In an era of Barack and Oprah—intellectual blacks with funny names who love and are loved by both blacks and whites—it’s necessary to have an intellectually-zealous rapper like Kanye West. My favorite song at this second is his new single “ Love Lockdown,” an ominous, grandiose, end-of-love song with eerie, echoey, electronically-distorted vocals. It’s a song that considers love with more nuance than you generally hear from male artists, and perhaps because it’s a deep love song, Kanye chose to sing it as though it were a bluesy plaint—deepening its emotional power. This is not at all a hip hop song, except for the fact that Kanye made it (it’s more of an electric soul power ballad partly inspired by some of Stevie’s early 70s electric soul stuff). Hip hop generally doesn’t do well with anima, sensitivity, or intimacy. That’s what R&B is for. Hip hop does well with power, ecstasy, mettle, anger, intensity, nihilism, narcissism. So for this one track, the Louis Vuitton Don sings. Perhaps rhyming wouldn’t fit with cleaving down to the emotional depths he’s singing about.
Presumably Kanye’s referring on some level to his recently ended engagement, but then, the guy also lost his mother this year. He’s probably working on a PhD in heartbreak right now.
He sings, “I’m in love with you, but the vibe is wrong, and that haunted me, all the way home.” He succinctly paints an image of a man driving back from a date with a woman he’s been with for a while, who he loves, but with whom something is off. They’re at one of those tipping points where the relationship’s gotta lurch forward or die, and he feels it’s time to end it. Not because there’s someone else, not because he’s fallen out of love, but because it’s just not all the way right. This is the melancholic calm before the stormy breakup. The chorus exhorts, keep your love locked down, and that’s what the character does; he moves on and protects his heart (because in the world of love songs, a heart can survive being broken but so many times). Presumably Kanye’s referring on some level to his recently ended engagement, but then, the guy also lost his mother this year. He’s probably working on a PhD in heartbreak right now.
Indeed the title of his next album, for which Love Lockdown is the first single, is 808s and Heartbreak (making this Kanye’s first album outside of the college theme, following College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation, after which the theme is naturally exhausted. What would come next? GRE?)
Kanye says this is his favorite song of his to date and he debuted it on the MTV Awards less than two weeks after writing it. After the show the Gray Lady’s Jon Pareles sniffed, “a new love song in which he made the mistake of singing rather than rapping,” a snarky dismissal that goes down as example #2,167 of why Pareles should not write about hiphop.