REVIEW: Kanye West - "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

27 comments

Kanye West - "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

“Getting rid of a delusion makes us wiser than getting hold of a truth.” – Ludwig Borne

Delusion is scary.  It has the power to completely transform people and more importantly other people’s perceptions of said delusional person.  Kanye West is talented; I’m not going to argue that.  The problem is Kanye’s delusion is feeding the delusions of millions of fans.  Recently Kanye tweeted “I have decided to become the best rapper of all time! I put it on my things to do in this lifetime list!”  I have a pretty solid understanding of the history of hip-hop, but by no means am I an expert on the genre.  I cherish my Public Enemy, N.W.A, Beasties, Notorious, 2Pac, Outkast, and Nas records…and for my money it doesn’t get better than Tribe Called Quest, but sit me down next to a hip-hop historian and all their references will go over my head.  While I’m not an expert I find it impossible to even consider Mr. West in the top twenty best rappers of all time and mark up his statements as the best or wanting to be the best as delusional.  It’s this very delusion that shakes me a listener and ultimately turns me off to “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.”

Let’s start with the good.  For my money the production on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is in the top ten of the last five years for a hip-hop record.  The opening track “Dark Fantasy” is my favorite West track he’s ever created.  The complete control of the music and raw emotion displayed had me in awe.  “Dark Fantasy” has a sensitivity quality in its chorus that juxtaposes perfectly with the beat reverse beat that kicks in as a background for Kanye’s flow.  The song melodically accomplishes everything I expect from a great hip-hop track and even goes the extra yard to please.  The opening track proves that Kanye as a producer is one of the best.  My surprising excitement for “My Beautiful Dark Fantasy” grew with the second track “Gorgeous”.  I’m a sucker for electric guitar in hip-hop, much in the same way that I love Ron Carters bass in Tribe’s “The Low End Theory”.  Once again, Kanye is in complete control, showing his mastery of making all the right decisions when it comes to melody. Kanye displays his skills utilizing cut outs, silence, and letting the best sections of the song develop without ever making the tracks feel rushed. 

Then all hell breaks loose with “Power” and Kanye’s self-declared masterpiece comes crashing down.  Everything melodically interesting featured on tracks “Dark Fantasy” and “Gorgeous” is abandoned for gimmicks and self-indulgent decisions.  The hardest thing to do in any art form is too make a masterpiece seem like it was done with ease.  The tracks starting with “Power” drip with a feeling that West is trying too hard to gain approval.  Every gimmick that has ruined hip-hop as an art form is picked by West to make his tracks jam-packed with high-end mainstream production.  Auto-tune, really shallow call and response, and this horrible new trend of using mediocre R&B choruses to drive a song. 

Many critics have slapped near perfect or perfect scores on “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and trust me, many more will roll out next week.  A perfect score in my mind means no missteps.  I have problems with a lot of the tracks on this record, but “Lost In The World” is unforgivably bad.  As a Bon Iver fan I was a little disappointed by his “Blood Bank EP” but in the context of “My Beautiful Dark Fantasy” the song seems grossly out of place.  A perfect album flows track into track and “Lost In The World” takes all the energy of the first eleven tracks and sucks all the air out.  It’s not a nice break or transitional piece like “All Of The Lights (Interlude)” it’s just a random flexing of Kanye’s muscles and ego where he thinks his stamp can make anything work.  It doesn’t. 

