808s & heartbreak was a jarring departure from Kanye West’s previous work, and, although its initial reception was mixed at best, it has proven to be the most influential album of his career both as a performer and a producer.
Written and recorded in haste on the heels of his mother’s death and a breakup with his fiancée, 808s features chilly synth textures, brittle drum machines, and West’s blatantly auto-tuned singing throughout. With the help of T-Pain, who, ironically, had come to be mocked for his extensive use of auto-tune, the album made the pitch-correction technology relevant again.
Another unexpected source of inspiration was found in Phil Collins—both in terms of his vocal style and the gated reverb drum sound that he invented in the 1980s. Trapping and snuffing out overtones with a signal processor, the noise gate made the programmed beats of the iconic Roland TR-808 drum machine sound both vivid and lifeless.
The album’s distinctive sound has since filtered into contemporary hip hop and R&B, and the only thing more influential than its sound is its tone: bitter, confused, self-pitying, defensive, and accusatory. 808s & heartbreak made sullen solitude fashionable, with many a male R&B star now presenting himself as a misunderstood antihero, reenacting the public breakdown that West staged without a net.
This according to “The coldest story ever told: The influence of Kanye West’s 808s & heartbreak” by Jayson Greene (Pitchfork 22 September 2015).
Today is West’s 40th birthday! Above, performing Love lockdown, the album’s lead single; below, the full album.
HipHop Academy Hamburg’s rappers, dancers, and beatboxers use hip hop as a platform of integration, shaping feelings of belonging and perceptions of dual identities.
The Academy’s 2013 production DISTORTION examined migrant descendants’ places in Germany and provoked audiences to contemplate the new faces of the nation. This symbiosis of hip-hop and contemporary dance performed macro- and micro-political integration, illuminating how the boundaries of German national identity are disrupted by the presence of interculturality.
This according to “Ich fühle mich Deutsche: Migrant descendants’ performance of integration through the Hamburg HipHop Academy” by Emily Joy Rothchild, an essay included in Transglobal sounds: Music, youth and migration (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016, pp. 155–76).
Above and below, excerpts from DISTORTION.
Humor provides a means of navigating the race and gender politics of hip hop culture in several ways.
The Beastie Boys (above), a trio of white Jewish rappers, have relied heavily on humor to mark their outsider status while mitigating claims of racial inauthenticity.
The triumphant career of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott shows how her humor—especially when aimed at the rapper herself—has functioned as an artistic expression of old-school legitimacy and as a means of empowerment for a businesswoman in the male-dominated music industry.
While the proliferation of hip hop parody relies on racial and gender stereotypes for much of its humor, it also offers outsiders the possibility to negotiate otherwise prohibitive social differences from within hip hop culture.
This according to “Pranksta rap: Humor as difference in hip hop” by Charles Hiroshi Garrett, an essay included in Rethinking difference in music scholarship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 315–337).
Below, Missy Elliott performs Work it, her classic send-up of sexual stereotypes.
Hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture at Indiana University, Black Grooves is a review site that aims to promote black music by providing monthly updates on interesting new releases and quality reissues in all genres—gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, and hip hop, as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists.
Reviews of selected new discs and DVDs are featured, with occasional attention to books and news items. An extra effort is made to track down releases by indie, underground, foreign, and other labels that are not covered in the mainstream media. While the primary focus is on African American music, related areas such as Afropop and reggae are also covered.
This post is part of our series celebrating Black History Month. Throughout February we will be posting about resources and landmark writings in black studies. Click here or on the Black studies category on the right to see a continuously updated page of links to all of our posts in this category.