Five Favorite Albums of the Decade: 808s & Heartbreak [#5]

His name is Kanye West and he is an egomaniac.

Yet I always found his conceited and self-centered attitude unusually appealing (it's almost a guilty pleasure). What makes his arrogance different from other musicians is that he has a pretty good reason to be a jackass. Throughout his superstar career, three out of his four studio albums have debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and six of his singles have reached the top 10 of the Hot 100...but that's just his solo career. West is also one of the most deft producers in the industry whose efforts include Jay-Z's huge breakout hit "Izzo" and most of his songs since in addition to producing some songs for Lil Wayne's gargantuan Tha Carter III album. Kanye has also been a driving force in scouting out new and promising talent such as Lupe Fiasco and Kid Cudi.

Kanye West is a household name today, but all of that success had its issues and it all culminated into my favorite of his four albums: 808s & Heartbreak. Arguably more artistic than his hit debut The College Dropout, the album was a result of many personal issues in his life: his fiancee breaking up with him, his mother (who raised Kanye on her own) passing away due to a plastic surgery complication, and a fully-loaded assault on his life by the media. The story itself was actually quite ironic: Kanye West started from nothing and wanted everything and, through years of struggle and ambition, got it but ultimately he was unhappy. This apathy proved a strong muse for his most adventurous and daring album yet.

"Love Lockdown" first premiered at the MTV Video Music Awards in front of millions of people and the scariest part of it all was the fact that the song wasn't even the final version. West jumped on stage and shocked the world by singing his heart out, and that absolute lack of fear of what the public thought was a strong presence felt frequently throughout 808s & Heartbreak. From the unabashed pop tendencies of  "Paranoid", to the beautiful "Street Lights" and the ferocious "Amazing", the album had many high notes (pun intended).

The album was also unique in the fact that not only did most songs find West singing (not a first, but it is a notable change) with or without Auto-Tune, but also the innovative use of the 808 synthesizer drum that added a whole new dimension to his music. It was most prominently used on the aforementioned "Love Lockdown" and that song proved to be the core soul of the album: stylish yet familiar, morose yet catchy, and truly unpredictable.

808s & Heartbreak wasn't a perfect album with its biggest faults being the uninspired "Bad News" and the astonishing mindlessness of "Pinocchio Story". However, it was recklessly and emotionally ambitious and it grew on me over time. For an album that tried to encompass all of an international superstar's issues with fame, I can easily say that the end result is much greater than the sum of its parts.


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