Six years ago, few would have envisaged how influential Kanye West's fourth studio album, 808s & Heartbreak, would have been. After Graduation, it marked a change in direction for the rapper but it also signalled a new era of rap and alternative R&B. To call 808s & Heartbreak just a rap album does the work, and Kanye himself, a great disservice. The clapping drums, lengthy strings, '80s synths and electro-pop elements transcended the album above rap. Whilst West heavily relied on auto-tune to mask his vocal shortcomings, it was a bold step that would almost certainly change both rap and R&B.

Much has been made of the album's themes. Earlier that year, West had split from him fiancé and his mother Donda died as a result of complications from cosmetic surgery. Consequently, 808s & Heartbreak was a reflection of all that emotion. It was strange nonetheless, for a rapper to lay out all his cards and wear his heart on his sleeve. The album was dreary and gloomy yet it was ethereal, nothing about it seemed forced or conjured. West added a new dimension to the perceived image of rappers and the genre in general. One that another individual would become known for. The album was pop, rap, electronic, R&B due to West's avant-garde introspective approach. We all know how much of a perfectionist the Chicago-native is, 808s & Heartbreak was no mere fluke nor was it a throwaway album, it was carefully crafted and sculpted.

Soon after the release of 808s & Heartbreak, an actor-turned-rapper from Toronto capitalised on the popularity and success of West's album. Whilst Drake had first showcased his vocal ability on 'Bitch Is Crazy' on his second official mixtape Comeback Season, it was on So Far Gone where he had taken inspiration from West. Tracks such as 'Brand New', 'Bria's Interlude' and 'Sooner Than Later' possess similarities to the musical elements on 808s & Heartbreaks, which by no coincidence have become Drake's trademark sound. Early on, Drake even acknowledged seeing Kanye West as an idol to the impact he had. Kid Cudi was another early adopter, an artist on G.O.O.D. Music at the time. Kid Cudi benefited from West's input and the product was Man on the Moon: The End of Day. Throughout the album, you can hear Kanye's imprint and whilst Kid Cudi, much like Drake has created his own staple sound, 808s & Heartbreak will have been the catalyst.

Whilst 808s & Heartbreak inspired a new sub-genre of rap, it also inspired alternative R&B. At the time established artists, most of whom possessed considerable vocal talent, started experimenting with auto-tune, as was the trend. Many believed that R&B was being watered down and becoming superficial. Trey Songz hadn't quite hit the heights of worldwide popularity at the time, whilst others such as Chris Brown, T-Pain, R. Kelly and Jamie Foxx were all using the tool. R&B it seems, had reached a crossroads. Was it going to travel this route further or was it going to be inspired by this heartfelt album? Of course, 808s & Heartbreaks heavily featured auto-tune, however the themes that were explored were a complete contrast to braggadocio, champagne-popping R&B themes present at the time. It seems to some, West placed emotion and melancholy back into R&B. To say that artists such as Blood Orange, PARTYNEXTDOOR, The xx, James Blake, Childish Gambino, The Internet and even The Weeknd were influenced by Kanye West, wouldn't be too far from the truth. The tribal drums, extended strings, synths and somber sounds on West's album, paved the way for these artists to follow suit and experiment. We typically associate these experimental sounds coupled with earnest lyrics, with the alternative R&B category. So much so that any other form of R&B now seems a distant memory, alien even.

Nowadays, there's a wealth of artists and producers that are straddling genres such as Sweden's Sad Boys. It not only shows a versatility but durability also in an industry that is as ruthless as it is kind. As a rapper, Kanye West has been in the game for over ten years but the reason why he continues to make headlines and sell out shows in minutes is due to his curiosity. 808s & Heartbreak was a move away from Graduation, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was a cocktail of wonder and creative excellence, whilst Yeezus displayed a sound that could be considered too far out. The lesson here is that Kanye West, unlike many of his counterparts, never makes the same album twice. Perhaps a couple of years from now, Yeezus will have roused others to explore similar sounds. Time will tell.

As time went on, appreciation for 808s & Heartbreak grew but retrospectively, it's hard to imagine who else would have the genius and influence to pioneer a new element within rap and R&B. In a way, West broke down two barriers; he showed that rappers could be express their emotions and brought rap and R&B much closer than people could imagine at the time. Kanye West may not have had a personal hand in the aforementioned artist's careers, but 808s & Heartbreak ignited a much needed spark within music. Whatever your feelings towards him, Kanye West is representative of the progressive attitude needed in a fickle industry.

808s & Heartbreak was released on November 24, 2008 by Roc-A-Fella Records.