Kanye West “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” Review
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Album Reviews, Music.
Much has been made of Kanye West‘s outrageous behavior, his perceived narcissism, egotistical public outbursts, and general air of superiority. But there’s something to be said for a man who lives his life as his own biggest fan; especially when symptoms of which materialize in efforts such as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Winking in “Devil in a New Dress,” Kanye offers the bar, “Hood phenomenon, the Lebron of rhyme, hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on a JumboTron,” as not only a simple acknowledgment of this reputation, but also as a sort of explanation for his ego, where he’s coming from, and what’s at the core of his character. When you’re on a platform where seemingly everyone in the world is critiquing your every move—as has been the case with LeBron James—it has to be difficult to live your life without an inflated sense of self-worth. Just think of that feeling you get when someone acknowledges you for accomplishing even the most menial of accomplishments… feels good, right? Now multiply that feeling by 10 or 20 million times to account for every person wearing your jersey, buying your album, or tuning in to see you appear on television. His statement is simply asking how you would feel about yourself and how you would act under those same circumstances. The point here isn’t to give Kanye and those of his status a free pass to do whatever they want and act however they please, but rather to say: we’re all assholes in some way, shape or form, and it’s near-impossible to come away smelling like a rose, no matter who you are, when you’re under such a magnifying glass. That simple idea is the essence of what Fantasy is all about.
As Kanye has continued to grow as an individual he is learning more about himself and recognizing mistakes he’s made along the way. Since 2008′s powerful 808s & Heartbreak, the man’s had no problem remaining at the center of the public eye: he was involved in a high profile relationship with model Amber Rose, there was the whole VMA/Taylor Swift fiasco, then Kanye made his introduction to (and subsequent domination of) Twitter, and now there has been nearly a half-year of teasing (and releasing) new material directly to fans for free. But with such great celebrity comes an even greater level of attention paid to his moments of poor judgment; moments which Kanye is (now, at least) apparently far from blind to. In fact, much of the album is essentially the MC saying, “Hey, I fucked up—I realize this now—let’s toast to our mistakes and hopefully learn from them as we forge ahead”; or in the case of “Runaway,” exactly what Kanye’s saying.
In the track Kanye reveals that he is terrible with relationships, has problems with intimacy, prioritizes work over women, and when he does find himself on a hot-streak, he screws it up by calling a female “bitch” and sending her indiscreet pictures of himself. (If you have the internet and the remotest of ideas of how to use a search engine, you likely already have a visual in your mind of what he’s talking about there.) If anything, when internalizing things as a listener, as the album progresses Kanye begins to appear more human than human. “Me found bravery in my bravado,” spouts the MC in “Dark Fantasy,” opening the album by momentarily visualizing his strength to achieve confidence before tackling an issue that he took to the public recently with an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. While not standing as an excuse for his actions, Kanye explained that the drink had been getting the best of him and his clouded state of mind was leading him to make poor decisions, “The plan was to drink it till the pain over/But what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” “Gorgeous” continues with Kanye searching for relief, “This week has been a bad massage, I need a happy ending,” a glance into the mirror, with the MC searching for who he is in “Monster,” “Everybody knows I’m a mother fuckin’ monster… Are my eyes more red than the devil is,” and he finds an unsettling conclusion with the confused echo repeated throughout “So Appalled,” “Life can be sometimes ridiculous.”
Forever contrasting the confused Kanye West is the confident Kanye West though, and Fantasy has no shortage of the latter’s lyrical and sexual arrogance. The man takes on all who challenge him in “Gorgeous,” “Act like I ain’t had a belt in two classes/I’m comin’ after whoever who has it.” He blasts how he does “it better than anybody you ever seen do it” in “Power,” and continues by adding “At the end of the day goddammit I’m killing this shit/I know damn well y’all feelin’ this shit.” “Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh/I put the pussy in a sarcophagus/Now she claimin’ that I bruised her esophagus,” the MC brags in “Monster,” which is followed with Chris Rock (yup, Chris Rock) hilariously going of in the closing moments of “Blame Game,” asking “Who got your pussy reupholstered?” The female’s response? “Yeezy got my pussy reupholstered.”
