Vinyl Spotlight: Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreak

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Every so often, our resident vinyl lover, Kiel Hauck, takes the time to talk about a recent vinyl release and gives a breakdown about everything from packaging to sound quality. Here’s his latest installment.

Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak was originally released on vinyl in 2008 in conjunction with the album release. That pressing quickly sold out, leading to an escalated value. If you wanted to purchase a copy, you were looking at paying at least $150 to $200. Now, as part of Def Jam’s Respect the Classics reissue series, the album has been repressed on two 180-gram vinyl discs.

I originally wasn’t a fan of the album upon its release, but over the past few years, 808s has grown on me significantly, making this purchase appealing, despite the nearly $40 price tag. Nevertheless, I picked up this deluxe reissue and pretty pleased with the results. Let’s take a look…

Packaging and Presentation

There’s no denying that the packaging for this release is pretty awesome – they definitely didn’t skimp on the details. Def Jam/Universal did a great job with capturing the look and feel of the original release. To my knowledge, it’s nearly identical. The album features a triple gatefold that opens up to a beautiful, colorful display.

The signature rainbow color scheme from the original release spreads out, reaching towards a posed West on the left flap. There’s a CD inserted into the middle that, if placed right, nearly matches the colorful design stretching across. All in all, it’s a pretty stunning view when you open the flaps.

Included with the packaging is a colorful folded sheet with lyrics and production notes. The colors can distract from a pleasant reading experience, but the presence of the sheet itself is more to match the color scheme than anything else. There’s also a double-sided poster featuring a standing Kanye West wrapped in color with a cartoon heart while the other side features West kissing his late mother on the cheek.

There’s really no complaints to be had about the packaging – the colors are beautiful and appropriately contrast the heavy, heart-wrenching subject matter of the album itself, written in the wake of West’s mother passing away.

Sound and Quality

808s & Heartbreak is one of those albums that almost doesn’t make sense on vinyl. The album’s production is over-the-top pop with lots of auto tune on top of an often bare-bones electronic background. Nevertheless, the quality of the 180 gram vinyl makes for a pure listen and surprisingly pulls out a richness that you may not normally experience.

I first noticed this on the second track, “Welcome to Heartbreak”. Like many songs on the album, the song’s beat is fairly minimalist, but the drums and bass tones come through extremely smooth and clear. The sound of the beat behind Kid Cudi’s chorus sounds phenomenal – the vinyl almost adds an extra, and perhaps necessary, layer of richness to the songs.

What’s nice about this release is that you can listen to the vinyl and then throw on the CD for an higher quality listen, if you wish. I’m probably overstating the matter, or at least being a bit too geeky, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the sound of this album on vinyl. For that experience alone, the release was worth grabbing. It seems that sometimes bootleg releases of this nature are higher quality than their major label-released counterparts, but the sound here is fantastic.

All in all, the presentation and sound are great – it’s fun to look at and intriguing to listen to. The real question is whether you’re willing to fork over $35 to $40 bucks for it. It’s really all a matter of preference – collectors and fans of hip hop vinyl will surely want to snag a copy. More casual fans may want to take a pass.

At any rate, there’s still copies available with no official pressing number released. Right now, you can cop your own over at ShopRadioCast for $35.99.

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by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

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