ALBUM REVIEW: Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

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GIVEAWAY: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy CD & "Power" 12" Picture Disc ?
GOOD MUSIC | 11.22.10 | EMUSIC | AMAZON | INSOUND | ITUNES

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95 — [Rating Scale] [Stream Entire Album] (OFFICIAL SELECTION)

Was there really any other way it could have ended, this year of Kanye West? I suppose yes. I suppose this ever-accelerating cyclone of hype and publicity—centered in the gray area between brilliance and egomania—could have twisted itself straight into the ground. Instead, Kanye West has made the album of the year.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is brilliant. It’s a record that was constructed by stacking massive track upon massive track, but it’s more than that. It’s a rap album—and I mean a rap album, not a hip hop album—that transcends the genre. And it does so not by pandering to singles-hungry consumers, but by following the vision of a man so enigmatically conflicted that he has absolutely captivated us for a year now, all of us watching him with half an eye just in case he did something worth talking about. It all led to this. As a project, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy had grandiose aspirations; as a finished product, it’s even better.

Remember this: As recently as 2003, Kanye West couldn’t convince people that he was anything more than a producer. The fact that we now consider him one of the great voices of this generation of music, a mere seven years later, is astonishing. Kanye is still not one of the greatest rappers of all time, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy doesn’t change that. But here he holds his own with a few of the great ones while simultaneously coaxing absolutely untouchable verses out of his guests. Jay-Z sounds as edgy as he has in years on “So Appalled.” Nicki Minaj drops the verse of her life on “Monster.” Raekwon is lean and mean on “Goregeous.” There’s not a single verse on the entire album that sounds nonchalant or lackluster; it’s as if each lyricist—Kanye included—knew they only had a little slice of time to strut their stuff so they brought everything they had to the table.

Sure, Kanye might get out-rapped at times. And for most other rappers, getting overshadowed on your own album would be a death knell. For Kanye, I’d call it success. With the help of producers like Pete Rock, No ID, and Swizz Beatz, Kanye has crafted a sonic environment that forces his counterparts to dig deep, pushing them to find the intensity required to avoid sounding out of place on these tracks. To overshadow Kanye West, you have to be doing something right; the fact that multiple artists come close here is as much a testament to West, serving as curator, as it is to the rappers themselves. Even John Legend, singing the hook on “Blame Game,” seems to push his voice to its edges.

Rap has two lifebloods: beats and verses. On My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, those veins flow together to such an extent as to render them indistinguishable. Would Hova’s line on “Monster”—“Love/I don’t get enough of it/All I get is these vampires and bloodsuckas”—have the same venom a cappella? Would the beat on “So Appalled” be as gripping without Kanye’s rap cadence to set the pace? It’s that symbiosis upon which My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy thrives. The whole finished product is under scrutiny here, not just Kanye’s flows, and it all holds up phenomenally well.

In many ways, this album is the integration of the sonic diversion found on 808s and Heartbreak into the rest of Kanye’s oeuvre. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy extends the sound developed there without getting lost in self-centered indulgence. The auto-tuned electronic influence is prevalent, showing up in some form on almost all of My Dark Twisted Fantasy’s thirteen tracks, but it doesn’t overtake the heavy beats and gripping flows that absolutely dominate your ears for the album’s duration.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has no traditionally radio-friendly singles; the album’s shortest song is over four minutes long and features an extended, vocoded vocal intro from Bon Iver. Many of the other songs are framed by either extended intros or outros – the album opens with a Nicki Minaj-narrated buildup, “All of the Lights,” has a minute-long cello and piano interlude preceding it, “Runaway” closes with a three minute outro that is alternately sparse and flush with autotune. This album is not meant to be digested in clumps, although that does work. People wondered why Kanye was willing to give away a free track – including many songs that ended up on this album – every Friday for months. It’s because the whole is better than the sum of its already impressive parts.

Here I am, seven hundred some words into my review, and I feel like I still have an endless amount of things to say. I haven’t talked about the Runaway video. I haven’t touched on much of the subject matter, haven’t discussed what the album reveals about Kanye West, his bravado and his insecurities. I haven’t broken down verses, talked about GOOD Fridays, analyzed what My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy means for Pusha T and Prince CyHi. I haven’t mentioned the decision to use Gil Scott Heron’s “Comment #1” to close the record. I haven’t delved into how this album should sell a million copies quickly, whether it will or not, and what that might mean for the music industry. I feel like books could be written about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but this is not the medium for it.

So I’ll stick with statements and leave you with the album. This album is a benchmark, a high water point for mainstream conceptual rap. It’s Kanye’s most complex and complete release and one of the most consistently impressive hip hop albums in recent years. It pushes the genre to new places. Surprise, surprise, Kanye West refuses to play by someone else’s rules, instead choosing to created his own set. Surprise, surprise, the result is phenomenally impressive.

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