22 November, 2010@1:57 am
While we all knew from his rhymes that Kanye had Slick Rick levels of egotism early on (“Why you think, me and Dame cool, we assholes…”), but we didn’t see it manifest outside of his music itself until later in his career, through numerous incidents that would appear on TV, YouTube, etc. Regardless, the man is a musical genius, one that is of the last generation of true hip-hop heads, who produces with the past in mind, but at the same time isn’t stuck in it or weighed down by outdated “rules”. With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his fifth LP, he comes back from the dead with easily his greatest LP yet.
Taylorgate was the incident – the last straw, if you will – that almost sealed the fate of Kanye West, turning legions of people against him, some who will not even bother to listen to this LP because of it. Too bad for them. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the portrait of a defeated man, one who constantly hears the devil knocking at his door (old Lucifer is mentioned in almost every song), giving insight to the mind of Mr. West. At the end of the day, he’s an “artist”, defined. He’s not some flash-in-the-pan douchebag that is only looking for celebrity; he’s surrounded by those type of people throughout the industry. His anger comes from the fact that he is lumped in with them by the mainstream media, who don’t understand him or his craft. It’s when he’s treated as if he’s in the same class as a Jersey Shore cast member or some fly-by-night pop sensation with two manufactured hit singles that he gets offended and flies off the handle.
Asshole or misunderstood genius, it doesn’t matter, as ultimately it comes down to the product he delivers. MBDTF is satisfying on every level, as he takes hip-hop production to a level that pretty much everyone in the industry wishes they could attain. His sound on this LP is rooted in classic hip-hop – that is, dusty samples, raw drum loops, soulful breaks, etc – but then layered with unpredictable change-ups, gospel-esque choruses, with melodic violins and pianos played live on top of it. Every track grabs the listener from first listen and begs them to turn it up.
The album opener, “Dark Fantasy” is a joint effort co-produced by RZA and No I.D., juxtaposing a raw Wu-Tang-esque loop with a chorus line of operatic vocals, a full string section, and soft keys of ebony and ivory. The result is something that can only be described as gorgeous. This, naturally, continues into “Gorgeous”, pitting Kanye over an infectious guitar loop, while he and Kid Cudi share the chorus, with a surprise breakdown from Raekwon, taking the song to the next level.
“All of The Lights” is arguably the album’s best track, but with an LP this consistent, it’s hard to pick just one. Assembling a choir of artists to sing the hooks that includes Rihanna, Elton John, Charlie Wilson, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Alicia Keys, John Legend, and more (yes, more), as he spits over brash drum-and-bass rhythms and a Rocky-esque horn section. While this sounds like a trainwreck on paper, this is anything but a “We Are The World” posse cut where each artist phones in their 8-bars. Instead, everyone is subtly harmonizing together.
If this over the top approach to making music turns some off, he brings it straight back to basics with “Monster”, one of the best posse cuts in years. Over a thundering tribal bassline, Rick Ross merely introduces Kanye, who channels Napoleon Dynamite in his unapologetic verse, which is then taken to the next level by Jay-Z, and ultimately murdered by Nicki Minaj. The brooding “So Appalled” follows, a posse cut that plays like something from GFK’s Ironman, as a line-up of Kanye, Swizz Beatz, Jay-Z, Cyhi The Prynce, Pusha T, and RZA pass the baton, connected through a hypnotic chorus and brooding beat. These songs, along with many others included herein, are testament to the fact that Kanye brings the best of the artists he works with.
“Devil In A New Dress” hits you like a ton of bricks, with it’s incredibly soulful Smokey Robinson loop as ‘Ye waxes poetically, with Rick Ross shining with easily the strongest verse of his career. The lead single, “Runaway”, is in it’s greatest form here, in an extended seven minute magnum opus that takes that simple piano pattern and builds upon it in instrumental form as the song progresses until it’s full beauty is realized. The album closes with “Lost In The World”, a sort of bittersweet, triumphant exit that ultimately finds him accepting his role in this world, over a thundering b-more backdrop, meshed with Bon Iver’s mind-blowing vocal harmonizing. Again and again, the album constantly forces the listener to ask if it can get any better, and it continually does.
Usually when an artist goes through some kind of incident that changes the public’s perception of them, it’s the death knell for their career. Kanye West has instead taken that negativity and channeled it into the greatest album of his career. They say tragedy and sadness bring out an artist’s best, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is proof positive. Here’s a toast to the asshole. Here’s a toast to the genius.
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