Kanye West is known for his innovation and rejuvenation of hip-hop with each new release, although if there was an album that could summarise his career, it would be My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Born from a “self-imposed exile” to Hawaii, the album is every bit as grandiose and decadent as the title suggests.
Opening with Nicki Minaj reinterpreting Roald Dahl’s ‘Cinderella’ adaptation, first track ‘Dark Fantasy’ introduces the “twisted fictions” and “sick addictions” under the surface of the story. A soaring hook and choral melodies take the reins, and it is over a minute before Kanye’s presence on the album is felt via the introduction of a bouncing beat and his first verse. The grandeur of production and songwriting throughout is unrivalled, as Kanye drafted in a whole host of producers, rappers and singers to provide their input.
Kanye has ventured further into rock territory than ever before, sampling and taking inspiration from the likes of Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and many more. The atomic guitar has a much more prominent role, notably on tracks ‘Gorgeous’ and ‘Devil in a New Dress’. Instrumentally, he displays huge ambition, each track is given SPAAACE to develop over a total album run time of 68 minutes.
The album’s strongest section comes from the emphatic triple-bill of singles ‘Power’, ‘All of the Lights’ and ‘Monster’. The bombastic ‘Power’ sets Kanye’s statement of intent, wielding his arrogance and feeding off criticisms, “screams from the haters got a nice ring to it/I guess every superhero need his theme music” and “I embody every characteristic of the egotistic/he knows, he’s so fucking gifted.” This is accompanied by some self-reflection, a characteristic his critics wouldn’t usually attribute to him, “reality is catching up with me/taking my inner child, I’m fighting for custody.” ‘All of the Lights’ follows, one of the greatest hip-pop bangers of all time. Beginning with an orchestral interlude, the track is loaded with pop, hip-hop and RnB greats including Rihanna, Elton John, Drake, Fergie, Alicia Keys, and La Roux. The huge number of A-listers present could easily result in a self-congratulatory mess, but Kanye’s vision raises the standard creating a masterpiece. On any other album it would be an impossible act to follow, but ‘Monster’ proves a worthy successor. The gargantuan track features verses from rap heavyweights Jay Z and Rick Ross, as well as a show stealing performance from up-and-coming Nicki Minaj. The track is bookended by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, an inspired addition from left field.
MBDTF is also home to some of Kanye’s funniest lyrics. In lieu of a pedestal, Kanye opts to “put the pussy in a sarcophagus.” Similarly, it’s impossible to take his arrogance seriously as he quips “I don’t need your pussy bitch I’m on my own dick.” Witty and introspective, Kanye spends as much time poking fun at his overblown persona as he does stroking his ego. Throughout the album he traverses the highs and lows of his fame and the ensuing lifestyle, mirrored by the expansive beats.
Closing out the album demonstrates Kanye’s idea perfectly. Despite his perceived egotism, MBDTF is not “the Kanye West show”, emphasized by the concluding tracks. ‘Lost in the World’ is built on Bon Iver’s heavily autotuned a capella ‘Woods’, exploding into a dynamic ballad revisiting recurring topics on the album from love to lust, and light to life and death. The track segues effortlessly into a sample of Gil Scott-Heron’s ‘Comment #1’, drawing to an end with the bark “who will survive in America?” and a sparse smattering of applause.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an epic, a hip-hop behemoth that stands as one of the most important albums of the 21st century, if not all time.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was released November 22nd 2010 via Roc-A-Fella Records.