RoboCop: Underrated or Intentionally Overlooked?

If you know me, you know a couple things. I like to be a profound asshole, I speak my mind (even when it gets me ire from Twitter), and I have a soft spot in my heart, at times, for Kanye West's 2008 album 808s and Heartbreak. Is it a perfect album? Oh, God, no. Like this year's TLOP and 2013's YEEZUS, 808s tries too hard to be different at some points. When it hits its mark, however, you get that genius that people sometimes overrate Kanye on. However, it's an album that, like it or not, changed the landscape of hip-hop forever. But, I'm not here to argue about whether or not 808s helped bring "emo rap" or "Auto-Tune bars" to the mainstream. For starters--and enders--a good portion of the album wasn't even "rap," in the traditional, 16-bar-verse/8-bar-chorus/repeat sense. And, well, Auto-Tune rap was in the mainstream before Kanye dropped 808s thanks to artists such as Lil' Wayne.

No, I'm here to talk about the track that spearheads the second part of the album, even if Kanye--to some pundits--drops lines as if he hasn't even seen the movies the song is named after.

Yep, we're talking "RoboCop."

As a disclosure, "RoboCop" is one of my favorite Kanye beats (I'll get into why in this piece, as well). So, excuse me if I teeter over into "caping" territory for this track. But, when I first heard the leaked version of it, I fell in love with it almost instantly. Its mix of modern hip-hop sensibilities (discussing relationships, infidelity, a kick-heavy drumline that plays like heaven when you've got your bass settings cranked up, etc), pseudo-DITC sampling (the track did a great, albeit slightly simple, interpolation of Patrick Doyle's "Kissing in the Rain" from the Great Expectations OST, a track that, while beautiful and cinematic, hasn't really been touched much in hip-hop samples, even down to the DIY producers), and Kanye's heightened, Auto-Tuned emotions hit home for me.

At the time of 808s' release, I'd lost my father a few months prior and was going through a rough patch with my significant other. Like Kanye dealing with his mom's death and the lost-and-found game his love life played with him in 2008, I could connect with the feelings displayed in the song. I could identify with lines such as "you're like the girl from Misery," as I was still young and dumb and finding my way to--and through--love, like Kanye at the time (sorry, Ye. Don't insta-ban my life from the Internet).

On top of that emotional connection, the song itself is just beautifully done, with its mix of club-esque drums, the robotics sounds and the Doyle sample, creating a feeling of impending triumph through the doom-and-gloom of calling/dealing with someone you see as a "RoboCop." The song's lyrics, like the "Misery" line, they created that "I'm going through it. Pray I figure it out with this girl--either through leaving her or accepting her ways" feeling that so many young people go through. In some ways, "RoboCop" was a song of the "Millennial" mindset. It's bold and brash and has something (potentially) profound to say. However, it's still a bit insecure in its place in the world and details how it's working out its kinks (even if that involves, in some ways, dissing an ex).

When the album version dropped and the robotics sounds were removed--and the mix was a bit cleaner (adding in the "you're just an L.A. girl" outro)--I, at first, was disheartened. Sure, it was the same track, for the most part. But, the robotics sounds helped to flesh out those feelings of isolation, of despair, of straight-up fear of the unknown in relationships. However, when the Doyle sample hit during the chorus, immediately, I said to myself "Speed, the song is still one of the greatest Kanye beats I've heard, simple or not."

Over the years, "RoboCop" and its parent album, they've gotten a combination of a bad rep and a status as being part of that "Lost Kanye" period between 2007's Graduation and 2010's MBDTF. Some even point to this era as the starting point of Kanye's transformation from 'Ye to YEEZUS, therefore causing the album to leave a somewhat sour, completely confusing taste in the mouth of listeners and critics. Hell, even Kanye put the video for the track on the shelf, only for pieces of it to leak a few years back.

It is through this uncertainty and confusion about the album that I'd like to offer up the following.

Aside from "RoboCop" being one of my favorite Kanye beats, it's potentially one of the greatest Kanye beats of all-time.

I know what you're thinking (or have a pretty good idea as to what you're thinking). But, seriously, think about it.

It took Kanye out of a comfort zone (as the events leading up to this album did as well). Before 808s and "RoboCop," we came to know Kanye as simply the boombap, soul-sampling guy from Chicago. Even when he flipped something like Blackjack's "Stay" for "A Dream" or the same group's "Maybe It's The Power of Love," there was still that sped-up soul sample feel to it. On "RoboCop," he left the sample speak more than his ability to chop and speed it up to high heaven. The drums on the track feel like prototypes for his work on MBDTF.

On top of this still, the rise-and-fall of the melody and accompanying drums plays so well into what Kanye's speaking on throughout the track. It does so in a way that we hadn't really seen from Kanye at that point. In all honesty, while Kanye's lyrics and beats had been top-notch to that point, we often saw him competing with himself, going overboard on tracks he didn't need to.

For instance, Graduation saw Kanye remix an older track that'd been floating around for years and recycle some ideas because...I guess he finally found a place for them (examples of this include "Homecoming," as the track was originally recorded in the early 2000s for College Dropout as "Home" and featured John Legend versus Chris Martin). On "RoboCop," there's a perfect blend of Kanye's lyrics and his production that felt both familiar and entrancingly different. It's, by no means, Kanye's best outing lyrically. From a strictly lyrical standpoint, the track does lack. But, what he does say is only enhanced by the cinematic orchestra of feels this beat gives us in a manner that we saw used over and over in MBDTF, an album people consider to be Kanye's magnum opus.

Does it border on the line of "hokey?" In some ways, it does. Oh, my God, does it border on "hokey" at times. I mean, as lovely as the sample is, it's still from Great Expectations. But, it's that honesty, that acceptance of the hokey elements of the track, that allow it to be, for me, one of Kanye's best beats.

Now, I'm not asking you to say "oh, yeah! SOTB!!! is right. I'm an idiot for ever doubting this song or this album." No, never that. However, the next time you go and want to make a list of great Kanye beats, give this 2008 diamond in the awkward rough a listen and, maybe, even a consideration. You owe it to yourselves as Kanye--and music--fans.

Until next time, guys.

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