The only thing I wanted for Christmas 2008 was the piano sheet music for Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown.” I was 11 and had been taking piano lessons religiously at that time, and I think my parents were secretly hoping I was going to come out of this a child prodigy. I begged my mom for the sheet music, and that was exactly what I found in my stocking that year. The image of Kanye in the “Love Lockdown” music video helplessly singing in that all-white house and the African tribal dancers with their bodies painted beautifully haunted me and touched me so poignantly even though the biggest heartbreak I had experienced at that ripe age was Lil Saint dying in U Got Served.
Fast forward seven years later and my biggest heartbreak is now my mother’s death. At her funeral, as a way to explain the hurt that was to come, someone said to me, “In the wraps of the universe nothing is stronger than a mother and son relationship.” She died seven months ago, and in the midst of Mr. West’s two recent landmark concerts of the entire 808s and Heartbreak album, I grew a newfound sense of respect and a complex understanding for the album that birthed “Love Lockdown.”
When people think of 808s and Heartbreak, they credit the “heartbreak” in the title to Kanye's relationship with his then-fiancé ending, which is why it has been called one of the best breakup albums. The truth is that his mom died first, and then the engagement was broken off, which was then followed by the 808s album, six months later. Relistening to it now, it is clear that the loss of his mother, not his relationship, is essentially the main theme throughout.
808s and Heartbreak isn’t just an album that says “my mom’s dead and my engagement is over so let me just steal T-Pain’s thing and people are going to ride with it just because I’m Kanye-Motherfucking-West.” It’s an album full of emotional vulnerability in a time when you’re going through something and everyone knows how you feel but insists on asking you how you are and constantly telling you how great of a person your mother was, as if you weren’t aware of how great your best friend was.
Not to get too Rap Genius with it, but within 808s is Kanye’s duality of losing his mom to the same beautification industry he had spent his first three albums critiquing while he’s simultaneously accepting the end of his 18-month engagement and six-year relationship with the woman his mom last saw him with.