Review Summary: Not the voice of a generation; the voice of Kanye West, which is so much better.
Anonymity makes everybody into a distinguished critic; the great challenge of listening to music in the Internet age is being able to separate the music from the artist who made it and the opinions of everybody who purport to know what they're talking about. The second one is fairly easy to ignore, if not escape entirely; the first, not so much. Especially with someone as vocal about himself as Kanye West. The thing is, I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that a large majority of artists over the past forty or fifty years have been like him - spouting off, making this claim and that claim, putting people down, building their own reputation up. We just never heard ninety percent of it because it wasn't done over Twitter. Somehow, we're able to recognize the inherent ridiculousness of this 24-hour exposure into the lives of famous people without wanting to give it up. Joaquin Phoenix made fun of it by lurching around with a beard and sunglasses for awhile, saying he was going to make a rap album before revealing - surprise! - that he was just fu
cking with us. We, of course, ate that up just as much as we did when we thought he was being serious.
Kanye, on the other hand, always seems very serious, and while I'm not going to defend some of his more outlandish stunts (some of which truly are beyond defense), there seems to be a certain double standard at work when the people who fly into a rage over the latest Kanye blog post are the same ones who express disbelief as to why 1965 America was mad at John Lennon for saying the Beatles were bigger than Jesus. "But Lennon was right!" these people say. To them, such a comment only adds to the legend of the man. For someone like Kanye, whose descent into pariah status started when he appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone
wearing a crown of thorns (see a pattern"), there is no right or wrong in his statements; there are only his statements and the backlash. Part of it is because he's a rapper, part of it is because he truly can be a dick, and yes, part of it is because he's black. But his music has always seemed wholly separate from the media magnate personality of Kanye, and some might be surprised to hear me say that. Call Kanye what you want, but at least he's honest, and never is he more honest than when he is talking about his music. Whether or not you think he makes music good enough to back up his personality (and I believe he does), one needs only to look at 808s & Heartbreak
to see evidence that Kanye puts his heart and soul into his music. People spent so much time debating about the autotune that they forgot to notice how understated, how personal, how revealing that album was. It only seemed like the antithesis to Kanye's personality because nobody would concede that the album was
his personality. Prideful men are always complicated; those who think Kanye is just an as
shole with a Macbook haven't really listened to his music. Then again, you can't really blame them; Kanye is so visible and outspoken that I wouldn't be surprised if someone who's never heard even one of his songs feels like they've heard his entire discography.
That's the bane of being a mainstream artist today: the way you are perceived is almost more important than your music. It would be a shame, except Kanye doesn't really give a shi
t and never has. He seems physically incapable of being anything less than genuine, and it's made for a fantastic musical career. I've seen some people refer to Lil Wayne as the hardest working man in hip-hop; the only reason that doesn't apply to Kanye West is because he makes everything seem so damn effortless. His music has always been very intricate, very layered, but more than that, it perfectly represented Kanye West as a person. He was
his music; you never got the idea that he was posing or posturing or trying to live up to some preconceived ideal. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
is no different. I hesitate to say that it's his most ambitious album simply because that implies that he might not have lived up to what he tried to do. That certainly isn't true - this album is absolutely huge in every way. There isn't much of a precedent for this album in Kanye's discography. It's totally different from everything he's done while still being perfectly, irrevocably Kanye
. Really, this might be the first album in which he's truly lived up to his potential in every way - as a rapper, as a lyricist, as a songwriter, as a producer. Everything simply works, and as a result, Fantasy
is a joy to listen to. "All Of The Lights," "Lost In The World," "Power" - there is a zest for life in these songs that is really quite beautiful, and it is great to see that Kanye is still able to have plenty of fun without losing any of his creativity.
It's not just Kanye either; the album's expansive nature means that the guest artists have ample room to work as well. Nicki Minaj's verse on "Monster" has to be mentioned first; no matter how good the rest of the song is, her part is what you will remember. Kid Cudi and Raekwon fit perfectly on the broodingly slow "Gorgeous," driven by piano chords and a questing electric guitar. "Devil In A New Dress" brings out the best in Rick Ross. Even Jay-Z, who seems to be almost irrelevant now beyond appearing on magazine covers that proclaim once again that he is a businessman, sounds fantastic on the two tracks he appears in. "All Of The Lights" features so many guest artists that they aren't even listed in the official tracklisting, but the song doesn't feel bloated or overstuffed at all. Everyone serves their purpose admirably and then gets out of the way. The guest spots on "So Appalled" are very lengthy - Kanye appears within the first minute and then drops out for good - but the droning beat is so mesmerizing that it's barely even noticeable. And for better or worse depending on which of his fans you talk to, Bon Iver is here as well. He doesn't add much to "Monster," but "Lost In The World" ends up being the most fun track here because of his vocal part. The best thing about the guests on Fantasy
is that none of them feel shoehorned, as is usually the case in hip-hop.
It's a rare thing for an album to be as fully realized as this one, and that's ignoring the fact that it's a mainstream rap album. Mainstream rap relies heavily on the strength of singles and guest artists - two things that don't go a long way toward making an album into a genuine artistic statement. Too often guest artists appear only because of their name, and too often rap albums are hampered by an extra five or six tracks that should have been cut. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
wallops both of those rap foibles into oblivion. Although there are a number of songs that go beyond the five minute mark, they all feel incredibly lean and devoid of bullshi
t. The nine-minute long "Runaway" slides right by because of its gorgeous beat and Kanye's excellent vocals (808s
-style singing sans autotune plus laid-back rapping), and the instrumental second half of the song is beautiful. Even a song like "Power" feels perfectly executed even though it should be a mess; the sampling of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" is quite perfect, and Kanye's rapping hits hard. Fantasy
is compulsively listenable; it's hard not to start it again once it ends, and when your leading man is as eccentric and overbearing as Kanye, that's impressive.
No matter how you feel about Kanye West as a person - love him, hate him, think he's an as
shole, think he can do no wrong - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
shows that while you aren't mistaken, you certainly aren't right either. There's much more to him than meets the eye. Fortunately, he wants us to know every last part of him. Call him egotistical if you want, but there's nothing wrong with wanting people to know what's inside of you if it's worth knowing, and this album shows that it is. So yes, Fantasy
is Kanye West's best album yet, and if that wasn't enough, it's also a shining example of what mainstream hip-hop can and should be: dynamic, focused, revealing, personable, and most important - the passion!