It may be hard for some of you to believe, but there was a time where it was considered 'wack' to be a rapper who could also sing. Hip hop was focused more on street cred and who had the better bars when artists like 50 Cent, Lil Wayne, and Eminem were the gold standard.
Now, if you look at present day, many of today's biggest hip-hop artists have added an element of singing to their repertoire, because that's what is translating to chart success. Popular artists such as Drake, Future, Kid Cudi, and Childish Gambino have all done this.
Let's take Drake, for example, who is not only the most popular rapper right now but arguably the most recognizable and popular artist across every genre. Drake made a name for himself as an "emo-rapper;" a hip-hop artist whose lyrics focus more on emotional storytelling than braggadocious rhymes (but those are still prevalent). This made it easier for crossover success because everyone can relate to heartbreak or family issues, but not everyone can relate to the luxurious life of being famous or the struggles of growing up in poverty and dangerous situations.
While Drake has become the poster boy for this new era of hip-hop, he is by no means the artist responsible for its conception. For that, you have to go back to 2008 when Kanye West released his fourth solo album "808s and Heartbreak."
After the death of his mother Donda and a split with his longtime fiancé, West shocked the music industry with the release of "808s." "The album was a public mourning of sorts as West went through a very dark and difficult part of his life. A little over one year earlier he had released his grandiose album "Graduation" to widespread success, which infamously took down 50 Cent by selling almost 1 million copies its first week and cemented West as the king of hip-hop. So to have the best rapper alive (sorry Lil Wayne) completely ditch his rapping in favor of some drums, autotune, and pure emotion was unheard of. Even if he didn't know it at the time, Kanye had just changed the music industry with a single album.
While many hip-hop nerds, myself included, consider "808s" to be West's worst solo effort, it has to be his most influential. Where "The College Dropout" made it cool to use soul samples, witty one-liners, and laid the foundation for Kanye's honesty through lyrics, it did not manage to influence and inspire an entire generation of artists the way "808s "has.
Besides Drake, the most obvious influence of West can be seen in Kid Cudi's catalogue. Uncoincidentally, Cudi is a direct protégé to Kanye and was even featured on "808s and Heartbreak" standout "Welcome to Heartbreak."
Kanye's influence on Drake is evident both in interviews with him and his music directly. It's no coincidence that on Drake's breakthrough project, the 2009 mixtape "So Far Gone", he raps over the instrumental to "Say You Will," "808s and Heratbreak"'s opening track.
Despite the music industry's initial confusion with the album, "808s" was still a success by selling over 450,000 copies in its first week and spawning hit singles you're probably familiar with, "Heartless" and "Love Lockdown." But the album's true impact wouldn't become evident until years after its release.
Perhaps now, almost nine years after its initial release, we can finally reflect on how the state of hip hop has been changed by Kanye. Everywhere you look, new artists are popping up who have taken "808s" influence to heart, either directly or indirectly. Post Malone, Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert and whoever is next will continue to carry on the impact left by West and "808s and Heartbreak. "But not even Drake can replicate the significance that Mr. West continues to have within the music industry.