For all the emphasis that’s aimed at Kanye and his progression with the album, it’s easy to forget that it is anything but a typical solo recording. If anything, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a product of a wide-reaching supergroup: Kanye West and the G.O.O.D. Ass All-Stars. Just as Raekwon adds some lyrical grit over a mean sample in “Gorgeous,” his Wu-brethren the RZA does the same in “So Appalled”; Rihanna excels with “All of the Lights,” performing a roll manufactured specifically to accentuate her talents; Jay-Z is in top form in “So Appalled” (“I went from the favorite to the most hated, but would you rather be underpaid or overrated”); Pusha T comes hard in “Runaway”; and Nicki Minaj consumes much of “Monster,” clowning over the track as the young vocalist toasts her way though one of her strongest verses to date. That doesn’t even touch the list of contributors on the album however—a list which includes everyone from Kid Cudi to Elton John to Rick Ross to Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon to John Legend—and that doesn’t even begin even include the small army of producers who worked with Kanye on laying down the musical masterpiece that lives beneath his rhymes; how the nine-minute “Runaway” fits so well with the winding, sentimental “Blame Game,” the sinister “Monster,” and the preachy outro “Who Will Survive in America,” is beyond comprehension. The beats are impeccable, the choice and use of guests is second to none, and all along the way Kanye appears quite content with taking a backseat to each. That, in and of itself, is a huge step forward in showing his maturity as an artist; arguably more so than anything Kanye does lyrically on Fantasy.
“How do you even send this in for reviews? Why would people even play, like, themselves to even review it? How do you review songs where Rick Ross comes in six minutes after a guitar solo? You haven’t even heard that before! And it’s just for the sake of showing you have some type of hip hop intelligence or knowledge or love of the first Wu-Tang album, you knock a half-star off of it. Y’know, I’ve never got a classic rating, or a perfect rating, but… ‘College Dropout’, ‘Late Registration’, ‘Graduation’ set a tone for all rap music after the fact. That thing was coming in and getting three and a half stars, and just dumb shit…”
That quote is taken from a recent interview where Kanye was addressing the new album. And as cocksure as his statement is, he’s right; if you come at the album with a narrow perspective, you’re going to miss out on the whole thing. Then consider his last point; that the pop and hip hop music scenes might wear an entirely different appearance had The College Dropout not been released some six-and-a-half years ago. Again, an argument you’d be hard-pressed to prove wrong. How many artists can you name who have had a deep and lasting effect on other artists, let alone entire genres? That’s where one of the most important factors of the album comes out: yes, Kanye is human, and with many of his lyrics he’s asking that you recognize this, but it is impossible for Kanye West, the artist, to create on the level which he does unless he lives with such extreme self-assurance. As listeners and fans, we ask him to be more humble, yet we lavish him with adoration at every turn. We become repulsed when he overshares his emotions or boldly speaks out of turn, yet we encourage him to keep doing it. As Kanye West is on the JumboTron we have to expect a bit of his internal struggle to bleed through and materialize in some sort of TMZ-moment, but what he’s aiming at here is that he is beginning to recognize his flaws and work on them. Where, in the past, he’s dominated his albums on his own while letting in a few select guests to appear in supporting roles, Kanye himself takes a backseat to his collaborators in many of the tracks. Where, in the past, he’s shown elements of lyrical confusion and swagger without appearing remotely grounded, he’s now showing a sliver of humility in his game; something unthinkable for the artist even a year or two ago.
The album dramatically opens with a voice soulfully asking “Can we get much higher?” And for the better part of the next 70 minutes that question is answered: Yes we can. To this point in his career, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the best work that Kanye’s done in terms of producing a complete recording. He’s showing that he’s growing as a composer, a producer, and a lyricist. Just as Kanye West will continue to be his own biggest fan, he will also do what it takes to ensure that he remains on the JumboTron. But just think of how many names there are on marquees throughout the world, how many people are famous for doing shit-all to deserve it, and how many people who are praised en masse for mediocrity. With Kanye West though, the trade-off is simply that in return for him being a bit of an ass sometimes—who does tend to offer up some fantastic quotes along the way—the public is given music that, as the past decade suggests, is likely to direct the flow of the medium for many years to come. Maybe that’s feeding into his ego… so be it. Maybe we should cut Yeezy a bit more slack and let him put his foot in his mouth from time to time without giving him such a hard time; when all is said and done it still seems like a pretty fantastic trade-off.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]