don't you tell me how i feel.

Wild wild West by Steele

The time has come to discuss Kanye West’s epic new record. Like many people (or, just me?), my relationship with Yeezy is complicated. He’s changed drastically since his joyous, thoughtful and truly original debut, where he talked about working at the Gap, made fun of college girls, rhymed “syrup” and “dessert” with the delightful “sizzurp,” and rapped earnestly about faith and race in the modern world. He seemed so full of life and youthful energy. His future held so much promise.

Cut to 2010: Ye is still mourning the sudden death of his mother, his longterm relationship with the woman he loved has been pulverized, the pressures of fame turned him into a massive douchebag, and he’s perhaps best known for bullying a teen on national television. It should be easy to pity him…only, due to his ongoing persecution complex and epic meltdown of obnoxiousness, he makes it hard.

Kanye has always been pretty emo, but the over-the-top My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is his most emotionally honest album, and also his most unhinged. He uses it to examine his own worst tendencies, the reasons he has become so hated. It’s made of swagger, self-destruction, self-loathing and “look at me!” neediness. It’s built on sadness, anger and a sense of overwhelming loneliness. 

For better and mostly for worse, Kanye’s not the man he once was. But the good news is, this is a great, if psychotic, album.

The beautiful:

*Above all, the production quality and the musicianship. The album is bursting with rich melody, crisp beats and explosions of sound coming from all directions. There is a whole lot going on here, and sonically, the whole thing is close to perfect.

*The return of Jay-Z. Lately, Jigga-man has sounded a little sluggish to me, like he got too comfortable during his brief retirement. He’s back with a vengeance here, sounding like he can’t pull himself away from the mic. He’s also responsible for the most awesomely disgusting rhyme I’ve heard all year: “Y’all can suck my balls through my drawers.” (pron. “draws”)

*The storytelling. When Kanye manages to talk about people other than himself, he does it well.

*“All of the Lights,” featuring Rihanna and a woman who sounds a lot like Nelly Furtado but it turns out is actually Fergie. My bad, Fergie Ferg!

*“So Appalled,” which features RZA repeatedly grumbling, “This shit is fuukkin ruhdiculous.” Major album highlight.

*“Monster” is one of the more badass songs I’ve heard in some time, due in large part to a dazzling verse by new bad-girl rapper Nicki Minaj, who completely spazzes out at the end. Minaj has officially weirded her way into my heart with this.

*“Hell of a Life,” in which Kanye approximates the “Iron Man” chorus to spin a tale of living a life of wedded bliss with a porn star, then segueways between verses with a bridge that sounds like the theme song to a futuristic spaghetti-western movie.

*Chris Rock. I’m sorry, but that shit is hilarious. 

The dark twisted fantasy:

*If it sounds like there’s a lot going on here, there is. And it can feel overstuffed. By the end of the album, one might be a tad exhausted. But I guess you could also make the argument that this is what it feels like inside Kanye’s head all the time. Ouch.

*Thematically, the album centers around Kanye being a huge pain in the ass. Some of the songs go a shade too far in terms of communicating this – the self-pitying “Blame Game” comes to mind. Also, “Runaway,” otherwise known as the “let’s have a toast to the scumbags” song. The music in “Runaway” is amazing. But several people have told me they simply can’t stomach the in-your-face-why-am-I-so-terrible gimmick of it.

*I don’t know if this is a fair criticism, but I sort of hate how cynical and jaded Ye has become. I guess I just find the contrast between the Kanye of today and the Kanye of Late Registration depressing. He’s achieved more professional success than he ever dreamed of, yet seems deeply unhappy. He touched on this in his last record, the melancholy 808s and Heartbreak: “Chased the good life my whole life long/Look back at my life and my life’s gone/Where did I go wrong?”

If there’s one thought this album has left me with, it’s that Yeezy has proved himself to be a true artist. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an almost compulsively creative outpouring from a tortured mind – one that, like so many of ours, seems to flip between high and low self-regard. Incidentally, it’s awesome to listen to. That’s what makes him, in his own words, “a motherfuckin’ monster.”


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great review. Looking forward to listening to this.

Comment by Jasper

YES — You nailed this album exactly. Nicki totally won me over again on “Monster.” I’d almost given up on her. Oh oh, and the RZA…

Comment by Andrew

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