Kanye West has a lot of haters.
With his type of personality, it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t. He’s arrogant and egotistical. He refuses to be humbled by fame. If it’s on his mind, it’s out his mouth. After harassing a 19 year–old girl during one of the biggest moments of her life, he faced an angry public that wanted to see him fail. While his first four albums were critically– and popularly–acclaimed, a new album that didn’t meet expectations could have finished his career.
Well, to all past and future victims and detesters: tough luck. Mr. West is five–for–five, and here to stay. In fact, his new album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, may be his best yet.
Kanye West has returned with a work that is sure to change the landscape of mainstream music. During a time in which popular rap artists struggle to redefine themselves and keep their music fresh, Kanye has done exactly that for the fifth time. His new sound is classy, natural and original; and will likely be emulated by artists for years to come.
In the past, West has repeatedly innovated as a producer, and in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, he continues to perfect his craft. Kanye refuses to acknowledge industry standards as he seamlessly blends genres to create a whole new style of music. Throughout the work, elements of rock, disco and classic hip–hop are fused together with African drumming, chilling strings and powerful horns to create a sound that’s unmistakably fresh and consistent. He also combines the best elements of his earlier works; “Hell of a Life” starts out with a heavy rock guitar riff that effortlessly blossoms into a somber 808s–style lament. “Devil in a New Dress” takes a more classic sample and eventually adds a Graduation–like profundity to it not present on the original release.
West is equally meticulous — and successful — in his selection and utilization of guest appearances. He has a job in mind for each guest star, and plays to their individual strengths. Rick Ross is used to intimidate while Pusha T plays the disgruntled veteran. Swizz Beatz and CyHi da Prynce provide cold raspy vocals that complement the raw and eery production of “So Appalled.” Armed with clean beats, Kanye directs the distinct sounds of Fergie, Rihanna and Kid Cudi to prevent overbearing performances, while stepping aside and allowing rapping greats Jay–Z and Nicki Minaj to take creative control of their verses.
Weaknesses are hard to come by, with the exception of a pointless piano solo by Elton John in “All of the Lights” that awkwardly cuts into the rhythmic pacing of the album. Unfortunately, the album’s greatest defect may stem from West’s decision to release versions of so many tracks before the release. When listening, it’s difficult to let go of the connotations of these songs outside the setting of the album. This diminishes the effect of the surprising consistency in tone, which is essential in turning a collection of hits into a complete album.
As for the lyrical content, Kanye West is Kanye West. His music has never deviated from his persona: impulsive, emotional and to the point. Rather than hide from his embarrassing public outbursts, he uses them as inspiration to mold the story of the man who battles with hubris and transparency in the spotlight. Listeners are thrust into West’s mind on tracks like “Blame Game,” which features vocal transformations to dramatize a conversation West has with himself. And on “Runaway,” heavy breathing is interspersed in his croons, making the the audience feel uncomfortably close to him. They may struggle to identify with West’s fixation on fame and lavish spending, but he’ll try his best to bring them into his world anyway.
Many critics of Kanye’s debut film, Runaway, scoffed at what they perceived to be an attempt at abstract intellectualism, and they may be tempted to do the same with this album. But like the film, the album is all about the aesthetics. West doesn’t hide anything, in his music or personality. He’s passionately direct, and demands that you take his work at face value. While the music is complex, the message is quintessentially simple and the resulting product is nothing short of beautiful.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Sounds Like: Nothing that’s come before it
99-Cent Download: “All of the Lights”
Good For: Active listening, journeying