Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West, love him or hate him, is easily the biggest figure in hip hop since the days where Tupac Shakur and Biggie roamed the planet. What separates him from the likes of contemporaries like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, or anything of you basic pop rappers is that where they depend upon lyrical verisimilitude over the production, West respects the track more than his own voice. He started the trend of vulnerability that we see in the hip hop game now; it’s just more interesting to see a little, disempowered man behind the curtain sometimes. However, what truly separates him from the rest of the crowd is his appreciation of the album and his dedication to the careful practice of building one, which culminated in one of the best hip hop albums of all time in Late Registration over half a decade ago. So after what seems like years of speculation, we finally have My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album that is like it’s title in every way; it’s overlong, circuitous, self-important, and most of all beautiful.

With the slow burn release of singles like “Power”, “Monster”, and “Runaway”, West was already showing us that he was out to change his game. If Graduation had an appreciation for European house and trance, Fantasy has a realized love of arena rock and prog acts, the most obvious of which is King Crimson, who’s “21st Schizoid Man” is sampled in lead single “Power”. While the album doesn’t really change the hip hop game in any obvious way, the album is a stunner in the production area. Kanye has outdone himself on this venture, with every song sounding like an event; every bass beat is trying to break your ear drum, every chorus is trying to bring the house down, and every guitar line is supposed to bring you to your knees. Although, as fascinating as the brilliant and thematically-appropriate sample work and the larger-than-life nature of the beats is, it’s the little moments that really make the difference: the interlude of “All the Lights”, “Power”‘s bridge before the last lines, and most of all, the mid-section of “Devil in a New Dress”, which is easily the most beautiful moment of Kanye’s career.

The album is simply terrific to listen to, with every song sounding like it was built from the ground up by a spit-shining perfectionist. Although, another aspect that truly makes Fantasy a success is how familiar it feels despite all of the advances it makes. Kanye’s appreciation of soul and gospel is as obvious as it was on The College Dropout, his ostentatious and often twisted beats from Late Registration arise in several places, with “Devil in a New Dress” being a more utilitarian “We Major”. Dwele’s appearance on “Power” is reminiscent of “Flashing Lights”, and in general, Fantasy sounds like what it’s supposed to sound like: the culmination of Kanye’s career. Rather unfortunately, this even means the weaker moments. Kanye’s growth as a rapper has been obviously improving on each release (On Graduation he infamously outguns Lil Wayne himself), but even still, his primary role as a producer is still obvious.

It wouldn’t be so obvious if he didn’t surround himself with superior MCs at every turn; Pusha T is as fantastic as you’d expect on “Runaway”, Nicki Minaj steals the show on “Monster”, and Rick Ross himself sounds like an absolute beast on “Devil in a New Dress”, making Kanye sound almost small by comparison. However, it all adds to the already known persona of Kanye. Saying West isn’t as good of a rapper as many of his contemporaries is obvious at this point, and honestly, it doesn’t hurt the album all that much if at all. In fact, if anything, his growth on this album is the most dramatic of his career, with “Dark Fantasy”, “Gorgeous”, and “Hell of A Life” serving as proof as much. It helps that he has the productions to accompany his sometimes lacking verbal skills, but it also helps that he accomplishes the main goal without having to be Yelawolf or Wayne; he nails his vision with personality and he creates a voice for himself which has now become familiar to every hip hop fan.

Lyrically, the album is showing Kanye at his most veracious. “Runaway” is a 9-minute long exercise in masochism, with him admitting everything from a lack of a way with women to sending pictures of his penis over his email; he pleads the unnamed woman to runaway before she turns into another life ruined by West. “Hell of A Life” is only about pornography on the surface; more importantly, it’s about hardship and Kanye’s realization that porn and the people that do it aren’t too far from his own actions, the willingness to whatever it takes to survive and thrive. “Monster” is easily the oddest track, but the transforming of West and company into literal monsters is as obvious as metaphor that you can get. However, it’s also effective; Kanye’s boasting on the track is no different from the lamentations that he exalts in other songs. He’s a monster, but he also can’t help it. Hell, he even knows it. When demands that he needs to see hands at concerts, it’s like hes a vampire feeding off of the popularity. Even Jay-Z, the very model of power in hip hop, pleads for love and is hating how people he made rich now hate him.

The flaws of the album are almost meaningless in the face of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album that is larger than anything released this year. The album is noticeably long, the guests overshadow Kanye at almost every turn, and some of the tracks repeat their chorus or the main vocal line one too many times, but these are all also complaints you can levy at any one of his other albums. Kanye has almost transcended criticism; Fantasy is already easily the biggest album to be released this year and people will love it simply because of it’s size, but the most terrific aspects about Fantasy are the little things and the more vulnerable parts. Sure, the beat of “Hell of A Life” and Rick Ross’s appearances are teeth-grindingly awesome, but the more quiet, simple moments are what turn Fantasy from a great album to one of the great albums. Surely some will hear this and roll their eyes thanks to his antics, but West has proved for what may be the final time that he deserves to be as infamous as he is; after all, while his contemporaries are facing jail time or releasing half-assed experiments, he’s created a new standard for hip hop, an album as large as it’s arena rock aspirations and twice as meaningful.

by Trevor “Returned from being a runaway” Johnson

1 Comment

  1. 11/15/10: New Review (A Big One) « Avery Island: Musical Opinions From Music Geeks said,

    […] Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Trevor Johnson LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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