Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Dark, moody and introspective…

Kanye West is a jerk. An egomaniacal, narcissistic, arrogant, self-congratulating, ill-tempered 33-year-old man-child. Taylor Swift knows it, Dubya knows it. Even the saintly President Obama has publicly admitted to being no fan of West’s. (He actually called him a “jackass.”)

“It’s the work of a craftsman, a perfectionist whose attention to detail is evident in each drum pattern, each orchestral arrangement, each background vocal…”

But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, onto more important news: West’s newly released fifth LP, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), is poised to be the record of the year. And, very possibly, the record of his career. The album truly is a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy, with his production as first-rate as ever and his raps at their best yet.

In the decade or so since we were first introduced to him—as the producer responsible for Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and a string of other hits—West has switched gears. He’s shifted from behind-the-scenes, pink-polo-wearing, Louis-Vuitton-backpack-toting college dropout to Paris-Fashion-Week-front-row-sitting, baldhead-stripper-dating, awards-show-interrupting, Matt-Lauer-bashing pop star. The biggest pop star in America, I reckon.

Original cover

Thanks in part to his musical success—14 Grammys, four (soon-to-be five) platinum albums—and a succession of very public antics, West is as much a pop culture icon as he is a popular rapper. It helps that he fancies himself a modern-day Andy Warhol: wary of fame and celebrity, dabbling in art, fashion and film, assembling a crew of fellow creatives.

Cover used for copies sold in US & UK retail stores.

West’s influence on pop culture has yet to reach Warholian levels, but his career has been responsible for a pretty big shift in hip hop music and culture. The son of an English professor, West’s upbringing was undeniably middle-class: no drug-dealing, no gangs, no projects. But middle-class kids have traditionally been relegated to the role of consumers of hip hop; West was among the first—and certainly the most important—in a now-long line of middle-class-kids-turned-rappers (think: Drake, Cudi). In a genre traditionally concerned with “street cred,” West has been more concerned with pop culture credibility. And with Twisted Fantasy, he’s sure to earn it.

It’s the work of a craftsman, a perfectionist whose attention to detail is evident in each drum pattern, each orchestral arrangement, each background vocal. Musically, the songs, especially gems like “Gorgeous” (featuring Kid Cudi and Raekwon) and “Lost In The World” (featuring Bon Iver), are layered in ways that we don’t expect from rap music. Even at the album’s low point, on “Hell Of A Life,” it’s still above average. West adheres to the basic formulas of modern pop, but introduces multiple levels of instrumentation, samples and vocals that reference later forms of European art music as much as they do contemporary popular music.

“But it isn’t all platinum chains and supermodels; West is also gloomy and paranoid…”

The record is big without being cacophonous, the sign of a masterfully edited project. “All of the Lights,” a pop anthem already receiving radio airplay, features fourteen guest vocalists, including Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Charlie Wilson, John Legend, The-Dream, Alicia Keys, Drake, Ryan Leslie, La Roux and Fergie, the latter of whose grating white-girl-rap I could have done without. Still, the slew of guest vocals —which surely comes close to breaking some sort of a record—are impressively managed, adding to Twisted Fantasy’s grandness.

But the extent of outside help on Twisted Fantasy doesn’t end there. The album features a verse (on “So Appalled”) and co-production credit (on opener “Dark Fantasy”) from the RZA, whose production style of speeding up soul samples West admits to having appropriated. Plus, West coaxes an unforgettable verse out of rapstress Nicki Minaj, one that seriously upped her status as a legitimate hip hop contender. And, of course, there are contributions from G.O.O.D. Music signees Pusha T of Clipse, Prynce Cy Hi and Big Sean. Yet the wealth of featured artists does not detract from what is a record that is all about Kanye; in fact, the intrusions are welcome.

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  • http://www.adamhump.com adam

    been listening to this on repeat

    caught up in this kanye moment

    feel sorry for girls' ep

    BNM but drowned

    in the 10.0 noise

  • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey

    This album gives me hope.

  • kumquatparadise

    well put

  • entelleckt

    You have a very entertaining to read writing style. Great review.

    Michael Wyatt | Entelleckt
    Artist/Producer
    Cee-Lo + Lupe + Andre 3000 = Me
    http://entelleckt.com

  • http://twitter.com/MollyWest12th Molly Oswaks

    Really enjoyed this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mdkmdk Michael Kramer

    went out and bought this album.

    after 20+ listens i've decided that there are no bad songs on the album, just songs that haven't grown on me yet.

  • KILLbill

    TURN UP THE LIGHTS IN HERE BABY, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, I WANT YOU TO SEE EVERYTHING, SEE ALL THE LIGHTZ

  • Jtprius510

    In all my years of reading fiction, watching movies and listening to rap music, I don't think any rapper has ever been able to tell a story everyone can relate to. West is the first to tell me a story entirely in verse about a man's paranoid battle against his narcissistic vanities and insecurities. West has five albums now. This one is definitely the best out of all five of them. With this album, comes a 34 minute long short film and a poster that includes all five covers of this album, that includes the other four covers besides the one on your copy. So you don't have to buy all five to have all of the covers. This is West under the influence of European art. This is West crying artistically. Listeners can definitely feel this emotion by the last three minutes of the 9th track Runaway. I think that track was designed to make listeners feel this emotion. Being the 9th track, it is one out of the last four songs of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The last five songs of 808's and Heartbreaks made me feel the same way. West has been consistent in the way he hits his listeners with the last half of his last two albums. West tells cohessive stories with clear beginnings and endings. And I haven't noticed it so much since his last two albums. In this way of consistent story telling, I feel that West has graduated once again, this time from being a rapper, to being a director, artist and author.

  • Guest

    ‘have you ever had sex with a pharoah, put your pussy in the sarcophagus, now she’s claiming that i bruise her oesaphagus’

    just, lovely.

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