Then came 2008…
The subject matter was paired with a very specific aesthetic: all of the songs are sung, not rapped, drenched in autotune, accompanied by a retro Roland 808 drum machine. The resulting record is basically a concept album—and one that a lot of Kanye’s previous fans hated.
The autotune in particular was a sticking point for people. Why sing an entire album if you can’t sing? But naysayers missed that the effect’s use was entirely aesthetic. Such heartwrenching tunes sung in a robotic vibrato creates a powerful aural irony that makes these songs more affecting, not less. Anyone who wrote the album off also missed Kanye’s incredible sense of melody. The tunes he writes here are engaging and catchy.
By all accounts, this album should not have worked. But its limited sonic palette and narrow subject matter ended up creating a laser focused album that succeeds because of its singular vision.
And if this album set the stage for a Kanye that was completely unconcerned with satisfying cultural expectations for his output, all the better.