Release Date: Nov 22, 2010
Record label: Def Jam
Genre(s): Pop, Rap, Pop/Rock, Midwest Rap, Pop-Rap
Hip-hop fans are a tough bunch to please. New artists are maligned for not sounding like the old ones, but there is no crime greater than “biting” those who’ve come before. In short, to be considered great an artist needs to sound like they were around in ’88, but not sound like anyone who was around in ’88. Rappers are applauded for being “real”, but what this reality encompasses is never explicitly stated.
KANYE WEST My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Universal) Rating: NNNNN Kanye West is a man eternally ablaze. He's a rapper, producer and pop artist intent on expressing himself in the most ostentatious way, and whether you want to or not, you feel his fire. Conjured from his depths, his fifth disc has an unfiltered ferocity few of his contemporaries can match.
“I fantasized about this back in Chicago” is the first thing that Kanye West says on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it's the only thing close to a context for the 13 tracks of delirious hip-hop decadence that follow. For the remainder of “Dark Fantasy,” he's freely mixing the materialistic (“Mercy, mercy me, that Murcielago”) and the existential (“Hey teacher, teacher/Tell me how do you respond to the students?/And refresh the page and restart the memory?/And re-spark the soul and rebuild the energy?”). The track might not answer a lot of questions, but it's a dynamite beginning to an audaciously complex rap masterpiece, on-point thematically and, even more so, musically, with Kanye mashing up G-funk and baroque pop while huge, anonymous voices pop in to ask, “Can we get much higher?” like a stoned soul take on a Greek chorus.
Kanye West's 35-minute super-video, Runaway, peaks with a parade. Fireworks flash while red hoods march through a field. At the center of the spectacle is a huge, pale, cartoonish rendering of Michael Jackson's head. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's gargantuan "All of the Lights" soundtracks the procession, with Kanye pleading, "Something wrong, I hold my head/ MJ gone, our nigga dead." The tribute marks another chapter in West's ongoing obsession with the King of Pop.
Hey teacher teachers, how do we respond to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? How do we respond to the most bloated, egotistical, fantastical, flat-out amazing release hip-hop has seen in three, five, ten years? Ever? I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do, so I’ve got to get the bogus stuff out of the way first. I’ve got to take a moment to try and hate. Those vocals on “Dark Fantasy”, layered a baker’s dozen different ways, they’re synthetic.
For a pop star, Kanye West has always been shockingly transparent. His debut album, The College Dropout, dissected the highs and lows of the twentysomething worker bee with relatable everyman charm. When his mother passed and his girlfriend dumped him a few years back, he took to the airwaves with 808s & Heartbreak, which was one long Auto-Tuned emotional meltdown.
There was a time when Kanye West seemed too inventive, too smart and too good for pop music. “Jesus Walks” and “Gold Digger” won him Grammys; the Katrina telethon and Christian-baiting Rolling Stone cover earned him wider cultural attention. But what made West such a perpetually compelling figure was the sweeping sense of purpose that motivated his every enterprise.
Fans who sifted through the official singles, televised short film, and free downloads that Kanye West released this fall are already familiar with most of the songs contained on his fifth album. Even so, students of pop culture will be missing out if they don’t listen to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in its finished form. West has tricked out these tracks with sharper verses and grander instrumental interludes, then lined them up in a sequence that demands to be heard from start to finish.
In the opening bars of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye West asserts, “We found bravery in my bravado.” As far as Hip Hop music goes, this is too true. Because of West’s renaissance of carefully-crafted artistry and decadent decision-making, Rap has been restored from an over-saturated commodity to the grandiose stage Jay-Z left empty after The Black Album. The earliest glimpse at My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of its best moments.
Review Summary: Not the voice of a generation; the voice of Kanye West, which is so much better.Anonymity makes everybody into a distinguished critic; the great challenge of listening to music in the Internet age is being able to separate the music from the artist who made it and the opinions of everybody who purport to know what they're talking about. The second one is fairly easy to ignore, if not escape entirely; the first, not so much. Especially with someone as vocal about himself as Kanye West.
