Kanye West is confused. He admits he is an asshole, yet he tells people to kiss his ass. He says he has problems, but he has a problem with those who point them out. Or maybe Kanye is not confused. It makes sense to him. After all, he said it.
On My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye’s fifth studio album, West wears his heart on his sleeve. On one hand, he seems insecure, still haunted by his many missteps since gaining the spotlight. On the other hand, he is incredibly defiant, choosing to disregard what those not close to him have to say. He exhibits superb aplomb, both as a rapper and producer, and delivers the most sophisticated album of his career.
It is easy to forget where Kanye was musically just six years ago. His first three albums centered around his refusal to conform to the path that many young people take. College was not for Kanye, and he let the world know about it. A growth certainly occurred from The College Dropout to Late Registration and then finally to Graduation, but it was gradual. The beats remained mostly energetic and danceable, and the lyrics, while clever, were not always the most personal. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is, well, darker.
In a way, West has come full circle. His first single on the Dropout, Through the Wire, chronicled the pain he endured in a car crash that nearly took his life and his subsequent recovery from the accident. His second single on this release, Runaway, explores new problems in his life, primarily those involving his relationships and the pain associated with them.
Without a doubt, Runaway defines the album. The song begins with a single piano key, being played over and over again for 40 seconds. This sets a somber tone, and it is followed by a brutally honest chorus, where he admits to being a douchebag. And an asshole. And a scumbag. And a jerkoff. Kanye attempts to make amends for every romantic failure he has made in his entire life in this 9-minute long mea culpa that shows a side of him his fans have never heard.
Power is equally as reflective as Runaway, but it explores a different side of Kanye that haunts him. Kanye dismisses many of his most vocal haters – Saturday Night Live, the media, the people who just do not get him – while clearly expressing that he does not give a shit (he says, I embody every characteristic of the egotistic, he knows, he’s so, fucking gifted. I just needed time alone with my own thoughts. Got treasures in my mind, but couldn’t open up my own vault). The beat has a rock influence, and the rhythm is maintained by a ceaseless clap and bass that is reminiscent of Jesus Walks.
Kanye continues this theme throughout the album. He also offers blistering rants aimed at his detractors. In a 10-second span in the song Gorgeous, Kanye threatens to “choke a South Park writer with a fishstick” and reminds you “if I ever wasn’t the greatest nigga I must’ve missed it.” And on Monster, which features Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver and is undoubtedly the album’s biggest head-banger, Kanye’s behemoth ego that we have either grown to love or hate, is unleashed. Although he shows contrition throughout the album, he reminds listeners that hip-hop is not the same without him, especially so in Monster, where he proclaims his “presence is a present.”
Kanye is certainly the star of the album, but Pusha T, one half of the rap duo Clipse, shows why West went out and signed him to his new label, G.O.O.D. Music. His verses on So Appalled and Runaway still hit with that same street flair as they did on Clipse’s first two albums (from Appalled: success is what you make it, take it how it come, a half a mil in twenties is like a billion where I’m from). He has been, and still is, one of hip-hop’s most underappreciated MCs. And in case you forgot about Jay-Z, listen to him on Appalled. He has not lost a step.
The build up to Fantasy was unprecedented. First, he released selected tracks on his Web site for no charge. Then he released a 35-minute video of Runaway, which featured a sample of nearly every song on the album. All of it culminated on November 22 when the album was released. The fans responded by purchasing nearly a half million copies in the first week. This calculated plan created a groundswell of anticipation, and the end result was epic.
Nowadays, it is easy to speculate who the best rapper of our generation is. Ask anyone. One person will say Jay-Z. The next will say Lil’ Wayne. Another will cast his lot with Nas. And Eminem has made quite a comeback. Comparisons like can be unfair because each is so different. But the point is this: if Kanye was not universally mentioned with those names before, Fantasy should change that.
Pitchfork and Rolling Stone both gave Fantasy a perfect review. It is pretty clear why they did. They know more about music than I ever will, and I do not pretend to be an expert. But we do share this opinion: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye’s magnum opus.