In the opening moments of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver proclaims “can we get much higher?” over heavy piano chords and uber-dramatic background vocals, suggesting that Kanye West has not changed much since his self-absorbed, drama filled 808’s and Heartbreaks of last year. But just as judgment passes, the heavy piano chords transform into a bouncing, RZA-produced riff that screams old school and immediately vanquishes all thoughts of repetition from Kanye’s last, and least successful, album.
‘Dark Fantasy’, (the opening song) serves as a metaphor for the entire album, which reminds listeners all over the world that West still has the soulful bravado that earned him his place in the spotlight, but is not to be confused with a completely changed man from the self-centered eccentric we’ve known of late. These two personas blend brilliantly on this album to produce one of the more spectacular hip-hop compositions of this young century, where West brings back the heavy beats and emotionally-comedic lyrics of College Dropout (2004), while pulling off production stunts that no one on the hip-hop planet has ever dreamt of.
This one-of-a-kind dynamic is best portrayed on ‘All of the Lights’, where West groups talent like never before – replacing backup singers with a jaw-dropping list of worldwide acclaimed vocalists like Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Elly Jackson of La Roux, John Legend, Charlie Wilson, Kid Cudi, Drake, and several more household names. And as if that was not enough; West went one step further and replaced what would usually be a session keyboardist with the unlikely genius of Elton John, whose thick and complex piano riffs combined with the astounding vocals to make ‘All of the Lights’ a true hip-hop masterpiece.
The star-studded performances compound on each other over a drum pattern that only Kanye could compose, highlighted by Cudi’s best Bone Thugs & Harmony impression and Jackson’s passionate rhymes, which add unusual elements and an unprecedented touch to an already astounding song.
Another bright spot on the album is the gritty, synth filled ‘Hell of a Life’, where West skips over the head bouncing beat with lyrics reminiscent of his early work. His astoundingly unique viewpoints and almost-comprehendible metaphors keep things interesting, but don’t cross the overwhelming, buzz-kill line that Kanye has so often toed in the recent past. He even sings often without the need to impress with his vocals, delivering his message effectively without over-the-top variation.
Commercially beloved songs like ‘Power’ and ‘Monster’ offer catchy intermissions from the unavoidable, overly dramatic ballads that are found on every Kanye West album. But even more important is that he uses these songs to keep the message at head level with his millions of listeners. This might even suggest that West has come down to earth (or at least taken a step in the right direction) – but at very least it proves that he has re-recognized the necessity of radio-prone hits, which he clearly negated in the production of his last album.
All in all, Kanye does exactly what we expected him to do – something that no one else has ever done before – but in a way that suggests that the playful, smile-inducing guy that the world once knew still exists, even if he is disguised by the outspoken and often obnoxious Mr. West that has frequented the headlines of the last few years.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a must-hear, groundbreaking event in hip-hop, that will hopefully inspire the rest of the industry to follow suit and introduce a little more music to the world of hip-hop – something that has been forgotten since the genre developed so many years ago. But don’t expect Elton John on every album to come – for that, we must rely on Kanye. Even if the world doesn’t want to.
Written by A.J. Heindel
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