I know almost exactly what you’re thinking – “why are you writing a review for this album if it came out like 3 years ago?” AHA! If you were thinking that, then you have already answered your own question. This was something that I was just tweeting about randomly. I was saying “I wonder how I would have reviewed Kanye’s album when it came out,” and fellow tweeter/friend/up and coming rapper, Dom McLennon, said that I should do one anyways, because writers don’t tend to review music over a short period of time (if at all – unless it’s a really important album), so I thought about it, and it really wasn’t until – well, now – that I decided to act on it.
The reason why I feel the need to write up on this album is because even after years have passed, Kanye West is still an artist that comes up in conversations today as to what his best album is. He’s an important (and controversial) part of Hip Hop – whether it comes from his production on Jay-Z’s albums, his hit singles, or memorable moments on TV (Hurricane Katrina Telethon, Taylor Swift interruption). My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy is an album that many people didn’t know which direction it was going to take because the question was: is it going to sound like 808s (& Heartbreaks), or is it going to sound more like the ‘College Series’?’ No one knew what to expect, but the thing that people should have known already was that, you can never tell what’s going to happen when it comes to Kanye West and his music. The word ‘genius’ gets tossed around more than a football during practice, but in Kanye’s case, I think that’s pretty much solidified in his legacy. He brought a style not only in music, but in the world of fashion to the game that many today are replicating (everyone in G.O.O.D Music, A$AP Rocky, etc.). This album would be a testament to the old and new when it came to fusing together what had (at that time) made up what was Hip Hop. You knew it was going to be random by the title, so there’s that as well.
I didn’t even know whose voice was speaking at the beginning of Dark Fantasy, until it finally clicked in that it was Nicki Minaj. She had blown up and was just pushing her ‘Barbies’ movement (‘5-Star Chick’ & ‘Bedrock’ being the amplifiers). A bunch of the songs, I’d heard already because he previewed (essentially) the whole album in his ‘Runaway’ movie (definitely watch that too – Selita Ebanks is the main reason). I didn’t look this up until recent, but the intro that Nicki was reading off in her British accent is from a Ronald Dahl story (not word for word), called Cinderellas (Thanks, Rap Genius). Everyone had only saw of Kanye what they viewed on TV but didn’t really know the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of his personal life, and at the same time, no one really knows what goes on in the industry, so it was ‘storytime’ for the listeners. The beat kicks in and the fact that it was co-produced (or fully) by RZA, you had that thump that was so recognizable. Fashion, cars, and expensive things encompasses the majority of topics that Kanye rapped about, because he lives a lavish lifestyle, but that still doesn’t mean that he doesn’t keep a close ear to what’s going on in his backyard (‘you ain’t got no YEEZY, nigga?!). If you were watching the BET Hip Hop Awards a few years ago when G.O.O.D Music had a group cipher, you would know that in the 2nd verse, a few bars were recognizable:
The plan was to drink until the pain’s over
But what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?
Fresh air, rollin down a window
Too many Urkels on ya team, that’s why ya Winslow
This was the introduction, and it was a good start because production let us know that it was going to have a different and more upbeat sound than 808s. Kanye had time to collect his thoughts and get himself together before putting out an album, but any music from Kanye is a good thing, especially since he was giving away free songs every week for G.O.O.D Fridays on Twitter (greatest thing on Twitter ever, and if you weren’t around, you missed everything of relevance).
The thing that I love the most about Gorgeous is the guitar sample; it was really the main thing that drove the beat along with the bass, and it didn’t need to be much more than that. This song got personal because it felt as if Kanye was telling us ‘this is who I am, this is where I stand right now’, and that he had heard the criticism and pop culture mocking him for his antics and his personality (remember back to the classic ‘Fish Sticks’ episode on South Park). Kanye had lost his grip on life and needed time to recoup, but his thought process on what life is like in the world around him came to be on this track. Kanye’s always had tracks that deal with some type of social awareness when it comes to the everyday person (you know, when he’s not pronouncing words of brands we can’t afford yet), so this was no different. Racial profiling, the crooked judicial system, the drug game, and even the AIDS conspiracy were on his mind at this particular time. Being Black and being a rapper, it’s like a constant burden because you’re faced with having to deal with particular people trying to understand where you’re coming from. When Kanye started off, he had the backpack on and was appealing to the white kids, and all of the singles got them going wild – but the ‘Blackness’ factor is always tested, so Kanye had to realize that truly, it’s all about being that self-confident and cocky artist he always has been, because he’ll never shake off the ‘Black’ problem that most people have with him. It’s about finding his identity. Raekwon can rarely do any wrong, and he certainly didn’t do so here. Keeping it to the streets like how many people were raised to hear him, he definitely took it there and gave it a more concrete punch than it already had. Lyrically, it’s probably the best song on the album thus far.
POWER was the song of the summer, and quite frankly up to this day, the song is still being used on TV, for movie trailers, and in sports arenas. The thunderous instruments and samples crashing against each other were the main ingredients to this hit. It’s ironic that he said that every superhero should have their own theme music on the song, because this sounds like a superhero anthem. The video for this was artistic and of course it sparked a lot of controversy because of the angelic and demonic figures that were present, but it was a moving piece of art, and no one had really done anything like that, so of course you had to leave it to Kanye to be the trendsetter and create yet another visual statement. The song itself was a reflection of one line: ‘No one man should have all that power,’ because people will take advantage of it and try to pull you down. Also, one can abuse their own power by stepping over lines that they shouldn’t. We all know that Kanye has the ‘everyone is against me’ ego, but then again, you can’t deny that more times than not, he brings it upon himself – it’s just something that we’ve had to deal with. Continuing with the theme of rhyming on social and political subjects, Kanye even took a shot at Saturday Night Live for mocking him (ironic that he performed the song on SNL and changed the lines around), and even when Obama called him a “jackass,” that hit a low point, so this was a venting of sorts as far this song goes. The abundance of samples is what makes it a classic song, and although the song itself is dated, you’ll hear this for a lot of years to come.
