Kanye West goes punk. Or well, kind of, at least.
“Bad News”, the ninth track on 808s & Heartbreak, sandwiched between the often over-looked “Street Lights” and the cult hit Lil’ Wayne collaboration “See You in My Nightmare”, is a symphonic romp that takes a normal hip-hop beat and pushes it forward into a double-time groove that results in one of the most interesting musical compositions the genre has seen in the last 20 years.
Simply put, it’s different. The minor piano chords give the track its Top 40 flare, though the almost-indistinguishable Auto-Tuned voice of West allows the song to stand up to anything else on the album. Without any help from any of the multiple guest stars that appear on 808s, the rapper paints yet another rainy-night picture with this moody track.
“People will talk / Like it’s old news / I played it off / And act like I already knew . . .,” he croons with his faded vocals. Then, with his Bon Iver-like falsetto, he continues: “Oh you just gonna / Keep it like you never knew / While I’m waiting on a dream / That’ll never come true / Oh you just gonna / Keep it like you never knew / My face turned to stone / When I heard the news,” before leaving the last two minutes vocal-less after hopelessly asking “What’s on the news? / Channel cruise.”
That “Bad News” isn’t considered amongst some of the most innovative hip-hop music ever made is criminal. Sure, West said that 808s & Heartbreak should be looked upon as more of a pop record than anything else. And yes, even when pressed, he admitted the effort as a whole was a blatant attack on modern-day rap music because of the monotony the genre had been suffering through at the time. But like it or not, Kanye West made his name as a hip-hop artist. So carrying the torch of the genre may not have been a welcome requirement for the release of this album, but it happened nonetheless.
That said, a song such as “Bad News” is nothing more than a courageous attempt at breaking new ground in an otherwise stale world of hip-hop music in 2008. And that’s precisely why songs such as this are the reason why 808s is so damn important to the evolution of pop music. Granted, the song is no “Heartless”, “Jesus Walks”, or “Gold Digger”. But it is, however, yet another gem of musical pop art that the Chicago native created during this time period. That, alone, makes the track worth noting when looking at all the songs that paint West’s career as a whole.
Much like everything else on this album, “Bad News” is haunting. It’s mopey. It’s moody. It’s infectious. And most of all, it’s different. Unlike other pop artists, there was no need for filler here. No need for a simple four-minute track that ultimately goes unnoticed or unheard. Everything on 808s & Heartbreak was heard. And of all the songs that soft-core listeners may pass over, “Bad News” is certainly a track worth dissecting. A track worth appreciating. A track worth remembering.