Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye goes off. This time, it’s in his music. Fantasy, his latest, reveals an ambitious artist with complete understanding of their musical abilities and powers
There are two sides to Kanye West. There’s the difficult-to-understand, but easy-to-condemn ‘Kanye’ with a wacky activism record and – with just the right level of alcohol and TV time – the ability to morph into a budding country pop singer’s worst nightmare. And then there’s the unbelievably talented and artistic genius ‘Kanye’. With just four albums and breaking into mainstream off of his 2004 debut, the guy has risen to become a hip-hop messiah. And despite his controversies, West knows how to merge the best of rap poetry, hip-hop samples and pop hooks together and anything else that will earn him the coveted Miles Davis comparison. Even with his dichotomic halves, it’s still safe to say he’s not quite the split-personality version of Two-Face; the accident that transformed Harvey Dent into the mischievous monster in the comics. But he’s getting there.
Besides the occasional bling-bling and fancy wardrobe manifestations typical of Hollywood reverence, West’s intelligent hip-hop needs a little injection of controversy…some nemesis-like enigma to make him – the on-stage personality – a little more interesting. So far, despite what media thinks, West has been the ultimate puppeteer of his career. Even when the fallouts of his outbursts and his most-recent ‘Today Show’ rumble, it’s all been working in West’s favor; building up even more publicity buzz for his latest masterpiece, the somewhat Michael Jackson-inspired My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It seems somewhat uncomfortable to put the King of Pop and the anxious-to-become the King of Rap in the same sentence, but this isn’t some man-made hyperbole. On Fantasy, Kanye rhymes about the fallen monarch on “All Of the Lights: “Something wrong, I hold my head/MJ gone/ my nigga dead.” But instead of mourning, Kanye – using the inspiration of his mythical phoenix allegory – faces his darkest hour, faces the fires of his own turmoil, then burns to ashes and is reborn with musical ambition. Although the phoenix embedded in the storyline, shown through the “Runaway” companion film, may be the crowning inspiration for the album’s grandeur, it is actually the return to the smart sample and the interweaving together of prog rock, moody R&B and intergalactic synths that produces its driving momentum.
Certainly the who’s who of stars give Fantasy a first-class ticket to the sound system: Charlie Wilson putting his mesmeric melisma on the final moments of “Monster,” Jay-Z guesting on two cuts, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Bon Iver, John Legend and Fergie are also on board, “All Of The Lights” features Rihanna on the glittery chorus and Elton John injects a piano solo and R&B singer Dwele shifts into his grandmaster rapper alter-ego alongside West. But Kanye’s in control of this twisted fantasy and he’s definitely in control of the screenplay; making sure that the songs, in one way or another, tells his story.
“Dark Fantasy” takes a brief sample from Mike Oldfield’s “In High Places” and twists it into a super-cool rap fest; showcasing just how many lyrical lines he can cap off with “Chicago.” At the rhyme check, he proves to be the king at it, pulling off an interesting string of phrases like “How you say broke in Spanish/Me no hablo” and “I’m just a Chi-town nigga with a Nas flow.” On “Monster,” he basks in the moment, becomes the bad boy beast he’s chosen to be and at the end, when the music starts to fade, Bon Iver reflects on the aftermath: “I crossed the line/And I’ll let God decide/I wouldn’t last these shows/So I am heading home.” On the nine-minute epic “Runaway,” short piano plinks give way to a power ballad containing West’s Auto-tuned vocals, Rick James’ “Let me at’ cha” chants, a drum loop from Backyard Heavies’ “Expo 83” and a haunting melody. When the song reaches its creative peak, it breaks into a tranquil instrumental dazzled with psychedelic guitar buzzes and symphonic strings. And the creative flow continues with songs like “Goregous” and “Hell of a Life” where he shows off his rock/hip-hop hybrids, while “Lost In the World” brings him inches from Ne-Yo’s club banger “Closer.” And then West’s merging of old school R&B with a thrust of neo-soul rap on “Devil In a New Dress” turns the rap star into a Jerry Butler-inspired crooner.
Although critically celebrated, 808s and Heartbreak slipped through the cracks of West’s usual successes; partially due to its genre-bending endurance and West’s escapism into synthpop and Auto-tune domination. It was still a major step-up, despite what the hip-hop heads believed, from his previous performances. But on Fantasy, where he confronts his insecurities head on and questions his psyche and rock starpower, West goes to a “whole ‘notha level” of modern ingenuity (Chris Rock even alludes to those words of critical praise on “Blame Game”). Even if he’s propagandistically being depicted to be the most vile and contemptible jerk in the music biz (quite justifiable based off of recent accounts), it doesn’t take away from his undeniable and mind-blowing talent. And as colossal as his demons stand, his artistry on Fantasy proves to be just as taller.
J MATTHEW COBB
- Release Date: 22 November 2010
- Label: Roc-a-Fella/Def Jam
- Producers: Kanye West, Mike Dean, Lex Luger, Jeff Bhasker, Bink, DJ Frank E, Emile, Jay-Z, No I.D., RZA, S1
- Track Favs: All Of the Lights, Runaway, Lost In the World, Dark Fantasy, Power