Words: Kieran Toms
Kanye West - 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' (UK Release: 22 Nov '10)
Kanye West has carved his own myth in the months leading up to 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy'. He knows that “success” in this world is more complicated than just being an excellent rapper/producer. Society prizes idols. So he became omnipresent, releasing free tracks off the album on specific dates to feed a communal expectancy, saying crazy things on Twitter to keep himself embedded in culture’s discourse, and releasing an epic mini-film dressed up as music video.
All of this should not matter, but it does. Can anyone break free of the impatient, internet-muddled chaotic maze of public attention, to become one, to transcend it all and become something shared, something by which a generation might define itself? West wants to, you can tell. He knows he is big and he knows he is important. But at the same time, with 30 writers and 12 producers credited on this album, where could Kanye, or indeed the prospect of any semblance of personality or individuality, possibly fit into this?
And even if he did force his self onto it, should it work then anyway? Kanye West is an egotistic asshole, after all, "The abomination of Obamas nation." But what can we do with this information? Tell the world? They know it already. Tell him? He knows it already. He’s trapped in a strange doublethink, paradoxes abound: an artistic genius but he can’t sing, he is feted and hated.....a "21st century schizoid man" as he sings on 'Power'. But surely “rich successful man complains about being rich and successful” shouldn’t work.
You are probably aware that most people think it has worked. They are not wrong.
Has it all been said? West seems tired, in a way. Tired of his life, of society. Is society trapped in a circle, or perhaps a downwards spiral? West doesn’t seem too enamoured with it. But there’s a black president now, so maybe things should be okay, and Kanye’s rich and getting lots of girls and so maybe he should be happy now, but the same problems are there, and are they his or society’s, and can anyone even focus on the enormity of it all anyway?
The purest beauty of this album arrives in the soaring heights of the ethereal choirs and melancholic strings, but the thrill of the breathtaking drop from these transcendent moments is immensely captivating too, the beauty scarred by the harsh delivery of a flawed reality...."Face it, Jerome get more time than Brandon/ and at the airport they check all through my bag and tell me that it's random" to pick one from countless lines that jump out at you on the fifth or tenth or twentieth listen.
It is a strange and bizarre album at times, yet you can imagine pretty much every track as a mainstream chart hit, immediately punchy and impressive. There are vast orchestras and massive instrumental segments, and the quantity of talent on the record is literally staggering – for example on just one track 'All Of The Lights', there are 11 guest vocalists, and not just any old session musicians either, but, (deep breath): Alicia Keys, John Legend, The-Dream, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Ryan Leslie, Charlie Wilson, Tony Williams, Elly Jackson, and Rihanna.
The production is stunning, elegant and refined at times, and huge and extravagant at others. Hip Hop clichés sit next to heartfelt lines. Even on the most bombastic track, 'Monster', where Nicki Minaj bursts forth spitting furiously about eating brains, Jay Z of all people turns up lamenting that he doesn’t get enough love. Nevertheless, the attention throughout effortlessly gravitates towards West, each guest, however successful their cameo, still a support act to the show you can’t take your eyes off, The Kanye West Show. The guests are not just stuck in there, but channelled and harnessed and used to remarkable effect, like he’s some sort of enchanted football manager.
Throughout 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' West knows he is all powerful, he knows he has secured an irresistible aura around himself that can’t help but attract the eyes of the world, but knows too that he can’t rely on himself to behave properly in front of everyone. What drives this frustration? Is he just tired of hip-hop, or of this world? Hip-hop, once rebellious, has taken over the globe now, but his own world and hip-hop are inexorably intertwined, so where to go now, what to rebel against now?
Maybe the rebellion there once was in hip hop disappeared amidst empty songs about bling, with scarcely believing boasters showing off their new-found fortunes, and though West’s had such trappings for a while now, and he’s almost used to it, he cannot escape the temptation to bring it up ("hard to be humble when you stuntin’ on a jumbotron", he raps on 'Devil In A New Dress') though not so much to revel in it, but to point out that it is "Fuckin’ Ridiculous", as on 'So Appalled'.
Here rebellion seems to have been turned in on himself. You can sense the madness that must have consumed West, such is the relentless circularity of his thought processes here. There’s turmoil, but a very honest kind of turmoil. It’s very difficult to work out quite when he’s being sincere, and when he’s taking the piss out of himself for feeling sorry for himself when he’s so successful. He cannot be unhappy because he is so lucky, with so much money, so much opportunity, so much constant tempting hedonism. And that’s what everyone wants, in this world of ubiquitous binge drinking, where suicide rates amongst young people are on the rise. West fantasises about marrying a porn star and about killing himself by jumping out of a window.
The album was apparently recorded as West went from one studio to another in accordance with his creative whims. Whilst you can sense this, insofar as the album is so bursting full of manic creativity, at the same time it seems so calculated and complete as a whole that you cannot help but marvel at the subtlety, whist chastising yourself for thinking such things, as this is at the same time not an album of subtly but of grandiosity.
But what grandiosity it is. What we hear is grandiose, and what we hear about is grandiose…but we’re in the bust of a boom and bust economy. The western world in the financial gutter, a depression. Is Poor Old Rich Kanye the banking system, propped up with riches from the masses, universally reviled, out of touch? Or is Kanye the people, fed up and disenchanted, disgusted with this opulence? Is this too hyperbolic for a hip-hop album? Is this too grand a hip-hop album? Is this a hip-hop album, based on what we think we know a hip-hop album to be? It doesn’t really matter.
It’s a portrait of a lifestyle, and a world, that has almost exhausted excess, that is still chasing that next hedonistic buzz, even while it’s all burning out, but can’t let go. Kanye West can’t let go either, but he knows there must be something more, and in striving to push himself above all that madness, without being able to leave it behind, he has created something beguiling yet alluringly accessible, deeply personal yet strangely universal; an album that deserves all of the attention and all of the praise lavished upon it so far.
DOWNLOAD: Kanye West - Christmas In Harlem
Kanye kindly leaked his new Christmas song on his blog, download above. Purchase 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' at amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, as well as iTunes etc.
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