After showcasing his self-directed 40-minute long music video, ‘Runaway’ at the BAFTAs and his subsequent mention of an album release this November, it seemed the public was once again ready to see rapper-producer Kanye West bare his soul through his music. While he has appeared more demure in interviews since the rampant criticism he drew after his MTV VMA stage invasion of Taylor Swift over a year ago, West’s fifth album is a decadent, over-the-top expression of his brash persona and more significantly marks his reconciling with the turbulent events which have shaped both him and his music over the last few years. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which is to be his fifth studio album, has generated unprecedented hype thanks in no small measure to Kanye’s frenzied promo offensive via social media sites such as Twitter. The hype is justified, for this is his most sonically eccentric and accomplished release to date, and one that also offers a more introspective glimpse into the mind one of contemporary music’s most neurotic and egocentric geniuses.
First and foremost, MBDTF is testament to Kanye’s ability as a virtuoso musical technician and craftsman of his time. The 13-track LP is densely packed with eclectic styles all seamlessly blended to create a rich myriad of sounds within an essentially Hip Hop framework. This can largely be attributed to Kanye’s masterful cross-genre sampling, which ranges from soul to blues to King Crimson-inspired prog-rock in the song “Power”. The album’s production serves as a reminder to us all of West’s unrivalled stylistic flexibility. Hip Hop purists will have no doubt deplored the use of Auto-Tune in 808’s & Heartbreaks which represented Kanye’s somewhat misguided attempt at a move toward electropop and RnB but MBDTF is a welcome revisiting of boom-bap beats laced with a dazzling array of samples, reminiscent of the legendary DJ Premier but all carried off with Kanye’s archetypal opulence. The haunting piano noodling of the Aphex Twin sample in “Blame Game” is simply inspired and further complimented by John Legend’s soft-spoken chorus. A standout track, the tone of the song is stark and lugubrious; it reveals intimate details of phone conversations with a girl that eventually turn into a hilarious monologue by Chris Rock. Kanye has at last rediscovered his humour after emotionally overcoming significant personal tragedy, implicit in the monotone aesthetic of 808’s. In contrast to 808’s, MBDTF has a far richer soundscape altogether. Whereas the track “Monster” features primal and minimalist jungle drum sounds, “Lost in the World” samples highly-publicized indie-folk band Bon Iver and their track “Woods”, featuring plaintive Auto-Tune vocals, seamlessly remastered by Kanye combined with a bangin’ kick-drum beat which makes for a wild party anthem. “Gorgeous” which features Kanye protégé Kid Cudi and Wu-Tang veteran Raekwon, samples The Turtles’s “You Showed Me” and revisits the lo-fi vocal aesthetic of 808’s but is delivered in a refreshingly uplifting tone, again representative of Kanye’s personal redemption.
The album is also densely packed with featurings from East Coast Hip Hop luminaries such as Jay-Z and RZA which help beef up the album’s Hip Hop credentials but don’t necessarily add a great deal to the album’s content overall. Kanye’s real strength is in his own, charming lyricism and as a stellar wordsmith, the Chi-Town MC returns to his roots with playful vigour and confidence. He delivers the message of his re-acquaintance to the art-form with no less aplomb stating that “Hip Hop is a euphemism for a new religion”, highlighting the significant impact Hip Hop culture has had and will continue to have on the World’s youth.
On a more intimate level, Kanye dares to probe the darker, more twisted elements of his psyche. His bold self-indicting leads him to claim to be the “abomination of Obama’s nation”, reflecting the synthesis of being able to intimate his insecurities whilst simultaneously flaunting his colossal egotism. For all his characteristic irreverence in the album, ‘Ye also manages to touch on wider themes that resonate strongly with him, particularly those of race and identity in America. Indeed, his insolent public persona belies someone with a sincere message to share about the social inequalities with which Black America is faced. Gil Scott-Heron’s pithy word prose poem, “Comment #1” is excerpted on the track “Who Will Survive in America?” to put across these sentiments in a way Kanye perhaps felt he lacked the linguistic deftness to do himself.
Kanyehas yet again reaffirmed that the musical legacy he intends to leave is a prodigious and everlasting one and that despite immersing himself in a sea of wealthy excess and hedonism brought about by his fame, he has never once lost his focus on what matters. Despite arriving late on, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is sure to find a place on the list of best albums this year.