6. 808s & Heartbreak (2008)
Label: Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam
Producers: Jeff Bhasker, Mr. Hudson, No I.D., Plain Pat, Kanye West
Features: Kid Cudi, Young Jeezy, Mr. Hudson, Lil Wayne
Sales: 1.7 million copies
In one of the most fan-challenging moves since Neil Young recorded a vocodered version of his folky 1960's classic "Mr. Soul" for his proto-electronica 1982 album Trans, Kanye scrapped rap for his fourth album. Relying heavily on the 21st-century version of the vocoder, Autotune, he sang his songs this time—fully realized melodies, emotive torch songs, over a cool, futuristic backdrop of all-synth R&B arrangements.
It was shocking at the time; some people thought it was a joke. But the melodies are very strong, the pain Kanye was in is tangible and moving, and as you look around today's musical landscape, 808s & Heartbreak stands as the most prominent blueprint for what's happened in the five years since it came out. —Dave Bry