Rating: ABecause the world needs another review of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
I had a running conversation with a friend this summer about Kanye West and Jay-Z. My friend was in awe of how cool Jay-Z is. There's no doubt that Jay-Z is cool but what I argued is, not only "Who cares?" (and let's face, I wasn't one of those "cool" kids in high school, the last time anybody talked about coolness), but that Jay-Z's coolness not only doesn't make him interesting, it makes him particularly uninteresting. What do we really know about Jay-Z?
On the other hand, Kanye West is not cool. He would love to be cool, he has a lot of cool associates, he does a lot of cool things (and, certainly, some not-so-cool things), but he's just missing something. When he tries to be cool, it comes off like he's trying to be cool. That sounds uncomplimentary, but it isn't: Kanye comes through in everything he does. Whether or not he's telling the truth at any given time, he's so transparent that it comes off as honesty. And when deliberately tries to let us in to his world - like in "Big Brother" off Graduation (coincidentally, about his relationship with Jay-Z), or his entire last auto-tuned masterpiece 808s & Heartbreak, it can be amazing art.
In MBDTF, we get both the putting-on-an-act-but-we-can-see-right-through-it Kanye and the honest and heartfelt Kanye. He puts on an act in tracks like "Gorgeous" and "Monster," where he seems to relish the villain role that his controversial comments on George Bush and his much-mocked interruption of Taylor Swift have cast him as. But as much as he would like us to believe he's thick-skinned, it's obvious he's not - his dig at the South Park writers who mocked him is funny ("choke a South Park writer with a fish stick / dick," but you can tell it really rankles). When he lets down his guard, it's devastating. He tears the entire hip-hop scene apart in "So Appalled," criticizing the "champagne wishes, thirty white bitches" scene for being "fuckin' ridiculous" while people are "going through real shit man - they outta work." It's backed by legitimately creepy electronic sounds.
Then there's "Runaway," which is both wrapped into one. I thought "Jesus Walks" was the most important song made in the last ten years, but now it might not even be his best track. "Runaway" hits on all levels - the spare, haunting piano, the relentless beat, Kanye lyrically just opening a vein about his own insecurities ("I always find something wrong / You've been putting up with this shit just way too long / I'm so gifted at finding what I dislike the most"), and finally embracing his villain status ("Let's have a toast for the douchebags") and ultimately pushing away those who care about him, advising "I got a plan / run away as fast as you can." It's heartbreaking, and it would be painful to listen to if it wasn't so fucking beautiful; the denouement is him singing the melody so distorted through a vocoder that it's indecipherable. It's braggadocio and vulnerability swaddled in psychedelia and a beat, and it stretches for nine minutes. Honestly, it's so good I could write about it for ten times that long.
Usually I need to listen to an album several times before I form an opinion on it. 808s and Heartbreak took my months to get into. But MBDTF is accessible right away, immediately grabbing you with its beats and unique sounds. Still, it rewards several listens; every repeat makes me appreciate a new song or catch a new lyric or sample or beat. Say what you want about Kanye - whether he's embarrassing himself in public or making the best album of the year, he's multi-dimensional and never boring.
One last note: it's only $4 in digital form on Amazon. You're crazy not to get it.
Kanye West official site