“I fantasized ’bout this back in Chicago,” Kanye West proclaims at the outset of his latest full-length album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The following 70 minutes feel like a true culmination of Kanye’s fantasies of grandeur and musical innovation.
With a title that would make even the most hardened emo band cringe and a year full of faux pas for West, audiences are naturally skeptical that Fantasy is anything more than a self-indulgent mess. However, anyone who misses out on this album out of hatred for Kanye, loyalty to Taylor Swift or any other reason are missing out on something special. This is an album showcasing an already-trailblazing artist at the pinnacle of his talents. In fewer words, it is simply transcendent.
Fantasy will likely be remembered as a watershed moment in West’s career. Where he goes from here is unknown, but this latest album represents the zenith of all his past works, with influences showing from all four previous albums. “Devil in a New Dress” has the soul-influenced sampling of The College Dropout. The orchestral grandiosity of Late Registration is found on tracks like “All of the Lights” and “So Appalled,” while “Gorgeous” features the space-funk electronica of Graduation. Not to be forgotten, the AutoTuned rap-singing of 808s and Heartbreak reappears on “Runaway” and “Lost in the World.”
However, rather than merely retread that familiar ground, Kanye has learned a trick or two in the past five years — and he shows that Fantasy is his method of perfecting his art. By and large, he succeeds.
“All of the Lights” has the potential to be his biggest hit so far, featuring eleven (eleven!) other artists, including Rihanna, Fergie, John Legend, Alicia Keys, Kid Cudi and Elton John. It’s almost a Where’s Waldo? search in trying to find every one of Kanye’s collaborators, but the horn section that opens the song sweeps the listener into its heartbreaking story of a man losing sight of his family and life.
Kanye proves once again that he is a master of assembling an album, and each song flows into the next seamlessly. It’s hard to not consider Fantasy a concept album of sorts, as West does such a marvelous job weaving a pseudo-story of fame and delusion.
The one disappointment is “So Appalled”— not because of a lack of quality, as it’s a gorgeous production featuring Jay-Z and Pusha T. Rather, “Appalled” is overshadowed by its precursor, “Monster,” a biting song that closes on a scorching verse by Nicki Minaj that would make any follow-up look inferior.
In addition to his perennially excellent production skills, Kanye still has the wit and sharp tongue that made him famous. His rhyming on “Dark Fantasy” and “Power” show that he’s still a formidable foe on the mic, but to list any of these brilliant lyrics would be spoiling some of the album’s funniest and most impressive moments.
If there is anything to complain about on Fantasy, it’s that West lets a good thing overstay its welcome. Six minutes into “Runaway,” Kanye transitions into a three-minute AutoTuned breakdown of the chorus. As spooky and beautiful as the garbled voice becomes, it removes the listener temporarily from the otherwise-flawless album.
An album as prolific as Fantasy needs an ending as awe-inspiring as the rest of its contents, and Kanye finds his ultimate closer in “Lost in the World.” Opening on a sample of Bon Iver’s “Woods,” the song bursts into a cacophony of tribal percussion and AutoTuned harmonizing. Easily one of the most beautiful and haunting songs West has ever recorded, “Lost” ties the entire album up with a bow when it seamlessly flows into a lyrical breakdown from Gil Scott Heron’s “Comment #1.” The song ends on the poignant question, “Who will survive in America?” followed by a meek round of applause.
If Fantasy is any indication, Kanye is here to survive and last — and that meek applause should be replaced a standing ovation. This is an artist in his prime, unbridled by the need to play it safe or the desire to be radio-friendly. Kanye West is the only fearless hip-hop artist in America who could accomplish something like Fantasy. He set out to prove his opponents and critics wrong — and he wound up creating a true masterpiece of hip-hop.
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