Review Of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
There are demons underneath Kanye West’s bed; they are the shadows clipped to his heel that he’ll never escape, the black that looms large behind his back before the spotlights and, I imagine, the spectral forces that consume him as he soars high above the city lights leaving crowds behind him yearning for encores. For all his talent, however, West is destined to remain an embattled rapper. He has had run-ins with just about everyone from presidents and talk show hosts to teenage country pop singer Taylor Swift. And yes, we seem to love to hate that about him. I mean, “Excuse me, I’m-ma let you finish but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time” are not words we’ll soon forget, are they? Thankfully, regardless of whatever the devil else he does, West consistently makes great music. And since his self-imposed hiatus has ended, it is no surprise that he returns to the other thing that he does best: making memorable albums.
After a reported few therapeutic trips, “going shopping in Milan”, and touring Japan on his sabbatical, West returns My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, an album that, if only through the cover art, is decidedly provocative. Apparently, through teetering on the brink, West goes off the edge for his fifth studio album. The album is steeped in his ideologies of perceived and, well, actual supremacy as a rapper and producer. His audiovisual sensibilities are at their highest ever and with its many turns at whimsy, romance, social commentary, apology and introspection, Twisted Fantasy is an exorcism, albeit with little gore, that is indubitably entertaining. The album, which is light at a lean 13 tracks, conquers more ground for a rapper for whom the world seems to be getting smaller and smaller (if only in his mind) and picks up where West’s last album 808s and Heartbreak left off in experimentation and soul searching. All the parts of the jigsaw that was that last album are fitted and fused here and the product is the machinery of a mind that, although often times affected by his own ego-formative celebrity, remains cognizant of a need to explore wounds from which so many (seemingly) self-destructive actions emanate. And while West is still figuring himself out, it is at least obvious that he is not Martian, as rap peer Lil Wayne likes to describe himself, but is in fact completely human – at times gaudy, self-serving and egotistical but at others guarded, insecure and completely vulnerable.
West’s songs, and his personality, are very relatable for many: That may be the reason his fans love him as much as they do. The rapper seems to be genuinely grappling with his good fortune – still – and learning to cope with success under the microscope. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and hence fans are sure to follow his instructions, “stick around, some real feelings might surface”, which he aims at figuratively or likely literal love on Blame Game, yet still understand the cold shoulder he dishes out with “Address me as your highness, high as United/30,000 feet up and are not invited” on So Appalled. Ironically, Pusha T sums up West’s viewpoint best for the rapper with the stellar verse: “Success is what you make it/take it how it comes/a half a mill in twenties is like a bill where I’m from/an arrogant dealer, the legend I’ve become/ [and seeing] CNN said I’d be dead by 21/blackjack I am pulling all aces.
Twisted Fantasy is chock-full of memorable lines, too. On Dark Fantasy, West raps “I fantasized about this back in Chicago/mercy, mercy me that Murcielago/that’s me the first year that I blow/how you say broke in Spanish”. Also, coming up with lines like “That was a little joke, viola/praises due to the most high, Allah/praises due to the most fly, Prada/baby I’m magic, ‘Tada’”, West turns phrases to good effect. On Devil in a New Dress, a torn West, coming to terms with loneliness, raps: “She putting on her make-up/she casually allure/text message break up, the casualty of tour/how she gone wake up and not love me no more/I thought I was the asshole/I guess it’s rubbing off”. With reverse psychology rife on Runaway West reveals: “She finds pictures in my email/I sent this girl a picture of my hey/I don’t know what it is with females/But I’m not too good with that, hey/See, I could have me a good girl/And I just blame everything on you/At least you know that’s what I’m good at.” Consequently, he advises in the chorus: “Runaway from me baby…runaway as fast as you can”. Fittingly, the track Power highlights West’s Moorean Paradox: he knows he’s a jerk but he doesn’t believe he’s a jerk.
The jungle aesthetic of Monster expectedly wouldn’t make much sense without monster metaphors; and so I assume with this in mind, Jay-Z (maybe after a quick internet search) name-checks all relevant creatures from Sasquatch to Godzilla to King Kong; but this is about as dark as it gets on Twisted Fantasy. Although West, like it or not, gets lost in the roars, drums and frenzied verses of Nicki Minaj and Jay-Z who, frankly, steal the track, he features strongly on the production which is brilliantly honed to accentuate each rapper’s flow pattern, rhyme scheme and swagger. In fact, the production is commendable over the entire album, which deviates generally from conventional rap beats, infusing alternative rock, soul and aesthetics of gospel. But by the time the bionic voices and African drums disappear on the Lost in the World epilogue, the feeling is one of regret that the album has finished. However, West pits a somber concept against what is surprisingly a celebratory song, considering the title, and uses it to tie the entire album together. He tributes his mother briefly using a refrain from one of his favourite focal points, singer Michael Jackson, and in contrast to the song All of the Lights, asks for the lights instead to be turned down in closing.
As the fantasy ends and it is time for the curtains, for the private jet back home or to some exotic city, and for a time to contend with his demons, who is to tell whether Kanye West has gotten it all out of his system. Nonetheless, Twisted Fantasy is a thrilling ride through smoke: there is not much to see but there’s many a glimpse and “pulling of strings for the dramatic”. It is a rapt ride through the neurotic rapper since Slim Shady but, all in all, the twists are not the kind you’d expect; the darkness is not malevolent but necessary, without the spotlights, for a moment of reflection. West’s fantasy, as it turns out, is to continue to be the jerk that he is without wearing out our patience. But, thankfully, that time is not yet because he has crafted another beautiful album.