Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy


Dark, moody and introspective…

Kanye West is a jerk. An egomaniacal, narcissistic, arrogant, self-congratulating, ill-tempered 33-year-old man-child. Taylor Swift knows it, Dubya knows it. Even the saintly President Obama has publicly admitted to being no fan of West’s. (He actually called him a “jackass.”)

“It’s the work of a craftsman, a perfectionist whose attention to detail is evident in each drum pattern, each orchestral arrangement, each background vocal…”

But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, onto more important news: West’s newly released fifth LP, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam), is poised to be the record of the year. And, very possibly, the record of his career. The album truly is a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy, with his production as first-rate as ever and his raps at their best yet.

In the decade or so since we were first introduced to him—as the producer responsible for Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and a string of other hits—West has switched gears. He’s shifted from behind-the-scenes, pink-polo-wearing, Louis-Vuitton-backpack-toting college dropout to Paris-Fashion-Week-front-row-sitting, baldhead-stripper-dating, awards-show-interrupting, Matt-Lauer-bashing pop star. The biggest pop star in America, I reckon.

Original cover

Thanks in part to his musical success—14 Grammys, four (soon-to-be five) platinum albums—and a succession of very public antics, West is as much a pop culture icon as he is a popular rapper. It helps that he fancies himself a modern-day Andy Warhol: wary of fame and celebrity, dabbling in art, fashion and film, assembling a crew of fellow creatives.

Cover used for copies sold in US & UK retail stores.

West’s influence on pop culture has yet to reach Warholian levels, but his career has been responsible for a pretty big shift in hip hop music and culture. The son of an English professor, West’s upbringing was undeniably middle-class: no drug-dealing, no gangs, no projects. But middle-class kids have traditionally been relegated to the role of consumers of hip hop; West was among the first—and certainly the most important—in a now-long line of middle-class-kids-turned-rappers (think: Drake, Cudi). In a genre traditionally concerned with “street cred,” West has been more concerned with pop culture credibility. And with Twisted Fantasy, he’s sure to earn it.

It’s the work of a craftsman, a perfectionist whose attention to detail is evident in each drum pattern, each orchestral arrangement, each background vocal. Musically, the songs, especially gems like “Gorgeous” (featuring Kid Cudi and Raekwon) and “Lost In The World” (featuring Bon Iver), are layered in ways that we don’t expect from rap music. Even at the album’s low point, on “Hell Of A Life,” it’s still above average. West adheres to the basic formulas of modern pop, but introduces multiple levels of instrumentation, samples and vocals that reference later forms of European art music as much as they do contemporary popular music.

“But it isn’t all platinum chains and supermodels; West is also gloomy and paranoid…”

The record is big without being cacophonous, the sign of a masterfully edited project. “All of the Lights,” a pop anthem already receiving radio airplay, features fourteen guest vocalists, including Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Charlie Wilson, John Legend, The-Dream, Alicia Keys, Drake, Ryan Leslie, La Roux and Fergie, the latter of whose grating white-girl-rap I could have done without. Still, the slew of guest vocals —which surely comes close to breaking some sort of a record—are impressively managed, adding to Twisted Fantasy’s grandness.

But the extent of outside help on Twisted Fantasy doesn’t end there. The album features a verse (on “So Appalled”) and co-production credit (on opener “Dark Fantasy”) from the RZA, whose production style of speeding up soul samples West admits to having appropriated. Plus, West coaxes an unforgettable verse out of rapstress Nicki Minaj, one that seriously upped her status as a legitimate hip hop contender. And, of course, there are contributions from G.O.O.D. Music signees Pusha T of Clipse, Prynce Cy Hi and Big Sean. Yet the wealth of featured artists does not detract from what is a record that is all about Kanye; in fact, the intrusions are welcome.

West holds his own, thematically and lyrically. Twisted Fantasy is dark, moody and introspective, a sort of meeting-point for the different facets of his character revealed since 2003’s College Dropout. And these multiple personas are explored, with few exceptions, through sharp, clever rhymes.

For one, there’s the Kanye we first met and fell in love with; he’s conscious of social and racial politics, frustrated with being a black man in today’s America. This is West at his best; smart, witty, empowered, with rhymes like: “Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon/And at the airport they check all through my bag and tell me that it’s random” and “I treat the cash the way the government treats AIDS/I won’t be satisfied till all my niggas get it/Get it?”

Still, he’s often self-indulgent and hedonistic, the Kanye the public quickly grew to despise.  References to jewelry, fashion and women are abundant, and obnoxious, with rhymes like: “My furs is Mongolian/My ice brought the goalies in/Now I embody every characteristic of the egotistic” and “I admit it, my first watch was a Fossil/Now I’m in the Louvre, lookin’ for fossils.”

But it isn’t all platinum chains and supermodels; West is also gloomy and paranoid, much like he was on his last record, 2008’s 808s & Heartbreak. On “So Appalled,” he and Jay-Z and Pusha T and Prynce Cy Hi and Swizz Beatz and RZA assert that “the shit is fuckin’ ridiculous,” the shit in question being “champagne wishes, 30 white bitches”; “five-star dishes, different exotic fishes”; “cars for the misses, furs for the mistress.” Typical rapper stuff, but they collectively seem to be wondering if it’s worth it and shaking their heads inwardly, rather than boasting. The sentiment is reminiscent of 808s & Heartbreak’s “Welcome To Heartbreak,” where West sings: “My friend showed me pictures of his kids/And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs/He said his daughter got a brand-new report card/And all I got was a brand-new sports car.”

Mostly, though, West is the guy who has a million ways to say “kiss my ass.” For instance, “Kiss and hug my ass/X and Os”; “My presence is a present, kiss my ass”; “Tell ‘em Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass/More specifically, they can kiss my asshole.” This is Kanye the jerk, the petulant egotist.

But he says it best himself: “Hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on a jumbotron.”