Kanye West Kanye WestMy Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Kanye West defined “Love Lockdown”, the first single on “808s & Heartbreak” and a very representative sample of the contents of the album, as “72 bars of fucking pain,” a faithful description of what that exercise in therapy and exorcism on all levels that many didn’t want to understand meant for the artist. The recent evolution of hip hop has ended up proving that this album was more than right, a fascinating leap into the expressive, emotional emptiness of its author in the midst of a depression—and you need only take a look at the discourses of Drake, Kid Cudi, Theophilus London, The-Dream, B.o.B. or even Jay-Z to corroborate and demonstrate it. But even so, it was unviable to prolong it; it was a particular album, the fruit of a very specific personal situation, and it wouldn’t have made sense to continue on that way. We all knew it, the album’s creator most of all.
Having overcome his traumas, reconciled with himself and with life, highly motivated again in his studio in Hawaii, more active and positive than ever, ‘Ye has spent the entire year breathing life into the album that was supposed to bring him back to hip hop territory at a time when he had already outgrown the genre. The situation didn’t look easy: combining the status of the total entertainer, showman, and author with a clear idea of reconciling with the public, a massive audience, but also that of hip hop, and with an obvious, explicit intention to regain his credibility with the community was a creative pirouette only within the reach of a crazy man or a genius. Organising and preparing a Marx Brothers dressing room where you have Elton John, RZA, Rihanna, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Nicki Minaj, Raekwon, Bon Iver, Jay-Z, John Legend, Rick Ross and Gil Scott-Heron, without the room catching on fire or emptying out at the first sign of difficulty seems like a miracle.
A possessed orchestra director, a mad scientist unable to tame or control his impulses, West organises his own private musical theme park in “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, where new paths and possibilities for hip hop are promoted, at the same time that new sounds and horizons are opened up for pop language. The producer and rapper’s idea is in a sense new and powerful: to finally give big stadium hip hop a face, using songs that he himself defines as “festival monsters,” based on a sound equation that is born (and this is what makes this all apparently contradictory and brilliant) from precepts very closely linked to classic hip hop, to the aesthetic and ettiquette of 90’s New York rap, but with a design and a personality that gives meaning to the contemporary. Today, there is no music that is more current, valid, and contemporary than that of Kanye West, but many of his mechanism borrow from orthodoxy and classicism: a flurry of samples, beats with an analogue flavour, or absolute submission to rhyme, even if you have to spend seven minutes on a song to fulfil this desire.
Some months ago, before the songs on the album started to lead out, DJ Premier was already advancing that the return of ‘Ye had strong connections with boom bap, and that the sound was more hip hop than what we might all expect. And as we started to get news, through the weekly dose of G.O.O.D. Fridays, we got a glimpse of what the producer’s project consisted of. Boom bap? What? Let’s analyse the contents well. We hadn’t heard such powerful, aggressive, solid beats from our star since the days of “The College Dropout”; even the album’s emo moment, “Runaway”, which acts as a sentimental confession with an overwhelming lyrical lucidity, comes with a 90’s resonance rhythm. “Dark Fantasy”, a superb opening song, is co-produced by RZA and it once again takes up that flavour of vinyl stir-fry and gloomy samples of the best crop of Wu-Tang Clan. It doesn’t sound like an imitation or revivalist reclamation of the group, settling for lighting the nostalgic flame, but rather it presents itself as something new, epic, with inexhaustible ambitions, mixing choruses and an AOR piano with frenetic rhymes, perfect arrangements, and a trotting beat.
The feeling that you are witnessing the rebirth, reformulation, and most overwhelming modernisation that the genre has seen in the last two years is demonstrated perfectly in “Power”, which works in the same line as I’ve described. Almost tribal choruses, a sample of King Crimson, guitar solos in the background, blues pianos, synthesisers in the middle, string arrangements in crescendo, and euphoric lyrics, with a phrase for the Hall of Fame of contemporary rappers, the portentous “Lost in translation with a whole fuckin’ nation / They say I was the obamanation of Obama’s nation”? And all in the same song? A shot of energy, rage and emotion that has the same hook and power for the mainstream as on the street. And may my blood be sucked dry right now if “Devil in a New Dress”, produced by the great Bink, doesn’t seem like a declared, open, sincere nod to the times of “The Blueprint”, when the soulful-rap patented by West himself and Just Blaze came into our lives to save the genre from its most galloping crisis. And the beat of “Hell of a Lie”, although it forms a part of one of the weaker, conventional moments of the lot, is nothing to sneeze at either. It’s like taking classic 90’s New York rap to Las Vegas or Hollywood, extracting the best of both worlds in a single, unified discourse.