My biggest problem with Kanye West is his approach as a lyricist.  It’s funny to say, but I have the same gripe with West as I do with “comedy” writer Judd Apatow.  Both make art that seems like high art to those who just don’t know any better.  Yes, “Knocked Up” is a step up from the usual flatulence based comedies that the uneducated are used to watching, but it’s a small step filled with out of place pop-culture references and immature sexual situations crafted solely for a laugh not to enhance the story.  For some reason, West loves throwing out references in a similar fashion, without any meaning.  Some of the names used are Austin Powers, King(s) of Leon, Carl Winslow, and more.  They’re often used just to rhyme, but no meaning is expressed by using these names.  If you’ve ever tried to freestyle (and I have) and you’re horrible (I am) then you find yourself grasping to any word that rhymes…it makes no sense but it rhymes.  That might be fine for a drinking game of “9-9 bust a rhyme”, but from the self-proclaimed greatest rapper, nope, not cutting it.  Why does he do this?  People love it and I can’t tell you why.  When I listen to a song I like to have meaning, shoot me.  Next time you’re at a dance club and a song with a pop culture reference comes on, listen closely.  People will shout it out with pride.  Take West’s previous track “Gold Digger”.  People love yelling out Jennifer Lopez and Usher when those parts arise.  It’s the same thing that causes people to laugh at an Apatow reference even if they don’t understand the context of the joke.  Art that lasts forever says something, changes perspectives, or adds a new dimension to previous thoughts. Unfortunately, West is too busy randomly name checking and not spending enough time trying to find meaningful words to match his masterful production.

I actually feel sorry for West because people confuse being a musical genius with being smart as a person in other areas.  This is a common problem.  We all have our areas where we are talented and areas where we are weak.  The problem arises when someone is extremely talented in a specific area that features other skill sets.  Music, if there are vocals, demands both musical and writing skills.  As stated before, West understands music but as a writer of the actual words he falls short of being talented.  People listen to his music and hear the genius production and automatically leap to calling him a genius rapper.  Please listen closely, meaning, importance, everything that used to make hip-hop an art doesn’t exist in West’s lyrics.

In the end, the critique of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is simple.  Is it a good hip-hop album?  Yes, without a doubt.  I can spin this record and enjoy the production, laugh at a few corny choices made by West, but cut and dry it’s a good record that you should spend time with.  “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is not a masterpiece, a groundbreaking work of art, or high art at all for that matter.  Enjoy the album for what it is and not for what Kanye and his loyal followers think it is.  Delusion can make people believe in something that’s not there and that’s Kanye’s ultimate power.

27 comments:

  1. I think this is the best hip-hop album of the decade so far and will stay that way until the end. I do agree with your points about the lyrics, but it doesn't change how the songs make me feel.

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  2. I think you're very close to the money here. There are a lot of little details that detract from things; the farcical intro to Dark Fantasy, the endings to multiple songs that drag things on far too long (Power and Runaway, among others, though luckily Runaway was already released in a version three and a half minutes shorter), etc.

    I'm not quite as critical of the lyrics as you are. I'm mainly confused by your implication that anybody thinks Judd Apatow, or Knocked Up, is somehow refined or sophisticated. And most of the cultural references do seem to have some point within the song, though it's often shallow and still has the ring of a cheap trick. They don't bother me, and this is coming from somebody who usually can't stand that sort of thing in film.

    To me, Kanye is a great producer, and is at his lyrical best when he's talking about himself. (surprise surprise!) He CAN be capable of emotion and admitting personal flaws. That said, I'm not looking for deep meanings from most of his songs, but I find them very listenable.

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  3. this is literally a gigantic piece of shit.

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  4. @Nathan Great points. There are a surprising amount of people who praise Apatow's films on a different level than just comedies. Not us, but casual filmgoers.

    @ Second Anonymous way to be anonymous. What is your opinion on the record. Do you have something to add? If not than you're not contributing anything.

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  5. The real problem, is people are grasping for a good album. Music as an entirety has been horrible for a long time now. Mainstream music is even worse. I do think this is a very good album, especially when compared to most of the cookie cutter turds being pushed out of these faceless artists asses these days.

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  6. This is an interesting take on the record, even if I think you're a little too hard on the lyrical content. After all, Jay-Z is widely considered to be a top 10 rapper, but he's been rapping about the same things for 15 years.

    In terms of a singular artistic statement, I think 808s rests with West's best, but it's also the dark horse of his discography.

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  7. I agree with Sam about being too hard on the lyrical content, but other than that I think this is a great review.

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  8. dude, name another artist doing what kanye is doing for hip-hop right now?

    And you comparing him to apatow? Ridiculous!

