Hip-Hop’s Heartbreak: Kanye West – “See You in My Nightmare”

Epic. That’s what Kanye West was going for when he created “See You in My Nightmare”, and that’s what he got. The best collaboration featured on 808s & Heartbreak, the track is a thunderstorm of electric synths and symphonic sounds. It’s as though West wanted to get one last great performance in before giving way to the final two songs (including one bonus track)–one more shot at making sure people wouldn’t forget his ode to sadness.

And it paid off. Though it wasn’t released as an official single, the song landed on charts in both Canada and the United States. It even garnered “Hot Shot” status when it debuted at No. 21 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Even more impressive, the track spawned “We Were Once A Fairytale”, a short film directed by Spike Jonze that starred the rapper himself.

“See You in My Nightmare” essentially became a cult hit for fans of 808s, and rightfully so. Lil’ Wayne’s cameo holds up to this day, even though his status as one of the top MCs in the game has clearly taken a hit since the album was released (that’s what a few months in prison will do to a rap career, you know). “Baby girl, I’m finished”, the Louisiana rapper shouts at the beginning of his verse in that signature Wayne snarl before eventually winding up with the clever “You think your shit don’t stink, but you are misses P.U.” toward the end of his spot.

The help from Mr. Carter is a welcome addition to the album as a whole. West consciously kept the guest spots and big-name collaborations at a minimum when constructing his fourth album. That mantra allowed this particular joint effort to stand firmly on its own among some of the best work he has ever been a part of. It proves its worth with every listen.

What goes largely unnoticed here is the fact that, despite all the percussive sounds the rapper offers on every other track throughout 808s, “See You in My Nightmare” doesn’t feature a single drum sound. Somehow, West turns this bare-boned approach into a song that holds just as much intensity as any other work that appears on the record. The cello, violas, bass, and violins prove to be enough to lay the groundwork for the blasting synthesizers and biting vocals West and Wayne provide.

“OK, I’m back up on my grind”, West asserts during his verse. “You do you, and I’m just gonna do mine / You do you ’cause I’m just gonna be fine / OK, I got you out my mind / And the night is young / The drinks is cold / The stars is out / I’m ready to go / You always thought I was always wrong / Well now you know,” he continues with as much aggression as three Metallica records. It’s what makes the song believable–his delivery, his tone.

On “See You in My Nightmare”, Kanye West manages to convey those feelings in such a raw, palpable way, any listener can immediately gravitate toward the scenario the song confronts. That’s part of the rapper’s genius, though. And as we will see on the upcoming final track, it’s exactly what makes 808s & Heartbreak such a compelling piece of art.