Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Who would’ve thought it? We’ve spent the last year or so thinking Kanye was in celebrity meltdown mode. But behind all the dodgy headlines and weird antics he’s actually been busy crafting one of the finest rap albums of this, or any, year.
That he’s managed to create an album as composed and inventive as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Since he dropped The College Dropout six years ago Kanye has consistently released genre defining albums which have taken him to hip-hops top table. His only mis-step came with the heavily auto-tuned and much criticised 808s & Heartbreak – but even that sold a shed load and found itself on many an album of the year list!
It’s tempting to view the more straight-forward rap approach of MBDTF as a response to the less than great reception of the heavily produced 808s & Heartbreak. But in actual fact Kanye has taken the slick and controlled production of that album up a notch with MBDTF – only this time he’s managed to combine the cool beats with a more soulful and human approach.
The album opener, ‘Dark Fantasy’, establishes this soulful approach from the off – with a dominant piano-led choral line setting an emotive backdrop for Kanye’s slick rapping. ‘Gorgeous’ follows suit with a delicious post-Motown soul groove reminiscent of What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye. A trick Kanye repeats to even better effect on ‘Devil In A New Dress’ later on.
To brand the album as just a soulful side-step, though, would be doing Kanye’s inventive production and incredible pop sensibilities a massive disservice. On first listen, ‘Power’ seems like a run-of-the-mill epic and angry hip-hop effort. But peel back the layers and you reveal a song bursting with creativity – from the gradual influence of electric guitar and distorted vocal hooks to the neat turns of phrase (“the abomination of Obama’s nation”) and extended outro.
The albums most obvious chart hit is ‘All Of The Lights’, which builds on a delicate piano and strings intro before Rihanna (sounding a bit too much like Katy B) brings it to life with an attention grabbing contribution. Rihanna is not alone in the scene-stealing stakes: Jay-Z bats off competition from The RZA and Nicki Minaj to make the albums two show-stopping ensemble pieces (‘Monster’ and ‘So Appaled’) his own, while John Legend makes a sparkling appearance on the beautiful ‘Blame Game’.
The wealth of collaborating talent on MBDTF could lead detractors to accuse Kanye of relying too much on others, but this ignores his skill in producing a composed and cohesive album out of so many different and competing elements. This production skill is at its most prominent in the majestic ‘Runaway’. Those who have seen the full-length promo video will already know that this is a song that comes as close as any to deserving the title ‘masterpiece’. From the gentle and emotionally bleak piano intro to the engaging vocoder-dominated outro, ‘Runaway’ fills all of its almost 10 minute running time and confirms Kanye as one of the most influential and important artists of his generation.
With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy Kanye West has not only transcended his own strange behaviour and consistently negative headlines – he has transcended the conventions of modern hip-hop and rap and created a composed, engaging and inventive album that could one day be viewed as a stone-cold classic.