Pop music is stale. Who will save it?
Lady GaGa? Lady GaGa is a bad singer-songwriter in the vein of Vanessa Carlton, traipsing around in a better wardrobe with a better stage presence, singing songs that are just as cookie-cutter as that “I would walk a
thousand miles” travesty.
Jay–Z? Too rich. Too disconnected. Yeah, “Empire State of Mind” is awesome, but probably not if you’re from California.
Eminem? He’s like the opposite of the Hulk. We only like him when he’s angry.
Justin Timberlake? Missed his shot to become the new King of Pop. Didn’t his last album come out in 2006?
Justin Bieber? One day. Right now, he’s too young for anyone to take him seriously.
Who, then? Who will make the radio listenable for the next six months? I have an answer for you:
Now before you continue, forget about Taylor Swift. Forget about all of the TMZ garbage you’ve heard about West. Forget all of the G.O.O.D. Friday songs West has put out over the past couple of months. Forget that one song calling for “a toast to the douche bags.” You’re letting stuff that doesn’t matter get in the way.
Now listen, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the best album that will come out this year. Hell, it might be the best album that comes out next year, too.
On Fantasy, West weaves a narrative of dreams and nightmares, winning and losing, life and death, love and sex, revolution and survival through 13 tracks that combine pop culture with the ups and downs of relationships and a fear of the future.
Throughout the album, West plays with juxtaposition and your own expectations of words. For instance, most people know “Runaway” as the song that has the infamous “toast to the douche bags” line. But did everyone who writes that track off actually listen to it? It works alone, but even better in the context of the album. Alone, it is simply an apology. West is not celebrating douche bags; he’s grieving for his own douchebaggery!
The narrative of the album is important to remember when listening to West. For as many single-worthy songs as he may put out, everything has served as a part of a larger whole. West has grown through his music. There’s the obvious mini arc of College Dropout to Late Registration to Graduation. And while that last album serves as a celebration of his successes to that point, he followed it up with 808s & Heartbreak. To continue with the college metaphor, maybe 808s was a realization of what the real world has in store for everyone. For West, 808s may have been a record of self-examination about how his success has robbed him of something.
On this album, we are introduced to West’s Fantasy from the get-go. Nicki Minaj delivers a monologue that focuses on the “sick addiction” that people have to the “twisted fiction” that is propagated through the media about celebrities. The song that follows is the highest point on the album which is to say that it’s all downhill for West from there on out, thankfully the same can’t be said for the listener. He makes a deal with the devil in this song that informs the entire rest of the album. He seemingly trades fame and riches for the ability to have a lasting, meaningful relationship with a woman.
The real relief about this album is that it doesn’t ever sound like what many detractors of Drake and similar rappers would call “emo rap.” There is a ton of emotion here but West goes hard the whole time. He has mastered the art of being vulnerable while still being very strong. The duality of the album informs everything.
One thing that is very different from his last two outings is the amount of guest spots. There are multiple appearances by Jay-Z, Pusha T, Rick Ross, Minaj and surprisingly Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame, as well as one-off performances from John Legend, Raekwon and KiD CuDi. Fortunately, the album never feels crowded. This might be because no song is shorter than 4:17 but all of the guests are not themselves in this context. (Bon Iver fans won’t even recognize Vernon’s voice on “Monster.”) Instead, they serve the purpose of furthering West’s narrative, of illustrating his ideas. Chris Rock shows up for a bit also, but even he is a character. He isn’t Chris Rock. When West doesn’t outshine his guests, it doesn’t take away from the quality of the record. When is the last time anyone could say that about
a hip-hop record?
This record hits you everywhere it needs to: the head, the heart and the ol’ general and his duffle bags. It never lets up. What is great about it is that there’s something for everyone. Need some introspective headphone hip-hop? West’s right there listening to the other ear bud. Need to get psyched to go out? West’s driving the party bus. Need to have your faith restored in hip-hop, nay, music in general? West is behind the pulpit, up in the choir loft and in the back getting drunk off the sacraments.
He’ll make you believe.