    "In the end, the critique of “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is simple"

    This could be the dumbest thing i have ever read. Whats simple about it? The production sure ain't. The lyrics then? Have you listened to blame game? That song could be the best extrapolation of a relationship ever.

    Will we ever see another record this ambitious? That aspires to this level of greatness?

    Not any time soon.

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  9. Anonymous, I think you missed the basic meaning of a sentence there. "The critique...is simple." Zachthat doesn't say the album is simple. He says the critique is simple.

    And, listen, I like Kanye, but the idea that a song of his is a profound exploration (probably the word you meant, as opposed to "extrapolation", which makes no sense in context) of relationships is pretty laughable. And the argument that it's the best exploration of a relationship EVER just goes to demonstrate a lack of exposure to, you know, art.

    "Dumbest thing I've ever read"? Look inward, young one.

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  10. great review, but ive got to say this first:I CANT TAKE IT ANYMORE!!! all reviewers PLEASE read the credits beofre reviewing!!
    kanye did not produce most of this album--the whole first paragraph assumes he produced dark fantasy but its a rza production....devil in a new dressed was produced by bink, etc etc etc etc!!!!! and furthermore,if u think for one second that his "co-production" credits on tracks like power mean that he had anything at all to do with the production you are delusional--he didnt produce the best productions on the record, he had nothing to do with the live instrumental arrangements/orchestrations--nothing to do with the writing of any of the non-sampled melodies/chord progressions/nothing to do with anything accept the lyrics, his own rapping and the sample based parts of the few songs he has solo production credits on---absolutely nothing..he hasnt had a legit solo production since college dropout--(for example,all the lush orchestrations you heard on late registration were all JON BRION, all of the original music composed=jon brion--without jon brion all those tracks would be exactly the same as college dropout--check the LR credits)..even the drums for runaway are lifted directly from an old pete rock breakbeat (at least pete rock got some production points on this record)... read the credits b4 reviewing! enough is enough!!!!!!!! (sorry for the rant, but its really been bothering me)

    otherwise, great great review!!!

    thank you for being the only person to address the lyrics-- and for being the only person on the web with the integrity to give this record an honest review (people act like outkast never existed or something)

    i was beginning to seriously think the entire world had become delusional--the last paragraph is the most honest, level headed thing i have heard regarding this album anywhere on the web.

    as a young aspiring hip hop artist/producer, the hype and delusional responses to this record had me feeling like i wanted to quit--seriously, i havent been to the studio in days thinking i stand no chance against the power of hype and delusion---and one man's unbelievably baseless narcissism...

    i dont know who you are or how many people read your reviews, but thanks a lot for this review; i sincerely mean that, i needed this, im getting back to work later tonight...

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  11. great review but 1st i must say:
    PLEASE read the credits before reviewing!! kanye didnt produce most of this album--the whole 1st paragraph assumes he produced dark fantasy but its a rza production!! devil in a new dressed was produced by bink, etc, etc! -also,if u think for 1 second that his "co-production" credits on tracks like power mean he had anything at all to do with the production ur delusional--he didnt produce the best productions, had nothing to do with the live instrumental arrangements/orchestrations--nothing to do with ANY of the original non sampled music on here--nothing..he hasnt had a legit solo production since college dropout--(for example,all the lush orchestrations you heard on late registration were all JON BRION--without jon brion all those tracks would be exactly the same as college dropout--check the LR credits)..even the drums for runaway are lifted directly from an old pete rock breakbeat (at least pete rock got some production points on this record)... read the credits b4 reviewing! enough is enough!!!!!!!! (sorry for the rant, but its really been bothering me)

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  12. Now that my credits rant is out of the way
    great great review!!!

    thank you for being the only person to address the lyrics, & 4 being the only person on the web with the integrity to give this record an honest review (people act like outkast never existed or something)

    i was begining to seriously think the entire world had become delusional--the last paragraph is the most honest, level headed thing i have heard regarding this album anywhere on the web.

    as a young, aspiring hip hop artist/producer, the hype and delusional responses to this record had me feeling like i wanted to quit--seriously, i havent been to the studio in days thinking i stand no chance against the power of hype and delusion---and one mans baseless narcissism backed by a multimillion dollar pr budget

    I needed this, thanks a lot for this honest review; i sincerely mean that, im getting back to work later tonight…

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  13. The critical point in every hip hop album made by hip hop purist is that lyrically Kanye doesnt match his production...but that is totally missing the point...here kanye outgrown hip hop the lyrics match in perfect ways with the production..if it was say a Radiohead album nobody will complain about how Thom Yorke can sustain that note longer or how Jonny doenst blast a speed of light guitar solo...is all about the songs..i kinda feel sorry for Kanye..he has to deal with such a Struck in the past fanbase...

