This week we are starting a new weekly feature to appear on the blog every Monday. Music and memories are synonymous. Looking back, songs and albums often mark different points in our lives, and everyone has those few that really stick out. Every Monday, a TTM writer will write a piece on an album that they connect strongly with their younger years, their memories with the album, and what it means to them. This week, I am going to start off by talking about one of my favorite albums, Kanye West’s groundbreaking “808s & Heartbreak.”
I want to preface this with some background to my introduction to Kanye West, and where 808s came into play. In 2008 (the year 808s was released) I was in 6th grade. It had been a couple years since my music taste had shifted from Classic Rock and Green Day to more Urban music. During the majority of elementary school I had dial-up internet, and my only way of listening to and discovering music was through the radio, the small amounts of time I was able to use YouTube at my school, and what I could find promoted on and in the charts on iTunes, taking an hour or more to download one track while making sure no one in the house needed to use the phone. I’m sure some remember this struggle. There’s a list of tracks that still stick out to me from that era, one’s that I still vividly remember listening to for the first time and being obsessed with. One that stands out near the top was Kanye West’s “Stronger.” Though I may have heard Ye earlier, that was the one that I strongly remember being as the first Kanye track that really took hold of me. I was obsessed with everything about the song, I thought I had never heard something that sounded as good. It fucking blew my 5th grade mind. I remember discovering Ye’s UniverseCity website, begging my parents to let me go to the Glow In The Dark tour (did not happen,) watching the “Good Morning” video I had purchased on iTunes over and over again, and thinking the Graduation cover was the coolest thing I had ever seen, but at the time I think a mixture of both being too young to think about buying an album, and having parents who were not with me listening to anything explicit as a kid, meant I never fully listened to Graduation at that point.
Instead, 808s & Heartbreak was the first time I got to really experience a Kanye West album and all that comes with it. I remember checking iTunes one day and seeing a new song from Kanye West titled “Love Lockdown.” I remember listening to it for the first time…just like “Stronger”, I was blown away, except this style was completely different. Again, like nothing I had ever heard before. But the catchiest shit ever. I listened the shit out of that song for a while until another new single appeared on iTunes, “Heartless,” which somehow was even catchier than Love Lockdown, and just as interesting. I would be interested to see my playcount on those two songs before 808s came out. In my first purchase of an album on iTunes, I pre-ordered 808s & Heartbreak as soon as I saw it available. The fact that none of the songs on the album were explicit meant that there were finally no problems with my parents in that regard. It was like a blessing, almost everything I wanted to listen to at the time was marked as explicit, and now my new favorite artist was releasing an album containing no songs with the dreaded red explicit box next to the song titles. The day it came out was soon after much begging I had finally gotten an iPod (shouts out iPod Nano’s, those were poppin in Elementary school,) which allowed me a much easier way to listen to my own music when I wanted. I threw it on my iPod and laying in bed at night listened through the album for the first time.
I remember finishing the album, and just laying there thinking how incredible what I just heard was. I fucking loved every single song from “Say You Will”, which sucked me into the 808s world right off the bat, to the video included of “Pinnochio’s Freestyle” to cap it off. I was really too young to resonate with many of the themes of the album lyrically, but somehow the music was still the perfect companion. Much of the lyrics were so simple and so much of the album was based on a vibe and feeling rather than, and in some cases more than the lyrics, that in some way I was able to feel deeply connected with the project without having experienced the sadness and heartbreak that inspired it. It made me just feel something, and I felt connected to the music in a way I hadn’t before. I listened to it every night for I don’t even know how many nights. It never got old. It didn’t take long before the catchy lyrics were all stored in my head. I even had downloaded the trial version of Antares Autotune and would record my best renditions of the songs over terrible instrumentals I found on iTunes from some dude named “Cover Guru,” who looking back is probably some random dude in China who made absolute bank ripping off kids like me.
Through the years, the album stuck with me. No matter where I was at in life it seemed it always had a purpose, and I connected to it in different ways at different times. Looking back, I think a lot of this has to do with it being an album that is overall just very representative of basic human feeling and emotion. It’s an album to lie down and think about life to, either partially tuning out the exact lyrics to let your mind wander, feeding off the sonic realm, or focusing on the lyrics and their energy, creating your own meaning out of them. It’s the fact that there’s passion behind every word, and that the lyrics are so raw. It’s the fact that half of the opener, “Say You Will” is hypnotic instrumental that allows the listener to be immersed in the sound and let their mind wander. It’s the fact that someone with seemingly superhuman confidence and massive success is letting the inner workings of their mind out to the world, and that the basic feelings hit upon are the same ones we all feel. As I see it, the album is a timeless classic, and I think it has the possibility to be appreciated even more further in the future. I’m extremely glad it turned out to be one of the first full albums I ever listened too.