In the New York Times’s most recent psycho-analysis of Kanye West, prompted by the release of his fifth album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the exquisiteness of the product is written off in passing: “it’s terrific — of course it’s terrific.” But according to the Times, this fact is beside the point – it “doesn’t matter nearly as much as it should.” In fact, it is the only thing that matters.
Anyone, the Times included, who remains transfixed by West’s boorish, immature, behavior sure hasn’t been listening closely: In his music, West is always the first person to admit his failings. He even predicted the whole Taylor Swift flap a full four years before it happened, in “Diamonds from Sierra Leone,” when he rapped: “I was sick about awards/Couldn’t nobody cure me, Only player that got robbed but kept all his jewelry … What more can you ask for?/ The international assholes, who complains about what he is owed/ And throw a tantrum like he is 3 years old/ You gotta love it though, somebody still speaks from his soul.” (He doesn’t stop on Fantasy, either, most notably in the brilliantly self-aware “Runaway,” where he admits: “Let’s have a toast for the douche bags, let’s have a toast for the assholes … You’ve been putting up with my shit just way too long.”)
Since West acknowledges his mistakes endlessly in his work, the fact that he keeps making them is unremarkable. His music, though, is another story – it’s as consistently thoughtful and surprising as his behavior is erratic.
For proof that the name of the album is apt, consider this: In real life, West has spent the past year as the villain – the big, bad black wolf who stole a poor girl’s thunder. In West’s Fantasy world though, as in his other albums, West is always the hero. “I guess every superhero need[s] his theme music,” he shrugs on “Power.” He takes it even further on “See Me Now,” proclaiming “I am lord/ Rap god, Greek mythology.”
And though he fancies himself a savior (the biblical references keep coming – such as on “Devil in a New Dress,” where he seductively says “We love Jesus, but you done learned a lot from Satan”), he’s not afraid to share the spotlight. He gives nods to his idols at every turn – usually Michael Jackson, but he also shouts out Obama and Spike Lee. And he plays well with others, trotting out an endless parade of guests, like Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, John Legend, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Raekwon — even Chris Rock.
Whereas his last album, 808s & Heartbreak, was a study in restraint and somber reflection, Fantasy is West emerging from the darkness in a wonderful, if brashly narcissistic way. Rihanna’s insistence on “All of the Lights” that you “turn up the lights in here baby, extra bright I want y’all to see this,” she might as well be referring to West himself, and his fantastic return.