Kanye West wears his sacred heart on his designer sleeve, and as a result finds himself shamed and pilloried. He brings this on himself of course; god complexes are tacky, and yet West has more than earned his, suffering for the public since 2004. After all, can you think of another pop star who’s turned a near-fatal accident into a hit single? West’s never been shy about showing off the crosses he bears; from “Jesus Walks” to Jesus pieces, he’s modeled himself in His image while working to reconcile higher callings with human conditions.
Times have been tough for Kanye West of late. Prior to beginning work on his latest album, the man suffered two awful life traumas (the unexpected death of his mother and the breakup of his engagement), events which wrought themselves in caps all over the angst-laden auto-croon of his last work. While 808s and Heartbreak may have helped West publically exorcise the pain of these tragedies from his life, the years between its release and his latest have been, if not as tragic, far from smooth.
Kanye West lives in his own made-up Planet Blingatron where his solid gold castle houses champagne wishes and thirty white bitches (I mean, this shit is ridiculous) wearing diamond-encrusted bikinis and a team of tiny elves who wash his balls in Cristal every ten minutes. Kanye West has had an elective laryngectomy to replace his entire voice box with an auto-tuner he controls with his motherfucking BRAIN. Kanye West’s rhymes drop like flaming truth-missiles exploding into the stratosphere so his minions can breathe in his magic power-dust.
The highest office in the land rarely weighs in on American hip-hop. But no less than two US presidents have referred to Kanye West recently: Barack Obama called him a "jackass" and – worse – George Bush mispronounced his name as "Conway". Having begun his career feted for sped-up soul samples on Jay-Z productions – Devil in a New Dress supplies a flashback here – West is now notorious for his behaviour, rather than his music: his petulant egomania, compulsive tweeting, hissy fits at award ceremonies and, more compellingly, for causing what Bush described as the lowest point of his presidency.
As fatiguing as it is invigorating, as cold-blooded as it is heart-rending, as haphazardly splattered as it is meticulously sculpted, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an extraordinarily complex 70-minute set of songs. Listening to it, much like saying or typing its title, is a laborious process. In some ways, it’s the culmination of Kanye West's first four albums, but it does not merely draw characteristics from each one of them.
We know the Kanye West story: He’s the bad guy, the loud-mouth on an ego trip. He’s the guy that said the President didn’t care about black people. He upstaged a teenage girl at the VMAs. He made millions of Today Show viewers squirm with his awkward and, yes, petulant reaction to Matt Lauer’s baiting.
Afascinating public persona is not synonymous with fascinating musical output, and while West's attention-seeking behaviour may be grotesquely compelling, the manchild himself is not. He fancies himself a tortured artist, but his mixture of ego and self-loathing could not be more of a cliche. He thinks he's an aesthete, but his taste (porn stars, luxe signifiers of high/white society) is mundane.
Kayne’s dark days have produced an album of awe-inspiring design. Stephen Kelly 2010 In this day and age most artists are other artists: their lyrics someone else's clichés, their careers an imitation, their passions a mere reference. Not Kanye West – well, at least not now. For in a genre whose death is declared on a regular basis, West has become three things: interesting, innovative and utterly, utterly mad.
You already know if you want to listen to this – at this point in the decline and fall of western civilization, it’s hard not to have an opinion on Kanye West. The most celebrated and vilified entertainer of the post millennial era, West is the tantrum-throwing enfant terrible of the Twitter-era, a car crash caught on YouTube, more infamous for acting like a brat than for anything else. And if you happen to be a fan, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the album your hoping for – a soul-baring journey into twisted, out-of-control world of modern celebrity that explains, without excuse, the man’s rather unwieldy public unraveling since the release of 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak.
"I embody every characteristic of the egotistic," boasts Kanye West during "Power," a self-defining anthem of solitary confinement. Somehow that's an understatement. As the song's sample reiterates, West is the modern manifestation of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man." He's a constant contradiction – seriously funny, tragically beautiful, and invincible save for highly visible Achilles' heels.