My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
04:00PM ET November 24th, 2010
Contributor: Todd Williams
A Rocky Williform Company
For all of the legendary artists that have contributed to hip hop's rich history, there are very few that have been able to continuously sustain and maintain their greatness for more than an album or two. Nas is one of hip hop's most celebrated lyricists, but struggled for years to live up to the expectations that followed his masterful debut album Illmatic. Big Daddy Kane is another one of the genre's more celebrated names, but his greatness is more or less derived from his first two albums, which were released a mere 18 months apart from each other. Similarly, 2Pac's greatest work--the trifecta that begins with 1995s Me Against the World and ends with 1996s Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory--represents only a year and a half of his life and career. Even the iconic Jay-Z has had a career of stellar highs like Reasonable Doubt and The Blueprint followed by missteps like the vacuous and uninspired In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 and the overblown The Blueprint 2. There are only a few artists, (Run-DMC, Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy come to mind), that have been able to consistently craft masterful albums; and even fewer have been able to be forward-thinking and innovative with each successive release.
We can add Mr. Kanye West to that short list.
West's ambitious, sprawling and amazingly earnest My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the latest entry in what was already the most impressive run of albums hip hop has seen since Outkast's first five LPs. Kanye has taken the emotional core of 2008s 808s & Heartbreak and injected it with the soulfulness of his earlier work. But that's not to suggest …Fantasy is a retread of his previous musical incarnations. Not at all, this is Kanye at his most epic, 2000s hip hop reinvented as 70s prog-rock, right down to the King Crimson-sampling first single, "Power." Whereas Kanye's earlier approach used classic soul samples as a sonic backdrop, now Yeezy uses classic soul (specifically the orchestral sounds of artists like Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield) as a direct influence to his approach. This music is BIG, lush and intricately detailed.
The anthemic opener "Dark Fantasy" seems to recall all of Kanye's most ostentatious musical tendencies; (platitudes about 'getting higher' and a chorus of 'Oh-oh-ohs') before descending into an unmistakably RZA production over ominous strings and a plinking piano. "Runaway" has the album's catchiest hook and features some of the most minimally elegant music hip hop has heard in ages. Ironically, the Mike Dean-produced "Devil In A New Dress" flips a sample of Smokey Robinson's cover of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and recalls classic Kanye sonically. "…New Dress" also features a spirited guest verse from Rick Ross. The Raekwon and Kid Cudi-assisted "Gorgeous" showcases some of the most dexterous rhymes Kanye has ever committed to wax: "I don't believe in yesterday/What the f*ck is a black Beatle anyway?/A f*ckin' roach?/Guess that's why they got me sitting in f*ckin' coach." Of course, a track as superstar-heavy as "Monster" would be just a generic 'hey look at all the big names!" showcase on a lesser-album, but here it serves as a centerpiece and, in what is becoming something of a rarity, all parties involved seemed to genuinely be inspired lyrically and swinging for the fences. Young Money femcee Nicki Minaj and her myriad of personalities steal the show, however.
Kanye has managed to craft an album that is both ambitious and tightly-focused. His perspective is sharper than ever--even though his musings on sitting in coach and penitentiary references aren't likely to be autobiographical, they're about the only thing on …Fantasy that isn't. Yeezy's raps about fame, relationships and his art aren't necessarily new ground for him, but they've never been weighted with as much pathos and now he seems to have the insight that comes with hindsight.
It all makes for a gripping listen. In My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye has pushed himself to new artistic heights and completely succeeded. In a hip hop climate that has become increasingly staid, West is at the forefront of the genre--and not just on the gossip pages.