RoboCop: Kanye’s Most Underappreciated Song
When you’re Kanye West, every corner of your discography has been picked apart pretty well. He’s one of the most polarizing musicians, artists, and personalities on the planet. With the devoted fan base he enjoys, everything he has done, is doing, and will do is dissected and analyzed. It’s a following that borders on worship.
Picking apart a random song from nearly eight years ago would be pretty pointless. I’m going to do it anyway.
I could write thousands of words on 808s & Heartbreak. In fact, I tried. Right now I’m looking at a draft that I finally scrapped after it jumped the rails 750 words in. Last year I tried doing THE 808s & HEARTBREAK POST. I’m starting to realize I’m better off letting things I adore exist without my analysis. However, I think I may be able to handle a single track from that album, so I’ll try that.
In the lexicon of Kanye West, “RoboCop” doesn’t get the respect and admiration it deserves. 808s & Heartbreak is unquestionably his least-loved piece of work, and if you could plot the album on chart with AMOUNT OF LOVE on the x-axis and GREATNESS OF MUSIC on the y-axis, “RoboCop” would be in the top left corner. In short: This is a Top 10 Kanye song without any Top 10 hype.
I think a reason for this is the lack of major Kanye West tropes. There’s hardly a whisper of hip-hop in the whole song. There’s no sophomoric profanity. There isn’t any ego or braggadocio. There are no guest spots from superstar buddies. You’ll see no dissections of modern-day America or blistering, self-aware observations. Basically, if this exact song were released by a different artist, it would be hard to imagine Kanye West ever having anything to do with it. That’s one of its strongest qualities, in my eyes. Kanye built a historical career on the ability to be consistent and unpredictable all at once, and this is evidence of that.
The opening moments of the song carry the trademark futuristic dystopian drums 808s became known for. It’s lo-fi and compressed to hell and it’s awesome. Contrast that with a gorgeous melody–built from Patrick Doyle’s “Kissing In The Rain”–and suddenly you’re onto something strong. If you read enough of my ramblings on music, you’ll learn that I’m a complete sucker for two things: strings and piano. “RoboCop” only has the former, but it does it really well.
808s & Heartbreak covers the full spectrum of loss and broken, jilted love. Recently, it’s been pretty easy to knock Kanye on a relatability level. He’s in a different world as far as success and lifestyle. The average person probably can’t relate to a lot of Watch The Throne or Yeezus. However, one of the greatest appeals of the album is its portrayal of common issues. “RoboCop” is no different, exploring the overbearing and controlling partner, somehow doing it both angrily and wistfully:
‘Bout the baddest girl I ever seen
Straight up out a movie scene
Who knew she was a drama queen
That’d turn my life to Stephen King’s
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, oh
The triumphant pre-chorus is like candy, boasting sweet, catchy, twinkling strings that push you into the robotic chorus. And (because who doesn’t like robots?), Kanye added robot sounds.
My personal favorite part of the song is the outro. The percussion is abandoned, allowing the orchestra to shine through on its own, accompanied by Kanye’s dismissive tone: “You spoiled little LA girl. You’re just an LA girl.”
In Kanye’s VH1 Storytellers special, he reveals that the original version of the song featured multiple quips here, including: “We go to the movies, but we laugh at different jokes.” In a way only Kanye can, he compared it to Tenacious D, saying it was the closet he every came to a “Jack Black moment.”
“Oh, you’re kidding me,” the song continues. “You must be joking. Or you are smoking. Oh you’re kidding me. Haha, that was a good one. Your first good one in a while.” This part is so awesome because you can read so much simply in his tone of voice. The sarcasm here is thick. It’s the kind of sarcasm you devolve into at the end of a bad argument. The kind that, if an outsider were to see, they might think you’d lost your mind.
“Your first good one in a while,” he sighs, almost trailing off. He’s finally let his guard down, perhaps recalling the good times, wondering where things went wrong.
We don’t often get the opportunity with Kanye’s music, but on “RoboCop” you can hear a little bit of the developmental process. The demo version that leaked is actually pretty similar to the final version in a lot of ways, but lacks nearly everything that ended up making the song so spectacular. There’s a small but significant gap between the demo and the final, and Kanye closed it to perfection.
One of Kanye’s biggest strength as an artist is assembling a mass of people who can polish these kinds of songs into gems. 808s & Heartbreak is no different. The album was born out of a few weeks spent holed up in Honolulu, fueled by creative minds, heartbreak, and a Roland TR-808 drum machine. It’s hard to listen to the album without running “RoboCop” back once or twice, and I think it’s about time we re-evaluate the song’s place in Kanye’s legacy.