My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s cover has Kanye West fucking a mythological creature, which says, yes, ‘Ye is as insane as we’ve always believed, while also signaling Kanye’s transcendence from mere hip-hop superstar to capital-A, honest-to-goddamn Artist. Never before has a hip-hop album been so decadent, yet so beatific and inspiringly adventurous – an explosive synthesis of everything Kanye has learned after four albums.
Granted, it’s partially due to context: Graduation suffered from following the instant-classic Late Registration and his last record, the flawed departure 808s and Heartbreak, did more for Kid Cudi and – by stylistic association – Drake than it did for West. So it’s been a while since we had a truly great Kanye West hip-hop record. Thankfully, Fantasy finds him re-energized after his brief respite into angst, delivering some of the best songs of his career.
Lyrically, Kanye’s more on point than ever, spitting rhymes ranging from clever punch-lines (“Too many Urkels on your team/ That’s why your wins low“) to hip-hop neo-realism (“Restraining order/ Can’t see my daughter/ Her mother, brother, grandmother hate me in that order“) – all peppered with classic Kanyeisms (“Hard to be humble when you’re stunting on a Jumbotron“) and bonkers, borderline-nonsensical turns (“Have you ever had sex with a Pharaoh?/ I put the pussy in a sarcophagus.”) Kanye’s always been capable of remarkable lines, unlike some of his other producer-turned-rapper brethren, but here his abilities as a rapper rival his production work.
The most vital component of Mr. West is his ego. Convinced he’s the greatest superstar alive, he backs it up with talent. His hip-hop records have grown exponentially in their sound and audacity, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is his biggest yet, incorporating a slew of producers and a afterparty’s worth of talent – John Legend, Pusha T, Raekwon, Bon Iver (!), Elton John and about 79 other people including, oddly, Chris Rock. But multiple producers and guest-stars do not a great album make – too often they lead to disjointed tracks on a disjointed record; Kanye-as-producer knows exactly where put them and uses the rest of his energy to hold together a record so lush and so full of hubris that by all rights the jewel case should burst.
Kanye corrals a good section of his guestlist into the record’s middle, including Fantasy’s greatest achievement, future Single of the Year “All of the Lights,” where a marching band horn beat and a Rihanna chorus collide with Kanye’s ghetto-level “See How We Are” (via X, 1987) verses (“Something wrong/ I hold my head/ MJ gone/ Our nigga dead“) and guest contributions from, among others, Fergie. The other great star-studded effort on the record is the weirdly meta “So Appalled,” in which Kanye and an array of hip-hop heavy hitters (Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Swizz Beatz and the RZA) run the gamut of rap topics (lavish possessions, high-caliber food and drink, wanton sex, designer labels, social issues, Islam). It’s a straight-faced parody where Kanye writes off rap cliché with the refrain “Fuckin’ ridiculous” – over the most ominous beat ever. Surprisingly, despite all these guests, Kanye only ever finds himself upstaged once, on the already infamous “Monster,” in which Nicki Minaj delivers one of the most powerful, arresting verses on the album.
And holy shit, these beats. Even with lots of producers collaborating, Kanye – unsurprisingly, one supposes – is all over this record with a mix of samples and 808s-reminiscent flourishes, proving that experiment wasn’t just a lark. Both “Runaway” (“Let’s have a toast to the douchebags“) and “Hell of a Life” infuse elements from the last record (“Robocop”-style strings and Auto-Tune, respectively) with buzzing rock ‘n’ roll-style beats while “Blame Game” is like something off of the latter half of 808s reinterpreted by John Legend. Meanwhile, “Lost in the World” takes an Imogen Heap-like Bon Iver song (“The Woods”) and turns it into an electro piece that begs to be remixed into a serious club dance track.
In these days of gay fish, Taylor Swift and making George W. Bush cry, Kanye seemed to have become more of a meme than a musician in the gap between records. But here comes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to remind us of how great Kanye West is, despite Kanye West himself reminding us every day on Twitter. It’s a transcendent, decadent kind of record that combines hubris with unparalleled talent to ensure that Kanye West will go down in history as a genius. Which will do wonders for Kanye’s ego, but the man’s earned it.