Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
The last few years of Kanye West‘s life have been a mirror of his musical career; The high praise of The College Dropout and Late Registration, or his unabashed popularity; Graduation, or his venture into the point-the-finger portion of the mainstream (ahem MVAs); 808s & Heartbreak, or the ‘what the fuck’ moment that I can only imagine occurred with the passing of his mother. With that, both his personal and musical lives have crossed with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a record that fulfills everything that the title promises.
My: Despite the unmatched amount of guest appearances on Kanye’s GOOD Friday series, Fantasy is still distinctly Kanye’s record. A few of the GOOD tracks make their way onto the record; “Monster” is quite possibly the song of the year, providing a perfect summation of West’s realization of what being an artist really is – pushing genre limitations and collaboration (Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon being on this track still blows me away) – while still boasting two of the year’s best verses (Kanye and Nicki Minaj kill it, making Jay-Z (oddly) the odd man out; “So Appalled”, while featuring an all-star cast, wouldn’t have been my choice for the post-“Monster” spot on the album, but makes sense thematically (Jay redeems himself on this track); and a revamped “Devil in a New Dress”, which finds a new life with a post-mortem verse from Rick Ross.
Beautiful: While featuring the destructive “Monster” as its centrepiece, Fantasy actually manages to be pretty vulnerable and emotional. The seemingly shallow “Runaway” reveals a little bit about Kanye’s simultaneous securities and insecurities about (moments such as) his stint at last year’s VMAs. “All of the Lights” feels like Kanye’s version of “New York (State of Mind)”, but is the benefit of a powerful Rihanna chorus, ultimately trumping Alicia Keys‘ effort on Big Brother’s track. The John Legend dominated “Blame Game” is one of the highlights of Fantasy, thanks in part to Legend, and to a comedic and entertaining appearance by Chris Rock. Closing track “Lost in the World” starts off with (I’ll say) too much auto-tune, but progresses into a powerful and emotional march, especially when you’ve seen the Runaway short film. (Plus, it wouldn’t be a Kanye record without those beautiful string arrangements, and they make their way onto Fantasy).
Dark: Hip hop has always been surprisingly sinister, both lyrically and musically. Again, “Monster” is the best example of this, but single “Power”, which deals with just that – the issue of power – is rather visceral and personal from a lyrical perspective, climaxing with a somewhat suicidal thought of “now this would be a beautiful death/jumpin out the window”. “So Appalled” also manages some insight into the simultaneous positive and negative side of stardom; drugs, sex, money.
Twisted: In addition to the actual quality of the music on Fantasy, it is Kanye’s realization of being an artist that makes it so worthwhile of the wait. While 808s was a shallow attempt at trying to justify artistry through “doing something different” – singing, autotune, etc – Fantasy is his masterpiece: it takes everything he has done, learned, and gone through, and put it to tape. There isn’t much more you can ask from an artist, regardless of your like or dislike for him or her. Fortunately, his ego never gets in the way of his choice to reflect on the last few years of his life. In fact, it encourages him to talk about it even more, pushing the topics to his more personal life and psyche (“Runaway”, “Gorgeous”). Additionally, the style of production varies drastically throughout the album, ranging from the simplicity of “Dark Fantasy” and “Runaway”, to the complexity of “Monster” (there it is again) and “Gorgeous”.
Fantasy: “Hell of a Life” is entirely about falling in love with a “pornstar” (hint, there is more going on lyrically), which, for some, may actually be a fantasy. Not here. However, it plays into the whole theme of the record: life. As ego-filled and larger than life as it is, Kanye’s whole life is on Fantasy. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that it takes big balls to bare your soul for millions of people, especially in a lyrically-focused genre like hip hop.