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  14. What hip hop do you listen to where there are no nonsensical pop culture references? Shake it like a Polaroid picture, dude.

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  15. Classic Hip-Hop is about connecting with a certain mindset and culture. its a bout drums that knock.Its about flow. Its about style, aggression, and EGO. Every rapper ever has boasted in their raps. He does that plus a thousand on this record. The references you say have no relevance, do infact make perfect sense in many cases. "Too many urkels on ur team thats why your wislow( or your wins [are] low). He is referring to the TV series family matters. Urkel was a strait nerd, and he was in love with a girl named Laura Winslow. She was a girl he could never get. To paraphrase: Too many losers on your team thats why you are nearly as successful as my team is.Thats a pretty fuckin witty line.

    You are so obviously bias! you're mad because he's an asshole. That shouldn't influence reviews of the MUSIC. Its a topic he talks about dealing with on the album as well.

    As for the music, its some of the most complex production on any record in the last 20 years. Harmonies are amazing. His songs convey crazy emotion. He's crashing classic hip-hop with elements of pop and R&B and rock as he sees fit...and he pulls it off flawlessly.

    You obviously don't know shit. quit.

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  16. Classic Hip-Hop is about connecting with a certain mindset and culture. its a bout drums that knock.Its about flow. Its about style, aggression, and EGO. Every rapper ever has boasted in their raps. He does that plus a thousand on this record. The references you say have no relevance, do infact make perfect sense in many cases. "Too many urkels on ur team thats why your wislow( or your wins [are] low). He is referring to the TV series family matters. Urkel was a strait nerd, and he was in love with a girl named Laura Winslow. She was a girl he could never get. To paraphrase: Too many losers on your team thats why you are nearly as successful as my team is.Thats a pretty fuckin witty line.

    You are so obviously bias! you're mad because he's an asshole. That shouldn't influence reviews of the MUSIC. Its a topic he talks about dealing with on the album as well.

    As for the music, its some of the most complex production on any record in the last 20 years. Harmonies are amazing. His songs convey crazy emotion. He's crashing classic hip-hop with elements of pop and R&B and rock as he sees fit...and he pulls it off flawlessly.

    You obviously don't know shit. quit.

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  17. "I have a pretty solid understanding of the history of hip-hop, but by no means am I an expert on the genre. I cherish my Public Enemy, N.W.A, Beasties, Notorious, 2Pac, Outkast, and Nas records…and for my money it doesn’t get better than Tribe Called Quest, but..."

    stopped reading at this point. worthless review.

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  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  19. "I actually feel sorry for West because people confuse being a musical genius with being smart as a person in other areas."


    I actually feel sorry for you because you obviously listened to this album at face value... This album actually has a lot of depth in the lyrics it plays into the theme Kanye's "Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" was to be a star to rap and have money for his mom, buy her a new car and house. But it wasn't what he expected at all. Which is why the first lyric he says on the album is...

    "I fantasized about this back in Chicago."

    You mention that he names random people, are you slow? Kanye has always had a play on words that few can match...

    "...Too many urkeles on your team thats why your Winslow (wins low)."

    Come on it is not that hard... There is more wit and cleverness in that one line, then you have in your entire critique of this album...

    next time you review something don't go into the review with preconceived notions of an artist, based off of his actions like you clearly have.

    That being said this is not my favorite West album... That title still belongs to his classic "Late Registration," but this is a damn good album, better than Graduation and 808s... One of the best of the year.

