04. KANYE WEST “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
Kanye West’s last album, the criminally under-rated and often brushed-off “808s & Heartbreak” was the moment everyone’s favourite narcissist ditched the hip hop basslines that had made him such a prominent figure of pop culture in place of autotune, throbbing techno-beats and whizzy-pop-hooks. Years before will.I.am would move away from his comfort zone to somewhat bastardise dance music, West put himself on the line by toying with a sound completely out of his historical nature, but nonetheless a sound that worked seductively well. It also remains the only record in his repertoire where West sounds somewhat vulnerable. And while Heartbreak sold, it wasn’t well received by die-hard fans (a variation of autotune overkill and the desire to let down his guard seemingly getting in the way of peoples appreciation), and in many circles I’ve socialised in is always referred to by the masses as his “shit” album. As far from the truth as that may be, anybody declaring he’d apparently lost that magic he’d once had were eating all of their words when Twisted Fantasy bombarded its way into 2010.
How DO you follow up a dance record that was inspired by a break-up with your long-term girlfriend and the shocking, accidental death of your Mother? You follow it up with your nastiest, grittiest, most self-involved and narcissistic collection of work yet, that’s how. The comeback of Kanye West is one of the sweetest in recent years. Not only did he have the misfortune of having an album a lot of his fans didn’t appreciate, he also had that whole Taylor-Swiftgate incident from last year hanging off-of his name like an unshakable monkey on ones back. And even if you were offended by West’s defence of Beyonce during Swift’s big award-night moment, all anger and upset were surely washed away after the first intensely rich listen of Fantasy.
From the choir-calls of thrilling opener “Dark Fantasy” (which blasts its way into your ears with Nicki Minaj channelling her Roman alter-ego for a spoken word introduction, and contains the records most profound Kanye-ism, “The plan was, to drink until the pain over. But what’s worse – the pain or the hangover?”), it’s obvious that West meant proper-old-school business with this album. Smart rap verses, strong hip-hop tremors and memorable melodies follow on throughout the rest of Fantasy as a geniusly crafted backhand to anybody who doubted him after 808s. His collaborations throughout the album are also an interesting highlight. In fact, this could be a record-number of well-known musical guests on the one album, all joining Kanye in his quest to fulfill his beautiful, dark twisted fantasy.
The guests (as the incredible Richard Eric explains in a more eloquent fashion in his review of this record over at his amazeballs blog) play a big part in highlighting West’s strong points. He can do all of this on his own, but why should he? After all, somebody like Kanye West can get anybody on a record, mixing the likes of Jay Z with Kid Cudi and even Black Eyed Pea Fergie-Ferg, and STILL make the whole product sound incredibly unique. “All Of The Lights” – although technically Rihanna’s moment in the sun, actually belongs to Fergie, whose 20 second feature in the track not only send it completely over the edge of brilliance (“Unemployment line, credit card decline. Did I not mention I was about to lose my mind? And also was about to do that line!”), but prove that The Royal Duchess desperately needs to remove herself from the clutches of the afformentioned will.I.am and find her ground with other influences – as a solo artist. The monumental and earth-shattering “Monster” plays through like a who’s who of hip hop, but it’s the final chapter in the track – courtesy once again of the fiery Nicki Minaj, that make “Monster” the true occasion that it is. Her rap is not only the most exhilarating thing on here, it’s one of the most exciting things to happen in hip hop’s illustrious history.
On Fantasy it does, however, all come down to the charm of the emotional “Runaway”; lyrically complete with hilarious highs, self-deprecating lows and heartbreaking emotional agony. West toasts, self-assured as always, the douchebags, the arseholes, the scumbags and the jerk-off’s of the world; “Every one of them that I know.” It’s the deeply upsetting (but beautifully so) lyric “Never was much of a romantic, I could never take the intimacy. And I know it did damage; coz the look in your eyes is killing me” that stands out the most on Twisted Fantasy, higher than any of the well-put narcism one-liners, or even Minaj screaming she’s a “mother fucking monster!” Because it’s the very moment the heartbreaker not only admits – but can see – what his actions have caused, it’s also the moment he admits to not knowing any better. And THAT’S why nobody does it quite like West; because nobody in hip hop quite GETS it like he does, and Twisted Fantasy drives that point further towards home with every passing track.