Originally published in the December 3, 2010 issue
Feeding into hype is human nature. Only exaggerated by the growth of social networking, album leaks and bootleg performances, speculation constantly runs rampant. Every so-called critic, avid fan or snarky blogger over-analyzes each potential sneak peak down to the minute detail and makes bold predictions, deeming anything half-decent to be the second coming of Christ.
After an exodus from the entertainment world following a certain incident at the 2009 VMAs, Kanye West was no different. Everyone, from the coolest in the music scene to my 87-year-old grandmother wondered where West would go next.
There were leaks, eventual singles and entire blocks of television out before anyone heard his newest opus, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”
The buzz surrounding this work was somewhat obscene, and usually the only thing that comes from hype that high is disappointment and failure.
But Kanye West has never been one to follow suit, and he doesn’t start on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which pushes the music world to a whole new level and begs the rest to try and catch him.
Throughout the album, old Kanye is jump started, invigorated by even deeper beats and powerful lyrics. It’s insecure, confident, hedonistic, self-serving and apologetic at the same time. He flaunts and brags about his rise to the top, his money, cars and women, all the while admitting he is an asshole, at least in certain songs.
“Fantasy” combines the best parts of each of his previous works into one cohesive work. Each song is enjoyable on its own, but listening to the album from start to finish only adds to the musical experience. Calling an album an “experience” may seem like an overstatement, but with a production this grandiose, anything short of it doesn’t do the album justice.
The extravagance in the rhymes and beats carries over onto the guest list. The liner notes of “All of the Lights” read like some musical fantasy, with Elton John credited with the piano and additional vocals including Rihanna, KiD CuDi, The-Dream, Charlie Wilson, John Legend, Elly Jackson (La Roux), Alicia Keys, Elton John, Fergie and Drake. Indie music even gets a shout out, with Bon Iver making two appearances on “Monster” and “Lost in the World.”
Whether it’s his sheer talent or determination by way of his ego, West never lets himself be outdone by the star surrounding him, besting the likes of CuDi, Jay-Z and Swizz Beats as he powers through each track. The only guest star who even comes close, as she does on seemingly every song she guests on, is Nicki Minaj, who kicks the album off with a British accent in “Dark Fantasy” and appears again in “Monster.”
Kanye West making it through a whole album without sampling is an impossible task, and this is no different, from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” to Smokey Robinson’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and Bon Iver’s “Woods.”
The all-star showing of “All of the Lights” is easily one of the album’s highpoints, with a layered complexity in its sound and hard-hitting lyrics. Fergie rapping can’t even take away from the song’s greatness. While the whole album is something else, other standouts include “Monster” and “Power,” both with arena-sized beats and maximum sound.
Though a hit, “Runaway” is one dull spot on this genius-level album. The shortened radio version is fine enough, but a nine minute long album version becomes tired and annoying. A much better relationship mea culpa is “Blame Game,” in which Kanye struggles to figure out what went wrong and who to blame. It’s pompous and angry but with doses of humility, an emotional mix he has mastered.
If West somehow explodes yet again and never finds a new gig, the world might be void of more amazing music, but “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” would be a near-perfect swan song.