Thousand of words have already been written in hopes of solving the human Rubik’s Cube that...
DJBooth Album Review
The true shame of Mr. West’s now predictable tantrums aren’t the tantrums themselves – no one here actually cares about Taylor Swift - but that his headline-grabbing behavior so often overshadows his music. No music exists in a vacuum, but Kanye has made it particularly impossible to simply listen to his greatness and leave our opinions at the door. But for the next 500 words, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re going to forget about Katrina, and his mother’s death, and the fashion internships and the countless other scandals. Instead, we’re going to reduce the world to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy alone. The best album of the year deserves it.
With all due respect to Primo, Dre, Timbo et al, at what point do we start calling Kanye West the best producer alive? I’m ready to start now. Dark Twisted Fantasy is the kind of sonically expansive album hip-hop is usually terrified to approach, but Kanye crosses borders with an osmotic ease, unfailingly managing to create new life forms from the assembled parts. The album’s opening track, the cinematic Dark Fantasy, moves from an angelic chorus to a head-nodding rider and then back again with a seamless grace. But Dark Fantasy is a mere infant compared to the Goliath that is All of the Lights. On Lights Kanye somehow manages to get two opposites, the track’s frenetic, percussive underpinning and its soaring, beautifully simple overlay, to not only co-exist, but better each other. Ironically, the most traditionally “Kanye” sounding beat of the album, the gorgeously soul sampled Devil in a New Dress, is the work of Bink! It can’t be an accident. On Ye’s albums, there are no accidents. Instead, New Dress is a nod to his production past, and a reminder of how far he’s come. For all his Napoleonic vision, I don’t think even Kanye thought he’d be making beats like the electro-dance meets African tribal beats Lost in the World during his College Dropout days. True, Ye has not accomplished these feats himself. From RZA to No I.D. to Jeff Bhasker, other hands stirred Dark Fantasy’s pot, but part of being great is surrounding yourself with greatness.
I know I wasn’t the only one worried that Ye hadn’t truly gotten his pop-singer aspirations out of his system on 808s, but thankfully Dark Twisted Fantasy finds Kanye turning to his shaky singing abilities rarely. Instead, what we get from Yeezy on this album is a, dare say it, more mature emcee. In the past, despite his success, you could often hear him trying when he rapped. His desire to be accepted as an elite rapper was at times painfully obvious, but here he sounds as comfortable in his own skin as I can remember. The emcee who exploded back onto the scene with Power is able to rhyme angry without losing control, and on Monster he flips between comic punchlines and uppercuts fluidly. It’d be the most memorable verse in recent memory, if Nicki didn’t completely overshadow everyone else minutes later. But it’s on the self-reflecting Runaway that we feel like we come the closest to knowing Kanye as a true person. As off-key as it may be, he lets us hear his true singing voice instead of hiding behind auto-tune, with Pusha anchoring the track with a unflinching verse. From his politically and racially charged rhyme work on Gorgeous to his charismatic flow on the aforementioned New Dress, Yeezy’s never sounded more confident.
Truthfully, finding faults with Dark Twisted Fantasy is like receiving a Bentley as a gift, and then bi**hing that the cup holders are too small, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. Watch me. Most prominently, the same Good Friday monolith that built Twisted Fantasy into a cultural event also robbed it of its surprise factor (a.k.a. it’s “oh s*it!” factor). As promised, the final album has some tweaks, but more than two months after Power first dropped, the sights look familiar. The effect is like running into the hottest girl at your high school five years after you graduated, and she somehow got ever hotter. It’s still impressive, but it’s no surprise. Second, Kanye could literally have gotten any rapper – no, any artist period – in the world to appear on this album, and Fergie gets a full verse on All the Lights? Fergie? Really? Instead of, say, giving Alicia Keys her own section, or bringing in Nas, or put on some unknown but deserving singer, a woman most famous for her lovely lady lumps gets an entire verse? Really? Really? And last but not least, let the skits go Kanye. Dark Fantasy is too good to pander. I love Chris Rock as much as the next man, but his presence merely turns the otherwise emotionally raw Blame Game into a joke, and not a particularly funny joke.
As I’ve written before, the central paradox of rating albums is not only the cognitive dissonance involved in assigning a numerical value to a work of art, but in instantly assessing an album’s impending legacy. A classic album is one that stands the test of time; that hits just as strong, if not stronger, five, ten, fifty years after its first listen. The impact of Dark Twisted Fantasy remains to be seen, not many will be able to approximate, let alone duplicate, what Kanye’s done here, but for the first time I have no doubt that we’ll still be talking about this album a decade from now. Don’t let it go to your head Kanye.
DJBooth Rating - 5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on Nov 22, 2010
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