”I always find something wrong. You been putting up with my shit just way too long. I’m so gifted at finding what I don’t like the most. So I think it’s time for us to have a toast”
Kanye West always seems to be a man full of superlatives and oftentimes, contradicting superlatives. He’s the shittiest person and the greatest man living today. He’s the biggest jackass of our generation and the greatest mind of our generation. He’s an arrogant celebrity and an brilliant philosopher. He’s the best and worst thing to happen to rap in recent years. He’s apparently a God but also puts a featured credit to God in one of his songs. He’s married to a Kardashian and has named his children, “North West” and “Saint West”. People will argue till the end of time over how noteworthy an individual Kanye actually is and whether he is truly worthy of the hype that has surrounded his projects and around the man himself. But there is one thing that I feel few can attest to, Kanye West is the most polarizing musical figure of our generation. And I personally think that is a good thing because if nobody gave a shit about Kanye, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy would have never happened. The tropes and traditions of Kanye West could have easily have turned his projects into guilty pleasures. And trust me, there are definitely plenty of people who consider Kanye West a guilty pleasure. But there are probably just as many people would think he’s a genius and that many of his works are hip-hop masterpieces. I feel I’m in the middle of Kanye’s polarizing fanbase. I will wholeheartedly admit that Kanye West is a delusional, egotistical, annoying celebrity whose love of himself is immensely irritating. However, I cannot deny that the man has talent. The guy knows how to make incredible productions and, even with his passable flow and strange lyrical content, is fully capable of making an amazing album.
My Beauty Dark Twisted Fantasy works because it’s a Kanye album about Kanye that sounds like Kanye. Full of bombastic production, outrageous lyrics, and some social commentary about Black America sprinkled too. While not overtly deep or introspective, MBDTF is still one of Kanye’s most personal efforts whereupon he reflects on his own cultural turmoils and how that relates to the troubles of the world. To show why these measures work, I will compare to another recent Kanye West album that took the opposite approach to what MBDTF did and because of that, became an album I feel less passionately about: Yeezus. That album’s focus away from large-scale productions and personal reflection in favor of stripped-down more-experimental production and a focus on more conscious rapping really elevated Kanye’s weaknesses. While Kanye’s sporadic style of rapping works to represent his flowing mind in a reflection of his subconscious, this style of rapping does not work when trying to focus on serious topics or large-scale concepts. Songs like “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead” deal with themes of racism and systemic oppression towards blacks in modern-day America but juvenile lines like “300 bitches, where’s the Trojans?” and “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” tend to ruin the serious tone Kanye was trying to convey with these songs. While the stripped-down experimental productions of songs like “I Am The God” or “Hold My Liquor” full of uneventful sounds and unexpected shifts to radically different rhythms really bring out how lackluster Kanye West can be as a rapper with his song concepts. “I Am The God” is not about how skilled he is as a rapper like Eminem’s “Rap God” but rather Kanye literally trying to convince people that he is A GOD!!! Spoiler Alert: Kanye West is not actually a God! Flimsy concept aside, Kanye West still manages to lose track of the song with lines like “In a French-ass restaurant, hurry up with my damn croissants”. Plus, the experimental nature of the album seems done without reason or passion. It feels less like an evolutionary move than a business move because critically-acclaimed hip-hop has been schewing towards experimental or conscious rapping for years. And Kanye wants this album to be as critically-adored as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was. It shows that the songs that work on this (“Bound 2”, “Blood On The Leaves”, and “Black Skinhead”) are the ones that embrace the extreme production with twisted samples and powerful choruses that made Dark Twisted Fantasy work.
But enough negativity, let’s talk about great moments in this album because they are certainly a lot of them. The album starts off with Nicki Minaj using a faux-British accent to introduce the album like it’s a fairytale. An absurd move that does not really connect to anything else in the album but works within the overall insanity of the project which contains equally strange moments all throughout (i.e. the 3-minute Chris Rock phone call that ends “Blame Game” and the whole vocoder section that ends “Runaway”). Then, comes the glorious vocals from uncredited singers pondering and projecting the question, “can we get much higher?” The album notably ends on a completely different but thematically similar question, “who will survive in America?” Both questions reflects the confused concept of the black identity in America where the youths born with darker shades are conflicted with the knowledge of their roles in society. Constantly questioning whether things will get better and whether they will survive within future generations. But as an mind will often shift to different topics, the song shifts from an almost operatic opening to the more hip-hop inspired flavor with the introduction of Kanye’s verse which introduces the album’s themes of the influence of fame and overall hedonism... of course, doing so while Kanye is spending the time boasting about how great he is and proclaiming plenty of notable “Kanye-isms”.
