Saturday, November 26, 2011

From the Crates: Kanye West- "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy"

 One of several covers to West's masterful fifth-album.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was and remains a benchmark of rap.
Though it's nowhere near the crates and will never have to worry about dust selling on the ornate cover, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is as deserving as any record to be reviewed for this feature. The 2010 record represents a benchmark for rap, showing how far the genre can go when helmed by a musical maestro like West. Little more than a year later, the album still resonates with me and stands as a musical touchstone for the still infantile decade.

"Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown." That quote often attributed to Cicero in relation to the story of the Sword of Damocles could just as easily be applied to 2010 Kanye West. Kanye began the year in exile, cast out of the pop culture consciousness after "lashing out" at the 2009 VMAs. Instead of being defiant  after such a polarizing moment, West retreated, disappearing into the shadows.

The now infamous Taylor Swift moment.

West in similar fashion to the phoenix found in his Runaway film rose from the ashes and made everyone in rap start paying attention, dropping the kingly "Power," in late May. He then went on a summer/fall tear the likes of which has rarely been seen before. Giving away stellar track after stellar track like clockwork each Friday on his website, West regained some of that good favor he lost after the Swift debacle. Then on November 22, 2010, he dropped the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and turned everyone on their heads. On the album, "POWER" does the impossible and hits even harder when surrounded by the angelic opener of "Dark Fantasy," the rollicking "Gorgeous," and the beautiful strings of the "All of the Lights (interlude)." With this different version, the song descends into a diabolic succession of laughter, showing that 'Ye himself has gone mad with "power." Though it is difficult to decipher what that electro voice is intonating at the end of "POWER," he may as well be saying "get off get off stage," seeing as how that was what many were demanding of Kanye after his miscue.

This brief clips masterfully fits with the epic nature of the track.

What we get after "POWER" is the "All of the Lights (Interlude), which features unquestionably some of the orchestrated music ever found on a hip-hop album. From here, the real track takes over and is in my opinion the greatest thing West has yet laid to wax. With a guest list longer than entire albums, West is grandiose from the get go as Rihanna ethereally sings of all of the lights. Without question these lights are the same West was suffered under and he can't help but do the same on the song. When 'Ye sings of someone else who often found himself trapped under the same lights (Michael Jackson) he nearly breaks down, recognizing at this stage in the game he's closer to the hall of mirrors Jackson constructed for himself than the rap game. West can't even take solace in heading home, because when he makes it there, he sorrowfully finds he has been "replaced." Rihanna commandingly croons to "turn up the lights in here, extra bright I want yall to see this," suggesting that those watching West are somehow amused at the mess he is making of things. "Cop lights, flash lights, spot lights, strobe lights, street lights," West has been forced under the glare of every last one of them and is dumbfounded as to what to do.

"All of the Lights"

So he shoots them out at the beginning of the banging "Monster," reclaiming a smidgen of certainty with guests Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj who spit what could be career verses. Things continue in high throttle with "So Appalled," and the sultry combination guitars and strings of "Devil in a New Dress," is something both new and old for West as far as beats go.

"Monster" ft. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, & Bon Iver

Everything comes to a head with "Runaway," which was clearly intended to be the spiritual center of this album. As the lonely piano plunks back and forth, we hear a track more “baroque rap” than "boom-bap." Having been kept in baited breath with the piano, the drums kick in and the sample comments over and over "look atcha, look atcha," begrudgingly looking the entire time at West. “I just blame everything on you; at least you know that's what I'm good at," declares West, finally comes to terms with himself. In these moments, West is coming to the sobering realization he's never been a perfect person and never can be. Instead of trying to better himself though, he celebrates his faults and painfully tells his love to "run away." The piano and West entrenched in Auto-Tune continue to weep for minutes more, but when it ends we are still left wanting.

"Runaway" ft. Pusha T

The skuzzy guitar of "Hell of a Life" quickly crushes the beauty of "Runaway," and sees West at his hedonistic best. The scintillating story of "falling in love with a porn star," acts as a metaphor for how his own life has been swallowed up by hollow truths and downright fallacies. All this hollowness cannot last and sure enough, after "falling in love, getting married in the bathroom, and having the honeymoon on the dance floor," West sees himself divorced at the end of the night, ironically dubbing it " one hell of a night."
West lashes out once more and plays the "Blame Game," on the following track which is underscored by elegant violin and twinkling piano. When West uses multiple voices in the track's second verse, he again sounds torn apart from the inside-out. His target has done such a number on him, that he resorts to playing the "game." He comes out a loser in this, seeing his faith in love disappear as he equates it to a "lack of visual empathy."
The delicate voice of Bon Iver creeps in on the final song and is "down on his mind." With all of this pain and confusion surrounding him, West is now "Lost in the World," and can do little else but run from those aforementioned "lights." West gives up, letting the poetic words of Gil Scott-Heron take over. Scott-Heron grows more and more intense asking the question "Who Will Survive in America?" This is truly rap as art and should finally lay to rest any lingering claims that rap has nothing intelligent to offer. With this musical polemic, West has made it clear, in his America no one can survive and they are doomed to live in the Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy possibly forever, though there is always a chance of waking up.

"Lost in the World" (Homemade clip)
This particular clip beautifully captures the song's spirit.

Kanye has always been seen as brash, bold, and arrogant, and barring major change always will be. He's never been one to say the right thing at the right time and his ego is the only thing greater than his musical vision. In the eyes of many, he's little more than an idiot savant, who has gotten where he is on sheer luck. One listen to this album dispels any of that heresy almost immediately. No idiot could make such a mature album and even the luckiest man in the world could produce such cohesion. With this record and throughout his career, West has succeeded despite the criticism. He plays the role anti-hero dutifully and in the annals of popular music few have done it better. So while we scoff and shun, West is free to sit in his rap throne reaping the benefits of an ostentatious album.

Runaway (full film)

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