If 808s & Heartbreak is the lost Kanye West record, then the songs that make up the second half of the album are the true forgotten masterpieces. And, all things considered, there isn’t a better track than “RoboCop” to begin that undervalued stretch of criminally-forgotten tracks.
“RoboCop” embodies what makes this album as a whole go largely unnoticed among West’s best career achievements. The most orchestral the rapper has ever been, the track is as subtly interesting as anything he’s ever done. The rhythmic nature of the layered violins combined with the usage of what appears to be a xylophone and/or triangle feels more like a night at the opera than a night at the club. The composition itself is intricate enough to make any musicologist drool.
West brought the song to life during his taping of VH1’s Storytellers series and even provided insight into the track’s best section: the final minute as he recites the biting line, “You spoiled little L.A. girl / You’re just an L.A. girl” multiple times before the song’s end. Turns out, the stanza wasn’t even intended to be as antagonizing as it comes off. In fact, it’s merely his homage to Tenacious D, of all things.
But that doesn’t take away from the confrontational nature of this song. As his Auto-Tune-heavy voice explains in the second part of the first verse, “Up late night like she on patrol / Checking everything like I’m on parole / I told her there’s some things she don’t need to know / She never let it go”, West perfectly sets the stage for a tale that anybody who has ever been in a lopsided relationship can relate to.
Countering that notion later in the song when he offers up the “Shorty kind of crazy but it turned me on / Keep it up enough to keep it going on” line only validates the honesty of such a song. Much like most everything else that appears on 808s, “RoboCop” is a song immersed in conflict. Though this time around, it’s centered around a more palpable notion—one that is seemingly much more common to confront than the aforementioned self-doubt of “Welcome to Heartbreak” or the heart-wrenching nature of “Say You Will”.
But the one thing that makes this track memorable is its stellar use of orchestra-laden effects. They provide a vibe that sonically suggests—when removed from the rest of the aspects featured (such as the industrial-sounding programmed drums, for instance)—this may be West’s tongue-in-cheek attempt at composing a soundtrack for a B-list Disney film.
Sure, laugh at the thought of the most stubborn, politically incorrect rapper in the universe taking time to compose such a tender musical landscape. The real joke, though, is how well such a play works on “RoboCop”. It’s not just a testament to West’s song-crafting ability. It’s also a testament to how far out of the box of hip-hop he’s willing to travel. And much like the other chances he takes on 808s, this is one idea that works triumphantly.
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