It’s hard to believe that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is ten years old. 2010 seems like a lifetime ago given the present state of the world, and the trajectory of the man who made the album, Mr. Kanye West. To say 2010 was a rough spot for Kanye is putting it lightly. The man’s mother just died, the long term relationship he had with his girlfriend went down in flames, and to top it all off he downed a bottle of Hennesey at the 2009 VMA’s and embarrassed a young Taylor Swift in front of millions. Even Obama called him a “jackass.” Kanye wasn’t just up against the roadblocks and curveballs life throws at you, he was also up against his worst enemy: himself.
So, in response to both his personal troubles and the troubles he had caused for himself, he did the only thing he could. He got back in the lab, and made some music. Like the mad genius he is, however, his approach to recording what would become My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was nothing short of exuberant. Recorded in complete secrecy in Hawaii with dozens of high-profile collaborators, West worked on the album 24 hours, seven days a week, only stopping to eat or power-nap. Seriously, the work ethic he put towards this album is insane, and still blows me away all these years later.
This album means a lot to me. It wasn’t the first Kanye West album I listened to (Yeezus holds that spot), but it’s the one that I listened to most often. It’s the one that made my casual enjoyment of Kanye West evolve into full-blown appreciation and respect. The sheer scope of the album is something to behold, as Kanye dives headfirst into American consumerism and celebrity culture in a way that I don’t think has been matched by many artists since.
MBDTF isn’t just an album, it’s a full blown odyssey, both narratively and sonically. Kanye explores the highest highs and the lowest of lows celebrity life has to offer, but also a medley of music styles and modes. To quote the Bard of Avon, Kanye can “add colors to the chameleon, / change shapes with Proteus for advantages.” MBDTF isn’t just a rap album. It has the features of progessive rock, flourishes of jazz and R&B, a sprinkling of symphonic elements, and splashes of electronica. Kanye took all the music he loved and blended into a potent new sound that hasn’t been replicated since. Not even by himself.
It’s hard to put into words why I love this album. Maybe it’s the powerful, anthemic bangers that are scattered throughout the album, like diamonds on black velvet. “POWER” is one of the greatest hype tracks of all time: seriously, try not bobbing your head to the song when those claps start. Kanye wrote his own damn theme song, and this it. “Monster” and “So Appalled” are just murderous posse cuts. Across both tracks you get the likes of Jay-Z, Pusha T, Nicki Minaj, the RZA, and Chyi the Prynce giving it their all. Push’s lines are particularly potent:
Success is what you make it, take it how it come
A half a mil’ in twenties like a billion where I’m from
An arrogant drug dealer, the legend I become
CNN said I’d be dead by twenty-one.
Cold, just cold. But maybe the best parts are when Kanye meditates on politics. “Gorgeous” is a sobering look at what it means to be Black in America, dealing with profiling wherever you go, no matter if you made it or not. Driven by a guitar riff that interpolates the melody of “You Know Me” by the Turtles and featuring a guest verse by Wu-Tang’s very own Raekwon, Kanye proves he isn’t messing around early into the album’s runtime.
On second thought, perhaps it’s when Kanye shows the more intimate side of himself where this album becomes fully realized. “Devil in a New Dress” is without a doubt, the best thing Kanye has ever wrote. A love song told from the perspective of a superstar blinded by his own ego. He’s trying to get closer to his girlfriend but she knows all about him and his reputation of being a “jerk” and an “asshole.” Kanye makes himself look suave and like a douchebag at the same time: talk about pen game.
The instrumental is absolutely luxurious, reflecting the lyrics perfectly. Mike Dean lays out some soulful guitar riffs, and jaw-dropping solo midway through the track. Rick Ross steals the show at the last minute, delivering one his trademark braggadocious verses with his husky, bassy voice.
Kanye goes for the one-two knockout on “DIAND’s” follow-up track “Runaway.” What a game-changing track. A nine minute, soul, hip-hop, and progressive rock fusion that’s completely one-of-a-kind. Kanye is telling his girlfriend to get the hell out of his life because he knows he’s no good for her. He accepts his fate of being an egomaniac with the chorus:
Let’s have a toast for the douchebags
Let’s have a toast for the assholes
Let’s have a toast for the scumbags
Every one of them that I know
Let’s have a toast for the jerk-offs
That’ll never take work off
Baby, I got a plan
Run away fast as you can
Pusha-T makes a guest spot in the middle of the track, a member of Kanye’s club for assholes and jerk-offs. Pusha takes on a persona that embodies the worst of this type of arrogance and egomania, trapping a girl in a rotten relationship with his wealth and power. Ugly, but knowing the entertainment industry, this isn’t a dark fantasy but a twisted reality. The song ends with a solo of Kanye singing into a vocoder, emphasizing his inability to speak his mind in a coherent fashion. A fantastic track, and a high point of the album.
I could go on all day, dissecting each track, but listen to this album for yourself. It crosses over so many genre labels, incorporates so many themes and issues, I would argue it’s impossible to listen to this album and not walk away and find a song you like.
It also serves as a watershed moment for Kanye West as an artist. He isn’t an underdog from Chicago finding his sound, or the Christian billionaire mogul embarking on all sorts of artistic, financial, and political endeavors. Rather, it’s an album that captures his transition between both of these states, apotheosizing himself from a mortal to a God. It is a legendary album, not only for Kanye, but for music as a whole. My Beautiful Dark Twisted fantasy is one of the finest albums ever made, and should be rightfully considered as a landmark record for the industry as a whole.