By: Tori Eberle
Kanye West is a name loaded with both positive and negative assocations. A critically acclaimed rapper, singer and record producer, West has produced almost as much drama as he has released hit singles. He first achieved recognition in the hip-hop world as a producer for Roc-A-Fella records for his work on Jay-Z’s album The Blueprint and hit singles for artists like Alicia Keys and Ludacris. West now runs his own record label, GOOD Music, which has become home to artists like John Legend and Kid Cudi.
West’s style since his first album, The College Dropout, has been primarily dominated by pitched up vocal samples from soul songs incorporated with his own drum beats and other instruments. However, with this new album, West moves away from soul and towards 70s R&B, along with folk, electronica, and even classical music.
This movement towards a more electronic sound was foreshadowed by West’s last album, 808s & Heartbreak.
His fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is more complex and multi-faceted than West’s previous work. This complexity is apparent in the lyrical themes that dominate the album’s track listing, including Kanye-favorite subjects like decadence and wealth, and also venture into a deeper territory with themes like escapism and self-doubt.
The album also caused much controversy. The cover has been under scrutiny because of its nude portrayal of West copulating with an angelic figure. the square has agreed to print the image to the left in support of free speech in works of artistic merit, yet a purchase of the Parental Advisory version of the album via iTunes will land you a heavily pixilated version of the cover. Even the album’s name before its release was changed in rumors over and over again.
The album itself was conceived during West’s self-imposed isolation in Oahu, Hawaii. West blamed this isolation and over-worked mental state during the time of the album’s conception for his ridiculous outburst at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009. Poor Taylor Swift didn’t stand a chance against the conceited, diabolic force that is Mr. West. The incident itself caused so much negative attention from the media and consumers that Kanye had to cancel his tour with Lady Gaga that year and also to even put the recording of MBDTF on hiatus for a time.
But, thank god, that hiatus ended on August 20th, when Kanye began releasing a free track every week via his G.O.O.D. Fridays program. Many of these tracks would come to appear on the album in one incarnation or another.
One of the album’s first singles was the song, “Power,” which features rap artist Dwele. The track covers themes like modernity while Kanye calls out his haters, those people that still haven’t accepted him for the god that he’s occasionally convinced he is.
Calling himself a superhero (no kryptonite?), West also discusses his own creativity and skills as a rapper. The song itself is simple yet catchy. A loop of a clapping and cheering crowd dominate the track, while power-metal guitar riffs are weaved throughout the track as well as long with a piano. Halfway through the track, West breaks it down with a synthesizer to transition into lyrics about politics and sex (symbolized by Colin Powell and Austin Powers). The song ends with Kanye resolving to be the bigger person, letting the drama and the gossip go with the self-encouraging lyrics “you got the power to let it go.”
Meanwhile, the debatably best track of the album is the power house, “Monster.” The intimidating collaboration features artists Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, Jay-Z, and even the unexpected Bon Iver. The track opens with Bon Iver asking the listener if they are willing to sacrifice their life. He also sings of contradicting imagery concerning light and dark along with monotonous loneliness. Meanwhile, the chorus of the track concerns gossip and money, Kanye West’s two favorite things.
While Rick Ross’s contribution to the track is small and not so impressive compared to the song as a whole, Nicki and Jay-Z battle each other to dominate the song leaving Ross in their dust. It almost feels like a rap cover of the classic “Monster Mash” when Jay-Z starts rapping, painting a picture of zombies, vampires and Sasquatch. There is also a really intense metaphor in Jay-Z’s featured rap involving his pillaging of villages and raping of women. Meanwhile, Nicki Minaj does what she does best; utilizing funny voices and general bitch slaps that sting of success, showing that even a female rookie rapper can out-rap even the most experienced men in the game. The track then ends with Bon Iver singing of defeat in a tone and style that is almost reminiscent of Jamie Foxx in West’s hit “Gold Digger.”
An album that can barely be given justice with analysis of only a few of its songs, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is truly an odyssey of voices and ideas concerning the themes that dominate American culture today. In a time when money is power and sex is currency, this album speaks out to glorify but also to condemn.