Album: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
When the time comes to analyse the contribution made to hip-hop by the ‘noughties’ generation of rappers, you get the feeling Kanye West’s ups and downs may be deemed too extensive to cover. It would be easy to get swept up in the pantomime of stage crashing video awards, sweeping allegations against US Presidents, online outbursts etc. What we mustn’t forget is the reason he first appeared on our radars, the year was 2004 and the album was The College Dropout, a mind-blowing debut album from an artist who’d been told to stick to producing. In some ways Kanye West is to hip-hop what Jose Mourinho is to football, an outspoken, colourful character, the media’s dream come true. But, on their day they are perhaps both unparalleled in their respective fields. Since ’04 West has gone from strength to strength musically bringing out two equally sublime records within three years. While many West fans considered 808s & Heartbreak the equivalent to a 5-0 drubbing in at the Camp Nou, it marked a digression, an ambition to go beyond the laid back, sample-fuelled sound he had made his own over three albums. In May of this year Jose Mourinho reached the pinnacle of his career to date, leading Inter-Milan to their first ever treble. Six months later Kanye West has achieved his greatest feat; its name is My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
After a turbulent time in the spotlight it would have been easy for West to revert back to what he knows, keep it safe and restore his name as a world-class rapper using the style that decorated his early career. But our Kanye doesn’t do things easily. Twisted Fantasy is by a distance Wests’ most complete and ambitious project to date. If you punch the word ‘skit’ into your iTunes search bar next to Kanye’s name you’ll at the very least find nine tracks, all coming from his first three albums. West has little time for such distractions in his latest work, he’s too busy putting together songs with a colossal impact and an album filled with potential singles. Even when the political rant ‘Who will Survive in America’, and skit rare their heads they do so in a fashion that never takes the emphasis off the music, the latter coming in the form of a Chris Rock sample at the end of the beautifully melodic yet lyrically disturbed ‘Blame Game’ featuring John Legend.
Throughout Twisted Fantasy we hear West’s lyrical swagger return moving beyond the introspective suffering apparent on 808s & Heartbreak, but he doesn’t shy away from the well documented problems he’s endured in his private life, particularly on tunes like Gorgeous. The transition is flagged in opener ‘Dark Fantasy’ – “me drown sorrow in that Diablo, me found bravery in my bravado, stupid, but what the fuck do I know? I’m just a Chi-town n**ga with a Nas flow.” West has picked his loyalties in hip-hop and favours collaborating with the same artists -Jay-Z, Pusha T, Niki Minaj, Rick Ross, Bon Iver(?)- on several tracks over an endless list of high-profile names used for their commercial value. What’s more, West plays to the strengths of his colleagues, ‘Gorgeous’ is the kind of mournful slow burner Kid Cudi thrives on while M.I.A.’s appearance on the dancefloor anthem ‘All of the Lights’ is almost inevitable from the moment the Diplo/Arular-esque beat crashes over the speakers.
Not every minute of the 13 tracks amount to an attempt at something ground breaking. The most conventional hip-hop moments come on the aggressive’ Monster’, the soulful slow-dancer ‘Devil in a New Dress’ and the promiscuous, auto-tune tinged ‘Hell of a Life.’ However it’s the giant, all-consuming anthems which define Twisted Fantasy. If you’re going to make an artistically obscure music video clocking over 34 minutes, you’d want to be pretty sure you’ve got the song to fit the bill, in ‘Runaway’ West has done so with some to spare. From the simple blend of basic beats, repetitive piano and samples to the self-deprecating lyrical content it never takes a step out-of-place.
My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy is more than a return to form for West. From start to finish he battles with his own insecurities; drink, drugs, women, addiction, but no matter how low he sinks he never loses his arrogance, as if he knows he’s the best and the only one capable of stopping him from becoming the greatest artist of his generation is himself. When the time comes to analyse Kanye’s contribution to hip-hop perhaps the best thing to do is take him at his word:
“I’m livin’ in the 21st Century doin’ something mean to it, Do it better than anybody ya ever seen do it.”