Kanye West's album is everything it promises to be; dark, twisted, beautiful, and fantastic. Although the very raw 808's and Heartbreaks
was much debated in its merit, it was a strong indication that the artist had evolved beyond the process of just creating a beat and rapping over it. No stranger to thematics, no one should be surprised to see MBDTF
is more of the same. What we have here is an extended synthesis of the melodic and the rhythmic, as fit for the club as it is fit for a quiet night of contemplation. Thus it feels authentic, honest, and powerfully personal, the question is not what or how. The themes that weave in and out of MBDTF
, fame, power, love, (or lackthereof), are the gifts and curses of being the infamous Kanye West, and in many ways, the curses of being human. The question is: whose fantasy is this?
It almost doesn't matter. West has accomplished a very curious feat; creating an album that even the most pretentious of music critics can comfortably call a masterpiece while the rest of the world absorbs it like a mindless pop sensation. And he did so using specific tactics that advance the hip-hop game while breaking it down, and maintaining his own larger-than-life persona in songs about being a jerk and feeling like a failure at human relationships. What an asshole.
The album opens with "Dark Fantasy" and it sets the tone as one based in the importance of the music. How excellent is that bass line progression on the second verse? The first appearance of the "demon" deep-bass vocal doubling? It's moments like this that really make the album pop. None of the beats are recognizable samples for the average ear, which gives them the illusion of being nearly built from scratch. West's production prowess is not up for debate, but the listening experience is that much heightened by West truly owning his choruses, and in some cases singing them himself. Could you name "Avril 14th" (Aphex Twins) as the source material in "Blame Game?" (West loops the very final phrase, John Legend re-purposes it as the melody.) "Can we get much higher?" the greek chorus asks and it feels like West is the one asking us in his own words, not the one's of Mike Oldfield. And West is actually telling us in his own voice on "Hell Of A Life". Album closer "Lost In The World" re-purposes an already poignant Bon Iver line ("up in the woods", audible in the beginning) by changing the words, and the quiet meditation is transformed into a festival-closing banger.
Kanye reuses some of his toolbox; gratuitous use of auto-tune, the old pun-based wit, stuff like that. But the edge he puts on some of the lyrical material, most notably in the ghost lyric at the end of "Runaway", is mind-bogglingly effective. The entire thing is sharpened with a layer of incomprehensible fuzz that stings in a melancholic way. And when combined with panning, it's a near schizophrenic rage that perfectly encapsulates the feelings of a confused and angry lost love. Take "Blame Game", a song that should never be combined with alcohol and buried feelings of regret or loss. West's second lyric is a "voices on the shoulder" type tirade with some truly gut-wrenching observations "you weren't perfect but you made life worth it/stick around some real feelings might surface" and the "mogul get emotional/every-time I hear about other n*ggas are stroking you". It's almost scary, even the bit at the end with Chris Rock seems abysmally tragic given the context. "Who's provoking you?" It might not be who you think it is.
The mall seance in "Dark Fantasy" is just the beginning of Satan's presence on the record, from "Devil In A New Dress" to "Monster" to "Hell of a Life", it's enough to alarm those who take everything at face value. Despite the fact that West's demons are metaphorical, make no mistake: this is a dark album. "I'm So Appalled" may let others vent their frustrations to break the tension, but West's remain the most prominent and applicable to the whole, even if he is the "Devil" he so often refers to. There are many "Monsters" on this record, but only one is the king of West's world.
"Runaway" is a case study on its own, perfectly encapsulating West's perceived dual issue with isolation and intimacy. The crass lyrics fit so well with West's public persona it's almost too perfect, "a toast for the douchebags" in a catchy, lyrical song? Who could pull that off? The single piano strokes echo like drops in the bucket, lazy and stoic, and yet it feels like a fresh, instant classic. The lyrics are sloppy and immature at times, but it's impossible to imagine them any other way. Conflict right from West's mind to our perceptions of his music. And then he repeatedly drops stuff like "And I always find something wrong", an observation so simple and universal it speaks to us all. If youre not looking for a reason to run, you're afraid someone else will.
"Too many Urkels on your team/that's why your wins low" and "Got caught with 30 rocks/the cop looked like Alec Baldwin" are among the early trademark witty jabs, which are also in abundance despite the onslaught of singable choruses, melodic passages, and thematic work (this is still a rap album). "Monster" also boasts a selection of them, mostly from the gratuitous guest list on this album. But no one outshines him, even if they happen to have an individually great verse. His persona is too massive to be taken down, even by the likes of arguably larger "moguls" like Jay-Z. Hov spits a line or two that sting harder, but Hov didn't put together the production here. Hov doesn't show and tell like Kanye.
Repetitive themes like "all of the lights" pop up in strategic moments (like the schizophrenic breakdown in "Blame Game"), adding to the idea that each of these songs maybe make up the elements of West's mind and its obsessions. It's a complete picture, and often graphically so, which makes you wonder if Kanye West is really the construct we've all come to associate with his music and his public life. Sometimes it seems West is just showing us our own beautiful, dark, twisted fantasies, laughing as he holds up the mirror. Honestly, I'd rather not know.
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Kanye West on Myspace