After ending a two year relationship and creating one of his most bare projects at the time, Kanye West released an album that is the antithesis of what “808’s & Heartbreaks” was. “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is not just a return to the anti-corporation backpacker. This was an artist that has matured and gave you the best of everything that he has come to be.
From the beginning of the record, West already begins to bring you into a fairy tale type of world. With a soft choir-esque sound in the back, you hear Nicki Minaj doing a rendition of a Roald Dahl’s take on the Cinderella story. It starts the album as a nursery rhyme prelude and a slight notion of precaution. Coming off of “808’s”, this record is almost overwhelming with the amount of sounds that it holds together. In West fashion, this does not make the record sloppy by any means. The sounds play off of each other and add theatrical value to the story being told and the overall feel of the album. The sounds are lush and don’t over exude themselves when unnecessary. Opposed to the record sounding stuffed, it is more like puzzle pieces that fit snugly together.
Throughout the project, you get little anecdotes of samples that on first listen you can miss. The samples range from either five-second loops of minutia sounds in other records, a sound bite of some ad libs in a live performance, or even distorting a bass line until it’s almost unrecognizable. One of those sounds are the chanting and claps in the song “POWER,” a sample from the song “Afromerica” gives the song a sense of urgency. It sounds like you’re going to conquer what ever lies ahead of you. Another example is, in my opinion, one of most underrated songs on the album. “Devil In a New Dress” is the prettiest, silkiest beat I’ve ever heard, not just from a West record, but ever in life. It should be, considering the man who dawns the same adjectives in regards to his voice, Smokey Robinson is singing a rendition of the song “Will you Love Me Tomorrow” by Carole King.
This album carries you from extremes of different tones carefully and does it well. But then you hear one prominent E note that makes your ears perk. This is the basis that will become his return to the main spotlight of the media when he performed at the 2010 MTV Music Video Awards where he debuted “Runaway.” This is a song, and more specifically that note, is a sonic representation of the whole of pop culture.
Opposed to his last record, “MBDTF” lyrical content is vastly more broad, but only in relation to “808’s.” The grander topics discussed over the course of the record are Afrocentric politics, relationships and an almost lust-filled bravado. The use of bravado is a staple in hip hop music. The culture is based on competition and being the best. But when West uses it, he has a way of making you believe that he is the greatest and does it in multiple styles. In “POWER,” West is adamant that he is a figure with influence and the chant makes you involuntarily nod in agreement. On the opposite side, his flow marries well with the beat of the intro, “ Dark Fantasy,” where the laid-back boasting is admirable because of how he uses his skill to speak even louder than what he’s saying. Some of the songs wholly about a relationship are quite broad. “Devil In a New Dress” and “ Hell of a Life” could be linked to the recent breakup with Amber Rose, but they don’t emote as strong as other cuts. Songs like “Runaway” and “Lost In the World” are more singular in the the two women he is speaking about.
Some of the most thought provoking songs, “Gorgeous” and “So Appalled” speak on politics, but more nuanced Afrocentric politics. “Gorgeous” is probably the some of the best verses West has ever penned. It wouldn’t be the first time he has spoken on social issues, but this kind of insight that can only be reached if you come from a certain place is what sets this above the grade. On one end, he talks about specific black experiences: “ Inter century anthems based off inner city tantrums based off the way we was branded face it, Jerome get more time than Brando.” These experiences have become over-represented through media as the “black reality,” when that is not the reality for every black person. But in the same verse he says, “And at the airport they check all through my bag and tell me that it’s random but we stay winning,” which does resonate with the basis of black people. Being aware of prejudices that affect even small parts of life reinforce what your skin means in the world that you live in. “So Appalled” is more specific to the music industry that also alludes to circumstances in the real world. He says, “N*ggas be writing bullsh*t like they gotta work, N*ggas is going through real sh*t, man they out of work, that’s why another goddamn dance track gotta hurt, that’s why I’d rather spit something that got a purp’.” This speaks to the status of music; he is displeased with it and that calling card from one of the biggest names in hip hop hold the heaviest of weights.
This album mainly progresses on a rotation of ideas or moods that are highlighted in singular songs and then supported by the remaining cuts. “POWER” being the core of machismo, “Runaway” serving as an overall aesthetic, and “Blame Game” emoting a well of his emotional state. These all serve as a trio of a crux that balances itself out. On the last track of the album, something interesting happens. This Fantasia of an album carefully crafts the artist’s voice in a delicate way, but the last voice on the record is not his own. Black singer, author and poet Gil-Scott Heron is reciting his “Comment #1” that West has called “Who Will Survive In America.” This is a powerful note to leave the album on because of not only the content but also the audience. The poem speaks on America’s crooked structurally integrity and where people really stack up in the grand scheme. Heron speaks of America as a “bastard” and the motif of rape imagery, “The signs of truth were tattooed across our often entered vaginas,” graphically presents the truth that can’t be denied whilst having a clean conscious. This comes across as a message for and by the disenfranchised but when listening closely, it is the story of everyone that do not hold power to the highest extent.
This is a project regarded as a masterpiece—and for good reason. However, West is always looking to innovate and perfection is always the goal for him. “MBDTF” was his relocation back to the rebel-with-a-cause mindset that he started as and continues to be. More importantly, this album is a bookmark for his life as a whole. Immersing himself in the gorgeous garments of the fashion world, having the shadows of his past linger behind him, but trying to culminate and configure them into substance. Equal parts beautiful, dark and twisted, but ever so life-like.