If each one of Kanye West’s albums represents a specific point in his career, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” would illustrate the most thoughtful moment of his successful career to date.
Between 2008 and 2009, West secured his place as a platinum-selling recording artist with hit singles like “Stronger” and “Heartless,” and critically lauded albums like “Graduation” and “808s and Heartbreaks.”
Those years were littered with success for West, despite the much-publicized passing of his mother Donda West and the break-up of his long-term relationship with designer Alexis Phifer.
While West had found a way to leave his mark on the fashion world as well, he was primarily viewed as one of the top recording artists of his day. That title seemed to wane when he pranced across stage and stole the spotlight from beloved country singer Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
West’s tactless display was seen by millions that August night, and many of those in the music industry, including devoted fans of West, cried foul on his antics.
Even though this episode was not his first public outburst, it certainly seemed to strike a chord that even his accusations of racism towards former President George W. Bush never could. The morning after the award show, the story was picked up by every media outlet, and despite a few quick apologies it was hard to tell if we would hear from West anytime soon.
Around May 2010 rumors began circulating that West would be emerging with a new album before the year was over. West confirmed on his Twitter that he was indeed recording the new album.
West released several tracks on “Good Fridays,” a name he has given to the day he releases his new tracks for free.
Running at just over an hour, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Nightmare” starts with a sound similar to that of West’s debut, “The College Dropout.” However, what follows is not simply a retread on West’s former hits, but an exploration into new musical territory for him as an artist.
By the time West’s protg Kid Cudi begins singing the hook for the second track “Glorious,” listeners have already been introduced to the albums main theme. West knows that the public perception of him is not entirely positive, but he is consciously trying to improve himself and has no intention of being forgotten.
While this idea is not new, it is the ferociousness in which West attacks the subject on tracks like “Dark Fantasy” and “Monster” that make it interesting. West is rapping, singing and producing music as if he has something to prove to us all over again.
For those worrying that the album is simply West repeatedly declaring his greatness, there are many moments of insightful humility scattered throughout “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” The songs “Runaway” and “Lost in the World” present an artist who despite what others may assume, does view his own personality as a burden.
Listeners are invited to view the world through Kanye’s eyes, and even though it is sometimes ugly, there are plenty of moments where we really see a more intelligent and thoughtful side of West. In the track “Hell of a Life,” he acknowledges that he creates a fantasy world in which he has indulged in every aspect of super stardom to an outrageous degree, and now he must suffer the consequences.
West has always had a knack for finding great talent even outside the confines of hip-hop music, and the inclusion of the folk group Bon Iver’s lead man Justin Vernon yields some interesting results. The previously mentioned tracks “Monster” and “Lost in the World” feature a crooning Vernon, who also provides backing vocals for “Dark Fantasy” and “So Appalled.”
Even with the rest of the guest list containing marquee names like Jay-Z, Rihanna and Wu-Tang’s The RZA, it is a collaborative effort with West as the ringleader of his own “Dark Fantasy.”
For all the outbursts and insanity West has caused over his career, when he is behind a microphone or the soundboard in a studio, his voice is truly heard. On tracks like “All of the Lights” and “Blame Game,” the man who appears more prone to go on a wild rant than say anything within reason seems remarkably restrained.
The album ends with an excerpt from a spoken word poem by Gil Scott-Heron asking, “Who Will Survive in America?” It’s clear that Kanye aspires to be as insightful as someone like Scott-Heron and the album shows it. While he will never be loved by all, Kanye does deserve appreciation for his constant ambition and willingness to step outside the box.