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?

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