My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

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.

Sara Libby is an editor at Politico. In addition to her blog, Ill Communication, she writes regularly about hip-hop for the Christian Science Monitor and Salon.

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8 comments to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

  • Naima

    Love his album. Does anyone else think this man is begging for someone, anyone, to call him the King of Pop? or at least the prince if he can’t have MJ’s title…

    Not sure if I’m willing to call him either, but still I’m a Kanyeezy convert. Thanks for the review I was itching to write :)

    • keke

      I agree with you. He is definitely gunning for the title. I don’t think he will be named King of Pop because it does belong to MJ, but if he keeps putting out albums like this, I am sure that he will eventually be listed among the greats. And in the end, I think that is what he really wants, he wants to be considered one of the great artists of modern music (not just rap/hip hop).

      this album is a masterpiece to me, I truly mean that. I haven’t read the NYT review yet, but I have read other positive reviews on this album. And those positive reviews are well deserved.

  • This post is better than the Times review. It shows the difference between a generalist pop or hip-hop critic approaching an artist’s work and a writer who happens to have spent years listening to and thinking about the spectrum West’s career – starting (DUH!) with the music itself.

    • i dunno if i buy this, particularly as it pertains to pop stars like Kanye. (Kanye may traffick in hip-hop, but he’s a pop star.)

      You can’t neatly separate Kanye’s celebrity from his music; indeed, that’s the context that makes his on-album pronouncements compelling (if you’re inclined to see them as such).

  • I agree the album is superb. But I disagree that a good critic should focus only on Ye’s music, and ignore his psychology/personality/public exploits etc.

    If anything I think that approach is a disservice to Kanye, since as GD says so much of Kanye’s work in the studio is shaped by/comments on Kanye’s life outside the studio. I don’t see how you can properly appreciate it outside of that context, any more than you could review Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear album without discussing the events in Marvin’s personal life that inspired it.

    Or to put it another way, you say “since West acknowledges his mistakes endlessly in his work, the fact that he keeps making them is unremarkable” ..but to me this proves the opposite. If by your own account his music is endlessly inspired by and comments on those mistakes, that means you need some understanding of those mistakes in order to fully appreciate the music and where it’s coming from. His constant commentary on his own mistakes doesn’t make them irrelevant, it makes them crucial.

    Also btw, this piece kinda makes it sound like the NY Times review focused primarily on Ye’s media exploits, and treated the music as less important. But now that I’m looking the Times piece this is not the case, the excerpt quoted here was followed by 12 more paragraphs focusing on the music itself. And much of the rest was assessing those other elements specifically as they relate to his creative process. I think the Times piece is pretty on point actually (full disclosure, I know the writer).

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