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How Michael Jackson inspired Kanye West to make '808s & Heartbreak'

In the world of music, few artists are as polarising as Kanye West. However, if you had to land on one figure from the history of pop culture who has caused as much admiration and anger, then it simply has to be Michael Jackson. Perhaps because of this reason, Ye has always seen MJ as a contemporary of his genius.

In recent years, West has usually opted to celebrate the ‘Beat It’ star amid heavy Michael Jackson controversy. Once comparing Neptunes producer Pharrell to the star, West exclaimed: Michael Jackson was doing covert, super gangsta stuff, like he’d just pop the needles off,” the Chicago-bred rapper told XXL Mag.

“He kissed Elvis Presley’s daughter on MTV. Black culture used to be…we used to be fronting all night, but Michael was doing stuff that was different to what we were programmed to understand as being what we should do. He bought The Beatles’ back catalogue. That was Mike Jackson, right there.” West even went further to suggest that Jackson and other “heroes” shouldn’t face further scrutiny on their actions.

“We should have something that says we can’t allow any company to tear down our heroes,” West said. “Not on The Shade Room, not on social media and especially not in documentaries. I’m like every time the media isn’t happy with me, it’s like, ‘Here they go. They’re gonna come and Wacko Jacko me.’ Which in some ways, they’ve tried to do.”

There could be a good reason for his admiration. Aside from MJ’s contribution to music, which can never be denied, the ‘Thriller’ star also had a hand in creating one of West’s finest albums. 808s & Heartbreak has long been seen as one of West’s best LPs, and we have MJ to thank for it. Following his delicious triumvirate of records in his arsenal before releasing 808s & Heartbreak, West took a gamble that largely paid off with his fourth record. He didn’t stand still and produced an album that would help define hip-hop for the next decade.

There’s no doubting the admirable bold ambition of the record, and, of course, that it started a new chapter in his career. West didn’t want just to rap anymore, he had a desire to experiment with melody, but 808s & Heartbreak would mark the start of an exciting era of Kanye rather than the peak of that period, characterised, most notably, through West’s decision o sing more than he was rapping.

Speaking during a recent interview, West suggests that it was encouragement from MJ that made him approach the mic in a new way. “I think Michael the one that put that battery in my back to do ‘808s’,” he explained. “I played [him] ‘Good Life’, and he was like: ‘Who is that singing right there? I like that voice.’ It was my voice. He gassed me up.”

What would follow was a run of hits that put Kanye West’s vocal talent front and centre. “Next thing y’all know, y’all had me [sings]: ‘In the night, I hear them talk’ [laughs]. I was like ‘Michael Jackson told me I could sing, fuck all y’all.'” It would also appear that MJ stayed true to his word and was even responsible for sharing the album with his daughter, Paris.

Listen below to Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak, the album inspired by Michael Jackson.