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.