PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Hip-Hop’s Heartbreak: Kanye West – “Love Lockdown”

On "Love Lockdown", 808s & Heartbreak reaches its glorious pinnacle in a way hip-hop rarely succeeds.

Ahhh, yes. Finally, the climax of 808s & Heartbreak. “Love Lockdown”, the second of a two-part string of songs that holds more importance than anything else on Kanye West’s fourth studio album, is a wonderfully poignant look at the demise of a relationship. What exactly that relationship entails, though, is precisely what makes this track one of the three best songs the pop star has ever been involved with.

Why? Because we don’t know. Is it an allegory on a failed romantic encounter with another individual? Or is it an overtly sincere tale of one’s own personal self-righteous demons? Either answer could be argued. Either answer could just as easily be correct. The fact that the listener may never know only adds to the mystique that circles 808s like a thick fog on a rainy night.

“I’m not lovin’ you / The way I wanted to / What I had to do / Had to run from you / I’m in love with you / But the vibe is wrong / And that haunted me / All the way home”, West offers before eventually succumbing to the taiko drum-laden chorus after another haunting recital of another haunting verse. The words perfectly portray everything the album as a whole embodies. They are simple, succinct and powerful, much like the musical performances that paint 808s. Each line is spoken beneath the cover of an Auto-Tune blanket that creates such an eerily honest sound, it becomes borderline uncomfortable.

But why is this song great, you ask? That’s simple: if you take each aspect of the track and break them down to their most naked light, you’ll find a different piece of mastermind behind each facet.

Exhibit A: the piano line. Removing all other effects and stripping this down to West’s vocal and that piano groove wouldn’t change the overwhelming notion of regret that shines on this track like a brand new polished diamond ring. Yes, it would change the context, but it wouldn’t change the sentiment. In fact, it might even accentuate the songwriting in a way that the rapper has never been celebrated for before.

Exhibit B: the drums. Goodness, how powerful are those things? Each chorus is like a race through the darkest jungle. And the hand-claps only add to the dominance of the sound within the song's musical realm. When he debuted the song in September of 2008 at MTV’s Video Music Awards, people weren’t just scratching their heads because they were eager to hear the next “Gold Digger”. They were perplexed at the thought that a modern day hip-hop artist could create such a fantastically different-sounding piece of musical art.

And Exhibit C: that electronic pad. Beginning and ending with multiple groups of three-peat pounding sounds, the use of the minimalist technology provides the finishing touches to an already “league-of-its-own” song. Is that supposed to be the sound of a heart beating? Is that supposed to be the sound of someone running away? Running away from someone else? Or running away from him or herself? The consistency of those sounds that pound their way through the entire track is a credit to West’s attention to detail. It’s a magnificent little trick that a lot of other musical artists today aren’t even willing to think about.

“Love Lockdown” may be the best use of Auto-Tune in the short-lived history of the fad. Why is that? Well, no one else has ever thought to experiment with it and utilize it nearly as pointedly as Kanye West does on all of 808s & Heartbreak, but most importantly, and most effectively, here on this particular track. That element creates more than a simple fuzzy voice. It creates a fuzzy outlook on that journey within everything about one’s self. Sure, it adds to that haunting tone the song is obviously going for, but it also resembles a lot of those emotions that go along with having the type of existential thoughts the rapper certainly seems to be wrestling with.

It’s the most important song on the most important album of Kanye West’s career. Does it really get any bigger than that?

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.