The enigma that is Kanye West. It’s hard to box this man into a few words because he’s crossed so many dimensions with his persona that there are not enough words in the dictionary to define him. He’s not only one of the most successful musical artists of the 21st century, but also one of the most influential in the game today. Without Kanye, we arguably don’t get to see this wave of hip-hop artist cross over numerous genres like Drake, The Weeknd, Childish Gambino and Tyler, the Creator.
Kanye was ahead of his time in terms of his creativity and willingness to reimagine hip-hip in a way no one else could. When hip-hop around this time was limited to rapping about sex, drugs and money, he decided to take those elements, but them in a light that wasn’t as glamorous as other rappers made them out to be, and that’s the basis of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Prior to the release of MBDTF, Kanye was known for many popular singles. You didn’t go a single day in the 2000s without hearing “Gold Digger”, “Heartless”, “Amazing” or “Stronger”. While all phenomenal, standalone songs, no one was really talk about his whole body of work. Sure, because of Kanye’s recent decent into madness and his social media anarchy, music fans wanted to cherish his past work and it wasn’t until recent times when the masses appreciated his early record like The College Dropout and Graduation. Sadly, there’s still little love for Late Registration, which is my favorite work of Kanye’s.
Yes, I can admit that a lot of those albums are dated and expired in terms of their sound, but I’m a big proponent of appreciating music for the time they came out. Usher’s Confessions is my favorite album of all-time, but even I can admit that the sounds of the bling era would not be praised today.
Why Graduation receives the hate it does, I’ll never understand. There are perfectly enjoyable songs throughout the record even though it’s not Kanye’s most adventurous work.
Leading in to the release of MBDTF, we have to remember Kanye’s random outburst during the 2009 VMAs where he took the shine away from this up-and-coming artist by the name of Taylor Swift. Thus, began all the memes of this faux rivalry and the constant bickering of Kanye fans always telling Swift fans that he made her famous.
Kanye attributed the outburst to fatigue from all the work he put in over the years he was making Graduation and 808’s & Heartbreak.
He had to have felt the pressure when dropping this record due to the fact that many people were ready to ostracize this man out of the musical limelight. MBDTF had to be commercially successful, but even more importantly, it had to be tasteful for critics and audiences. Thankfully, it met those standards and gave his career a fresh restart.
MBDTF kicks off with this grand introduction “Dark Fantasy”. Nicki Minaj gives this tricked-out Cinderella rhyme that prepares audiences for what they are about to listen to. Then, we are met with uplifting hook with Justin Vernon and Teyana Taylor that lets us know where Kanye believes he’s at in his career. He’s reached his peak and doesn’t think it will get any better than this (Narrator: He was right). While I love the hook, I just find the verses underwhelming next to the hook and what we get for the rest of the album.
Next, we get these subtle, yet effective and haunting guitar riffs on the track “Gorgeous”, followed by a gripping hook from Kid Cudi that defines this record as the milestone for Kanye’s career.
Following this track, we get a King Crimson sample on the track “POWER”, which should go down as one of the best rock-hip-hop crossovers in history. Again, you can hate Kanye all you want for who he is today, but without his ambition to sail these oceans, you don’t see the creativity and uniqueness from a handful of hip-hop artists today.
The album hits its peak in the storytelling with “All of the Lights”. While fun and exciting in its sound, the song describes a troubled family, but serves as a metaphor for the trouble that has found Kanye with his fame. Kanye never shied away from talking about the problems fame has caused him and he did it with these explosive, multi-layered instrumentals that lay the foundations in explaining the relationship between fame and the baggage that comes with it. For Kanye, it became overwhelming, and we can hear that with every song on this record.
“Monster” has to be one of the hardest bangers in hip-hop history. It took a few listens to appreciate the track, but the writing is phenomenal. Kanye, Jay-Z and even Nicki Minaj are top-notch in their pen game on the track.
In terms of production, “Devil In A New Dress” and “Runaway” might be my favorite songs ever. Kanye is a wizard when creating these instrumentals. It’s never been a secret and he hits his production Holy Grail with these two tracks.
“Devil In A New Dress” portrays all the nasty thoughts he has about his women and uses religious imagery to convey them. Here, we have these manipulated vocals of Smokey Robinson sampled from his song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” We then get this luxurious interlude with a riveting guitar solo from Mike Dean backed by some luscious piano chords. These instrumentals prelude Rick Ross at his best. Where has this been in his career? I don’t think Rozay has gone harder in his life.
“Runaway” is arguably Kanye’s best song in my opinion. Sonically, it’s a track that works on a project that came later in his discography, ye. The tracks provides chills down your spine. From Kanye’s singing, the single piano notes to the haunting synths, it’s beautiful. It’s equivalent to a Shakespearian tragedy and strips the glamour away from the fast life of fame. While I find the song way too long, the closing minutes with the vocoder making Kanye’s vocals inaudible. It gives off the notion that he can make art from all of his shortcomings. The craziness of his life is just another addition to the complex, abstract canvas that is Kanye’s life.
I think the flaws on this record come from the fact that there wasn’t much quality control. Kanye seemed to have made this in privacy and it OK’d for release by himself. He didn’t go to any other producers to find when to cut songs or ask if these production choices are good enough. It’s especially noticeable in the end as the most of the closing tracks just fall flat compared to the more grand, explosive songs we got earlier in the record.
Regardless of that, this is Kanye’s Mt. Everest. The highest of his musical mastery came here on MBDTF. It not only defined the start of a new decade, but it was the catalyst of this new wave of hip-hop crossing over into other genres and the ambition we see from so many current artists in rap. I don’t love this record, but it should go down in the history books for being one of the most influential albums ever.
Richest Tracks: “POWER”, “All Of The Lights”, “Monster”, “Devil In A New Dress”, “Runaway”
Worst Track: “Hell Of A Life”