. I remember purchasing the album as a bright eyed 15 year old and I was caught completely off guard, but after a couple of listens it became the soundtrack to almost every car journey I went on with my mum. Kanye’s previous albums, Graduation and Late Registration, stuck to a more generic, familiar hip hop sound. 808s and Heartbreak, with its electro sounds, 80’s synths and auto tune signalled the beginning of a new era of hip hop. Yes we’d heard auto tune before (fuck off T-Pain), but never had we heard it so carefully constructed into songs with such raw emotion.

The source of all this emotion came from the passing of Kanye’s mother and his split from his long term fiancée. As depressing as these events are, it was refreshing to see a rapper wear his heart on his sleeve and show some real emotion as opposed to going on about how much money and bitches they have. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love straight up gangster rap as much as the next dude, but sometimes it’s nice to dive into an album that is a bit more relatable.

Critics loved 808s and Heartbreak, but as I mentioned earlier the mainstream audience did not approve of this new Kanye. The album was so ahead of its time. Venture into the rap and hip hop genres now and you will find many artists implementing electro pop elements into their tracks. Not only did this album shape these genres, it also created a genre of alternative R&B. Just look at the artists that dominate the R&B genre nowadays. The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Blood Orange. Artists are now experimenting with new sounds and samples, creating darker, edgier tracks that shy away from the mainstream, and now in a world that encourages people to be different rather than stick to the latest trend, we as an audience are loving it.

Kanye’s latest album, Yeezus, received similar criticism to 808s, however I can’t help but feel that in a few years’ time we’ll look back at it and notice how the new emerging artists of the future are developing a similar sound. It may be too far out for audiences’ ears now, but give it time.

Kanye united the genres of hip hop and R&B closer than anyone else could have imagined.  If you listened to the album 7 years ago and did not like what you heard I invite you to re-listen to it now, I don’t doubt at all that you will be pleasantly surprised.  Whatever your attitude is towards the man himself it is impossible to deny the genius and progression that he has injected into a genre that has seen so much of the same shit time and time again.  Praise Yeezus.


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