So you’re probably wondering what are “Kanye-isms” exactly. Well, “Kanye-isms” are those incredibly cheesy lines found throughout many Kanye West songs that only Kanye can get away with saying. They usually border on the line between a badass boast and a cringeworthy wisecrack. I always found these moments both awesome and hilarious and the maximalist production only enhances these moments rather than let them ruin an awesome song. Here are some noteworthy “Kanye-isms” present on the album:
“Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh? I put the pussy in a sarcophagus.”
“Cause the same people that tried to black ball me/Forgot about two things, my black balls”
“Too many Urkels on your team, that’s why your wins low (Winslow)”
“I don’t need your pussy, bitch I’m on my own dick”
(There are so many other wonderful examples but I think I’ve made my point)
One notable track in this musical experience is “Runaway” with its wonderful piano intro that slowly increases into a much more beautifully estranged number full of loud blaring screams of “WE GOT THIS” and strange technified violin chords. Honestly, one of the few truly introspective moments where it seems Kanye is putting ego away for just a second to acknowledge his faults as a partner. But then, twisting the track into a reflective “toast to the douchebags”. Kanye crafts a poignant piece full of overwhelming beauty to the ears. Rather than portraying himself as the man with a whole lot of power, Kanye humanizes himself and bares all in this number and presents himself as a human being. Perfectly capable of making mistakes. The song ends with a large section whereupon Kanye releases loud, blaring, inaudible screeching using vocoder. This section represents Kanye’s awareness of his difficulties in communicating his points and people’s general dismissiveness of his ideas. This self-awareness on his relationship issues continues on in “Blame Game” and is a major theme in the album.
Another element that makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy such an overwhelming, expansive experience is the multitude of guest artists featured on this projected (both credited and uncredited). The collaboration between this large list of accomplished musicians is shown providing some excellents moments on this album like the chorus for “Dark Fantasy” and pretty much the entirety of “All of the Lights”. “Monster” most notably features one of Nicki Minaj’s best rap verses, easily the highlight of the song. Her lines and delivery carries strength emphasizing her dominance over the rap game while occasionally bringing up her role as the most successful female rapper. I’m not usually a big fan of Nicki Minaj but even I acknowledge when she provides a truly dope verse. In comparison, Jay-Z’s verse is borderline laughable. From just listing a bunch of well-known monsters to exclaiming his weakness as “LOVE!”, it really is an underwhelming verse from acclaimed rap icon. He does manage to redeem himself with a much better verse on “So Appalled”, though.
But Nicki is not the only other guest rapper that provides a memorable verse. Rick Ross actually provides one of his best rap verses ever in “Devil In A New Dress”, a surprisingly cohesive song from Mr. West continuing the theme of a wicked lover. Other highlights include Pusha T’s verse on “Runaway” that acts as the song’s intermission, Raekwon's verse on “Gorgeous” which shows the Wu-Tang Clan member is still killing it decades later, and CyHi the Prynce’s verse on “So Appalled” which saved an otherwise mediocre number full of rather underwhelming verses and bridges from both Kanye and the numerous guest rappers on this track. Speaking of underwhelming, “Hell Of A Life”, Kanye’s attempt at doing rap rock, fails to be enthralling due to the blaring production and the blatant sampling of the iconic “Iron Man” chorus. Kanye West managed to successfully incorporate a King Crimson sample in “POWER” but the Black Sabbath number is too iconic for Kanye to truly make it his own.
Overall, this album just works for me. I think the energetic, extreme approach Kanye took with this album was a risk that really payed off, providing a truly worthwhile experience. This is an album that is equal-parts entertaining and thought-provoking with powerful themes being mixed with personal touches from honestly one of the most interesting artists of the modern era. Is it a perfect masterpiece? No, I wouldn’t say that but the things this album does right truly outweigh its’ imperfections. Kanye West may be a controversial figure but that does not stop this album from being a fucking awesome album.
All of the Lights
Lost in the World
Who Will Survive in America
Devil In A New Dress
9/10 Least-Favorite Songs:
Hell of a Life So Appalled