Of course all of this looks like small fry compared with “All the Lights”. The sound of trumpets, the start of the battle, echoes of an almost Wagnerian grandeur. Weapons at the ready. To the attack: a beat that bounces like a basketball, drum rolls, a dementedly catchy chorus, a tireless piano, baroque arrangements, the beat suspended, and Kanye spitting out a tale of life in the fast lane, success, addiction to the spotlights and all sorts of lights, stops, Kid Cudi, Fergie, and Rihanna for back-up voices, and Alicia Keys and Elton John finishing off the work in the final stretch. And all of them without being credited—what for? Only a nut who is very sure of himself can pull this off so well. The problem, or shall we say the virtue, is that this accumulation of voices, ideas, sounds, shots of Viagra, flashes and impulses isn’t limited to a sporadic momentary rush or climax. This is the backbone of the album, made up of “All the Lights”, “Monster” with a beat that is pure intimidation and a verse from Nicki Minaj for the story, and “So Appalled”, the best song that yours truly has heard this year, led by the most inspired, brilliant, overwhelming rhymes from Jay-Z in a long time. His phrases are a real monument: “Dark Knight feeling, die or be a hero / or live long enough to see yourself become a villain / I went from the favourite to the most hated / or would you rather be underpaid or overrated? / Moral victories is for minor league coaches / and ‘Ye already told you “We Major” you cockroaches.” Somebody find me some better rhymes from 2010, please!
The wonderful “Blame Game”, along with John Legend, completes the collection of peak moments, and is another golden chapter in this book of wonders. First: if this isn’t one of the most lucid, hitting-the-nail-on-the-head songs about falling out of love that popular music has offered us this year, let God come down to say so. It is a prodigy of honesty, realism, and poetic vigour. Second: how is it possible to make good with an idea that proposes to sample Aphex Twin along with proclamations of spoken word, the sound of a dramatic violin, a speech by Chris Rock, a powerful and compact beat, and distorted voices? There are no words to describe it—it’s the living proof of a reactivated genius who is absolutely unleashed, feverish, explosive, and unstoppable. And third: this portent is worth more than the whole album recorded by John Legend along with The Roots, or how to invoke that essence of combative 70’s soul-funk without setting aside your commitment to the here and now. Hands down.
A series of four monsters, lasting an average of between five and six minutes, in which it doesn’t even seem to matter to Kanye if he is clearly surpassed by Minaj or Jigga. In reality, his lyrical baggage is especially powerful and convincing in this album. It’s true that at many times we have the feeling that we are looking at vengeful, resentful exercise in getting back at haters and critics—the chorus of “Runaway” is fanatical, an unsurpassable declaration of intentions: “Let's have a toast for the douchebags / Let's have a toast for the assholes / Let's have a toast for the scumbags / Every one of them that I know / Let's have a toast to the jerkoffs / That'll never take work off.” But this air of revenge also coexists with surprising outbursts of self-criticism, reflection, and intimate confession that only the greatest of the great MCs can match. It is in this balance, the nuances and attacks of sincerity that are worked into a mosaic of counterattack, after an album of pain and a series of public events and problems, where ‘Ye’s lyrical contributions shine with a light that is special, intimate, epic, raging, hopeful, and inspiring, all in equal amounts.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is not here to change hip hop, it’s here to modernise it, excite it, motivate it, and challenge it. In the midst of great debate over the health of the genre, an outburst of creative fury of this calibre, a bottomless pit of ideas and ambitions seems to be a turning point in terms of the way of integrating an entire tradition and legacy into a context of raging contemporariness and implacable pop voraciousness. Inexhaustible, monumental, baroque, this is an album that increases in greatness, solidity, and value every time you listen to it, as if its plan to conquer isn’t settling for dominating this month or this year. This album seeks total longevity. Its goal is that when someone asks what the 21st century sounded like, the answer will be that it sounded like Kanye West.
David BrocKanye West - Dark Fantasy