Let me start by saying that I'm a huge music fan, but usually lean towards rock, pop, soul and other genres as opposed to hip-hop. I downloaded this album because I was curious as to why West is so popular, and also because I heard this album was a major departure for him. I'm also a fan of 'break-up' albums and '808s & Heartbreak' has been written up as an autobiography of a failed relationship, as well as a record haunted by the much-publicised death of West's mother.
All of these factors made me curious and I have to say I really like this album. What's often put me off about hip-hop is the tendency towards macho narcissism and sexism in the lyrics - a generalisation, I know, but a common one - and a couple of the tracks here ('Heartless', 'Robocop') wander into that territory, but there are also some subtler songs here ('Say You Will', 'Coldest Winter') that draw the listener into West's emotional landscape. Likewise, much has been made in the press of the album's musical style - vast washes of synths, the 808 drum machine, and the much-maligned Auto Tune effects that distort his vocals throughout. They're techniques that give the record a rough, almost retro feel that actually fits, rather than takes away from, the personal tone of West's lyrics. Other reviews have described the music on this album as 'desolate', but at times it's truly haunting and there are enough beats and hooks to make it a fine pop record as well.
This album may not appeal to all Kanye West fans, but I think it's probably the most accessible of his records to the wider music community. Definitely recommended as an entry point. You'll be surprised.