My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasyby Morrel Shilenge / 27.01.2011
Kanye West’s audacity has inspired cartoons, given award show producers’ sleepless nights, and caught the attention of both Presidents Bush and Obama. Bush even wrote in his autobiography Decision Points that Kanye saying “George Bush hates black people!” (after the slow official response to Hurricane Katrina) was the low point of his presidency. Kanye is bigger than Iraq!
But within his out-loud, hate-me-love-me audacity is both a rare bravery (he speaks up and acts out without a moment’s thought to CD sales like a young KRS One) and a voracious “aspirational” curiosity (he’s into fashion, art, books and classical music). While most other hip hop artists too timid to step outside of their carefully-guarded boxes. West is the ultimate online artist. He gathered together everyone who is anyone in contemporary pop and rap (from Bon Iver to Nicki Minaj) on his latest release. Collaboration is second-nature.
From nine-minute douche-bag manifestos, to A-list Grammy ensembles to piece-mealing his album out to the masses every Friday, Kanye West has always got something going on. The buzz of a million beehives right now. And for once the hype is totally warranted. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was routinely hailed as the supreme achievement of popular music in 2010. It defies logic and ignores convention, creating its own private universe, as the best art does. Whether it’s acknowledging his mistakes, measuring his might, or fantasizing over wifing a porn star, Kanye West finds a way to make it all relatable and danceable.
As one of the biggest stars on the planet in the last five years, West is incredibly candid. The usual PR protection shield is not in effect. West tells us everything. Doubt, pain, lust, bad habits, his honesty draws us to him, and we can recognize our own fantasies, insecurities and desires in his work. It makes him essential listening.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy leaps way beyond most other rap albums (you’d have to dig up GZA’s Liquid Swords for anything in the vicinity) – it is a confessional kaleidoscope of symphonic art. West wasn’t afraid to stoke expectations prior to the album release, putting out a remarkable 34 minute movie called Runaway (taking in the myth of Icarus, the vacuity of celebrity, and the terrible demands of ballet for starters!) as a trailer. If anything it doesn’t do the reach, imagination and relevance of the album justice. What could?
Kanye is pushing rap’s boundaries by being who he is: amplified by unlimited creative freedom and bottomless capital. He is no perfect human being as he admits on “Power” and “Monster” (one of the most reckless, careening and affective rap songs of the last 20 years).
The album cover – designed by American Contemporary Artist George Condo – shows a black man and white angel with horns getting it on – both staring back at us. West would seduce his muse in a heartbeat. It’s the best album cover since that baby reaching for a dollar on Nevermind. It was promptly banned by major music stores. Their loss.
Highlights include the rousing “All of the Lights” and West’s Akai MPC hand reminds skeptics he’s not straying, but expanding. Staggering walls of percussion – “Lost in the World” – make every song on this album club-ready. An intense tapestry of that includes several genres and decades of inspiration, this is the release all other players will have to summit in future.
West may revel in pussy and the finer things like any other success story, but there’s more to him than conspicuous, trumpeted consumption. He’s endlessly self-conscious, sensitive to popular currents, to politics and social life – rap’s original territory. The album closes with Gil Scott Heron’s “Who Will Survive in America?” A song that chimes with rising unemployment, increasing despair and that ever widening gap between rich and poor. “Build a new route to china,” Heron speaks, “if they will have you -who will survive in America?”
So so good.