The next album from Kanye West proves to be another unexpected masterpiece in my eyes, with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. Like many of us who are a few steps or more away from modern hip-hop, Kanye remains a difficult person to appreciate, and my skepticism certainly carried over to his music, but even more so than “The College Dropout”, I absolutely love this record and fully appreciate why it is rated as #17 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Kanye lays the foundation with amazing beats and production, and while his rapping is the centerpiece, this record is marked by some amazing and unexpected collaborations. For every time that I listened to “Dark Fantasy”, I struggled to figure out who was singing “Can we get much higher”? I never would have guessed, but now it makes perfect sense that it is actually Jon Anderson from Yes.
“Gorgeous” has a great hook that comes from Kid Cudi, and it is a sinfully funky main verse. “Power” was the first single released, and was a triumphant return after Kanye’s much-discussed dustup with Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards.
As good as those songs are, the album hits its highest peak with the next two songs. “All of the Lights” is a brilliant song with an undeniably magnetic chorus by Rihanna, with piano and vocals coming from Elton John, as well as John Legend, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Drake and several others. It is a spectacular song.
After that exhilarating pop peak, Kanye and his crew literally punch you in the face with one of the most overwhelming and intense beats I have ever heard in hip-hop with “Monster”. This song has quickly become one of my all-time favorites, and while Kanye, Rick Ross and even Jay-Z do their jobs appropriately, the true all-star performance on this amazing song is delivered by Nicki Minaj. She is a complete and total badass on this song; there is no other way to say it. Some day when I’m fully liberated to play a top-notch sound system at its very loudest, this will be one of the first songs I pick. Another unexpected star of this song, as well as other tracks on the album, comes from none other than Bon Iver, the “folk” band I featured a few albums back. I mentioned then they worked with Kanye, but I never expected such a high-profile connection between these remarkably diverse artists.
“Devil in a New Dress” is built on top of a great Smokey Robinson sample, and the result flows perfectly for another phenomenal track. “Runaway” is a haunting, extended track built around an extremely descending piano note sequence, and is an introspective look at the inner demons Kanye has always battled. I thought I recognized this from the beginning, but the vocal chorus not only mimics “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, the linkage is strong enough that Ozzy, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward find their way into the songwriting credits. “Blame Game” is a unique song to say the least, pairing Kanye with John Legend, with an oddly effective incorporation of a sexually inspired comedy monologue by Chris Rock. How it all works, I don’t really understand, but I finally get why so many people, including my son, look at Kanye West as a disturbed genius in the art of musical creation. Another unexpected reappearance by a past artist in my blog, as Gil Scott-Herron surfaces with Kanye on the last song, “Who Will Survive in America”.
Of all of the albums I have listened to, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” will stand out as one of the biggest, unexpected favorites. I have said it so many times, but it is worth restating one more time. The gift of unearthing treasures like these, even if they were widely celebrated by the rest of the modern music world, remains the most impactful component of this journey.