Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Genre: Rap, Classics
Kanye West is one of the most polarizing figures in popular music today. Everything he does seems to always be documented by the press, from his ego to his insane Twitter rants to crashing award shows to cancelling shows early after only three songs. So it should come as no surprise that many people have mixed opinions about him, whether it’s those who acknowledge the contributions he’s made to popular music or those who view him as nothing more than simply a gigantic walking ego. In 2010, these mixed feelings were at an all time high, due to the infamous VMAs incident that had happened a year prior. Due to this incident and the direction that his music had been hinting at, West suddenly changed from a witty and soulful Chicago cat with a Louis Vuitton backpack that had won the hearts of critics and underground hip hop fans alike to the press’s main target.
So he retreated to an isolated studio space in Hawaii for a few months. Accompanied by friends and collaborators, West locked himself into the studio and even made studio rules for everyone to follow to ensure that the result wouldn’t disappoint a bit. The result was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Arguably the greatest album to come out of the 21st century so far, it’s a bold, daring and brave statement from the most bold, daring and brave artist of this generation. As the title suggests, it’s beautiful, dark and twisted all at the same time, a collection of what feels like an instant greatest hits collection from an artist with more than enough to say.
Despite the fact that guests permeate the album at almost every corner, they never seem to steal the show. Aside from Nicki Minaj (who delivers the schizophrenic verse of her career on “Monster”), they all seem to play backup roles, even those who deliver whole verses. The spotlight is all on West, while the guests appear to be speaking as West to add further emphasis on his statements. Take “All of the Lights” for example. For a track that somehow manages to cram Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Fergie, Drake, Alicia Keys and Elton John into the same room, they all play small roles that are almost unnoticeable, yet it’s still hard to imagine the track without them.
West also loves juxtapositions. “All of the Lights (Interlude)” is an elegant, soothing piano solo played by Elton John with an orchestra of violins over it that acts as a complete contradiction with the triumphant maximalism of the following “All of the Lights”. John Legend’s smooth crooning on the haunting “Blame Game” contradicts with West’s hostile but painfully honest lyrics. But the greatest juxtaposition of these is “Runaway”. Over stunningly beautiful production, West confronts his own egotistical ways in a self-deprecating manner, while Pusha T shows up with an aggressive and unapologetic verse that represents West’s inner conflict with himself, to the point where he’s unsure of who exactly he wants to be.
“Blame Game” climaxes with a verse where West manipulates his voice by slowing it down, speeding it up and stretching it out. When listened to with headphones on, the sound travels from left to right, giving it a broken sort of feel. It’s almost psychotic, representing multiple inner conflicts fighting. It’s not the only time on the record where West manipulates his vocals. Whether pitch-shifting his vocals to the point of no return in the final minutes of “Runaway” or funneling some of the best lines of his whole career through a faint, tinny filter on “Gorgeous”, he uses the studio to its full advantage to add further emphasis to his statements.
It’s fitting that West doesn’t even get the last word on his own album. On the closer “Who Will Survive in America”, West samples Gil-Scott Heron’s 1970 poem “Comment #1” and transforms it from what was already a bleak outlook on America’s spiral towards doom into a look inside the perils and price of fame. Is it all worth it in the end? And does it even really make a difference? When the album comes to an end with a small amount of applause from an unknown crowd, a feeling of emptiness is instilled. “Who will survive in America?”, Heron repeats a multitude of times. It’s a difficult question to answer, and one we’ll likely never get a logical answer to. The crowd just claps monotonously in response.
Photo courtesy of Def Jam Recordings