Review Summary: A perfectly titled album.
Bear with me for a moment, but this review kicks off with a biased rant of sorts: Hip-hop just ain't my jam. I know I know, I'm missing out. But for the life of me, I just can't get into it like everyone else seems to be able to do. For the most part, it comes across as sexist, egomaniacal, and self-indulgent; sometimes so much so that I can't even listen to an entire track without cringing, let alone an entire album. Hip-hop is the one genre that has just simply never appealed to me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not stupid enough to assert that all hip-hop follows this pattern, but a large portion of it (especially in the mainstream) does.
So, if you had told me one year ago that I would be awarding a perfect score to a hip-hop album, I would have labelled you "batshi
t insane” and not have given a second thought to the matter.
Well, that was before I listened to Kanye West’s latest release. Is the sexism gone? Does Kanye finally tone down the narcissism? Has the self-indulgence, so rampant within the scene, taken a back seat?
No, no, and fu
There's nothing different here. Kanye's latest effort is all of those things that I generally hate about hip-hop. It's full of sexist lyrics, it's full of ego-stroking (come on, we're talking about Kanye here) and it is, at times, so self-indulgent it's ridiculous. But the thing is the songs are too good to care. They're excellent; brilliant even. The songs all seem to transcend the stereotypes of hip-hop.
Kanye’s ego is in full swing only seconds into the album when he raps “DJs need to listen to the models, you aint got no ***in’ Yeezy in your Serato? Stupid, but what the hell do I know? I’m just a Chi-town nigga with a NAS flow.” On the very next track, he’s at it again: “if I ever wasn't the greatest nigga, I must have missed it!” Later, on the album’s lead single Monster
, he chants “profit profit, nigga I got it, everybody knows I’m a mutha***in monster, Imma need to see your ***ing hands at the concert.” Roll your eyes if you must, but Kanye has the flow and the beats to back it up, especially now on this, his sixth LP. Track after track, he will have even the whitest of listeners rockin’ their heads to his “NAS flow.” I mean, egotistical as his rhymes may be, they're still witty, catchy, clever, and just pure awesome. Those approaching this album with a massive grain of salt (like I did) will wait for a mediocre track or a slip-up in lyricism from Kanye. But, spoiler alert! It won’t come. Kanye is truly at the top of his game here. While you may cringe at the previously mentioned narcissistic lyrics, it is likely more often that you will find yourself shocked into awe at Kanye’s insight. I mean, it’s a pretty profound man that can lay down a lyric as gorgeously perceptive as this: “Is hip hop, just a euphemism for a new religion? The soul music for the slaves that the youth is missing,” and then come right back in the next verse with “I need more drinks and less lights, and that American Apparel girl in just tights.”
But that’s the beauty of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
. It has one foot planted firmly in the bizarre, and the other planted firmly in reality. Just like the man behind it, the music itself is impossible to predict. While West surely borrows from the influence of hip-hop greats before him, it is more accurate to say that he pioneers a style that is uniquely his own. Like other hip-hop albums, Dark Fantasy has too many guest spots to count on one hand. However, rather than just allow the guests to repeat the same clichés over and over, West involves himself in his contemporaries' work. He ensures that the guest spots are more than just that. Careful work is taken to fit each guest's verse perfectly in front of Kanye's musical compositions. From Raekwon to Rick Ross, Justin Vernon to Chris Rock (yes, that Chris Rock) the guest spots on this album are written with great care and respect for the original material they are eventually paired with.
Now, you can surely say what you want about Kanye's terrible decision making skills in the public arena. You can say what you want about his despicable personality. Watching this man act out in the public eye is almost enough to disenfranchise anything he produces. But it is a naive person that denies that the man knows how to make music. At this point, we all know Kanye can rap. We all know he can write a clever line like almost no other. But one of the things that propels this album to its status as a classic is the brilliant music behind the lyrics. From Nicki Minaj's unsettling intro, to Justin Vernon's electro-fiddling, through Chris Rock's hilarious rant, right up until the closing moments of Who Will Survive In America?
this album is produced perfectly. Each beat, each sample, each subtle bit of instrumentation is expertly applied. Not once in the 60+ minutes of playtime does Kanye leave the listener wishing that the bridge had been slightly different, or that the intro was too short. On an objective level, it’s a tough argument to say that this album is not musically perfect. And the rest is just attitude, trademark Kanye West, roll-your-eyes, never-play-in-front-of-family attitude. Kanye is nothing if not aware and he takes clever jabs at nearly everyone who had a negative word about the man in the last 12 months. No one is safe, not even the writers of South Park and Saturday Night Live. He even manages to make it look like sending a picture of his penis from his cellphone was somehow the fault of those who reacted against the lewd act.
So, colour me surprised, because Kanye West’s new album is a hip-hop album, no question about it. But God help me, I cannot stop listening to it. I can barely stop myself from quoting So Appalled
by saying “that shi
t is, fu
ckin’ ridiculous” in nearly every human interaction I have.
Not enough can be said about this album. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
is everything you hoped it could be and more. It's catchy, it's clever, it's angry, it's funny, and at times it's brilliant. But most of all, it's human. And while the human may be a crazy, egomaniacal douchebag, did you really expect anything different? Kanye's latest album is perfectly titled. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. But don't say he didn't warn you.