    I wouldn't say best hip hop album though this year has been great for Hip hop with Big Boi's album and The Roots flawless new album.

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  20. This is directed to Anonymous posted at November 14, 2010 8:18 PM

    How can you say West had very little production involvement in this album , just like he says in Chain Heavy 'they tried to cut the nose of the sphinx' ... Trying to take away credit that he thoroughly deserves.so what if he didn't sit there alone producing every single beat, he still makes final decision, provides direction and uses the tools at his disposal (may this be samples or instrumentalists) and ultimately provides the best he can for the LISTENER . I know for a fact Bink did not provide Kanye with the second half of Devil in a New Dress , arguably the best part of the song, you can check that as Bink used his beat in a beat battle in 2009 and it's pretty much just the Smokey Robinson loop but with different drums. These tracks are taken to another level by kanye. The producer S1 provided him with the afromerica sample but after that kanye was fully involved with the production of that beat.
    It's really ignorant of you to try and judge what exactly he has and hasn't done in the production process

    It's also pretty poor that you've waited for a negative review to give you motivation and inspiration to get you back in the studio... Just enjoy the music and let it inspire you rather than worrying about he did this and did that.

    And to the reviewer, it's clear you've just listened to the album once maybe twice, kanyes grown and mature as a lyricist and while he might not be the best there is, he definitely resonates with his words on many different levels, something which most 'rappers' totally miss out on...

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  21. They rewrite history, I don't believe in Yesterday....What's a black Beatle anyway ? A Fucking roach ?

    This line itself just sort of dismisses every point you made in your review

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  22. Embarrassing, thoughtless, factually incorrect, racist, poorly written

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  23. i'm amazed of how serious you take everything that p4k says. it's not the first time this happens (alt-zones launching their site comes to my mind)
    .
    why do you care about that 10.0 so much? the album was generally praised, and kanye, even though he's a douchebag, he has earned his public by doing good music, releasing it for free, so it's not just p4k talking nuts here.

    the thing is, i wouldn't mind a review like this exposing your point of view of the album, but i know you would've just let it pass if p4k decided to give the album an 8 or a 7. so this is more a letter to complain to p4k for breaking your heart, more than your actual point of view of the album. or am i wrong? would you have reviewd this album today, with this same opinion, if p4k had just let it slip?

    i think that's pathetic, but hey, that's just me, right?

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  24. I can think of few things more "racist" than a bunch of white rock critics/bloggers getting their dicks all hard and patting a black man on the head for the mere acheivement of producing a slightly above-average pop album, like he was a retarded kid who just made a basket.

    Like, "who thought the black guy who can't sing or play an instrument would make a good album? Wow! He must be some kind of idiot savant genius." That's the subtext here, and it's embarrasing (and insulting) for all concerned. Dumb crackers.

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  25. Your not an artist, and you can't do what kanye does so why have a say in it?...exactly ether you like the album or not don't try to downgrade people we all know he ain't the best lyricist but he is the best hip hop artist out right now "ARTIST!"

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  26. I know this is mad late.
    Okay first off sir, i think you are quite full of yourself, probably some pretentious 20-something who prides himself on listening to mostly indie music, that has "meaning." All of the rappers you listed are stereotypical hipster go-to rappers, granted they are some of the best, I just don't think there's any merit in what you're spewing. I don't know if Kanye is a musical genius or whatever, but you've got to give him credit. Maybe if you looked at the origin of rap, you'd fully understand what makes a "quality rapper." I know that might be too much to ask from a blogger, who thinks he knows anything about music just because he owns a freaking tupac album.
    Before you go criticizing someone else's work because every other reviewer thinks it's not "good," consider the unpopularity of truly artistic ventures, like Citizen Kane; it was received horribly when first released, and didn't get full recognition for being one of the greatest films of all time until MANY years later. i.e. you really don't have any idea what you're talking about, stick to reviewing Man Man.
    -there are plenty of artists who individuals like yourself credit as being genius, and nobody bothers you about it. i would say "genius" is determined by each listener, not by mainstream standards. And believe me, indie music is mainstream too if they've been signed.

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