All of the Lights started off with a nice interlude that a lot of women would love to be played at their weddings (believe me, I’ve seen & heard it said a lot), but once again, a crashing instrumental was fundamental on this song, and this was definitely a different kind of dynamic that we were accustomed to hearing Kanye rap over. They weren’t simply just ‘beats’, they were orchestrations. The opening lines to Kanye’s verse will live forever, simply because of “MJ gone, our nigga dead.” Kanye had another song that was ‘light’ related with ‘Street Lights’ (one of my favourites), but this one was based on putting himself in the shoes of the everyday person who goes through tough times to metaphorically tie it into his life. The key thing that got to me was that, I had no idea that there were so many people featured on this song. Rihanna, Fergie, Elton John, Alicia Keys (and that’s not even half) were amongst the people that had vocals on it; it was definitely a different kind of ensemble for a Hip Hop song – he just stretches out the creativity as it goes along, but it wouldn’t be the last time.
Now, Monster was one of the songs that Kanye had released earlier as part of his G.O.O.D Fridays series in early 2010, and from the get go, this one was a pretty big track. Years later, and listening to it repetitively, Nicki Minaj had the best verse because of her rapping personality, and the amount of times that she changes up her voice, it was pretty much perfect for her and I can’t lie, she killed it (big up for the Tony Matterhorn, Dutty Wine reference too). This track also featured the likes of Bon Iver, Rick Ross (for like 25 seconds), and a Jay-Z verse that a lot of people argued as being the best on here also. This track brought the ‘ghoulish’ side out of the rappers, along with the sound effects and heavy drums that followed. It was the feel of a tradition African tribal ritual with little bit of urban flare around it. It’s still a great song, but it wasn’t anything special after a period of time, at least in my case.
Structuring the songs that featured the most guest appearances together in the middle of the album was pretty smart, because you get it out of the way before you get back into the story of it all. So Appalled was another song that was part of the G.O.OD Fridays series, and the beat for this had me screwing up my face the first time I heard the rough cut when Kanye’s album was rumoured to be named ‘Good Ass Job.’ The track featured G.O.O.D Music representatives, CyHi Da Prynce & Pusha T, and again, Jay-Z made an appearance. Swizz Beats & RZA didn’t have verses, but they still contributed (how can one ever forget RZA’s ‘FUCKIN’ RIDICULOUS’ line?). This Kanye’s ‘show off’ track, but still kept it real, especially when talking about spitting the ‘realness’ and not co-signing to the dance tracks that have saturated Hip Hop during that time. Jay-Z & Pusha T had dope verses, but Hov out edged him (I had to give it to him because of The Dark Knight line reference) and he brought the heat on this one. The thing about this was that there were a lot of quotes that are still used today, and that’s a common theme that has been part of Kanye’s resume over the years – those lines stuck in your head or still used thorough daily conversation or in pop culture.
Devil in a New Dress was the last song from the album that was also released earlier in the year, but this one was long and featured Rick Ross, as opposed to the shorter version that came out earlier. Religious themes have always been around in Kanye’s career and using that metaphorically to describe a woman wasn’t anything to shy away from, especially since it’s been used all throughout movies & music; seeing women as a cruel mistress – even the movie The Devil Wears Prada was something that came to mind when I saw the title for this. The Smokey Robinson sample of ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ was what always gets to me, because it brings back the Soul sound that made me a Kanye fan to begin with. The lyrics provide a fashionable lust to the women whom Kanye are portraying, and they even have that ‘asshole’ attitude that Kanye was influenced them with (Yeezy taught em). Let’s step away from the lyrics for a second and focus on the production itself – it was grand scale. The final version was definitely cleaner and ear popping to me, but it wasn’t until the guitar solo kicked in before Rick Ross’ verse that I was blown away. It’s definitely my favourite song on the album as a whole (beat, rhymes, and all).
Many people compared Runaway to Michael Jackson’s legendary song ‘Thriller.’ You could say that’s a stretch, reach, leap for the heavens, etc, but this was definitely the peak of the album and behind ‘POWER’, it’s pretty much the theme song for many because it hits home for so many people. Putting himself at the metaphorical podium, he owns up to his faults and the fact that he can’t contain himself, mainly because of his asshole personality. His message is in the chorus. Telling the girls to run away from him because he knows he’ll hurt them, is Kanye coming to terms and accepting the fact that he’s not the greatest man to be committed to a woman (until he puts that rock on Kim Kardashian’s finger, we’ll see what happens). Pusha T was blowing up, and by signing to G.O.O.D Music and developing his solo career, this was a great step for him. Just when you thought it was over, it wasn’t. It broke off back into the little piano solo, and then Kanye had an Autotune solo blended in with string instruments. He was channeling his 808s style that had influenced a lot of rappers so follow suit. And as much as you want to say T-Pain, let’s be real here; Kanye does influence a lot of people, Hip Hop or not. It had to take me a while to really appreciate the Autotune, because he (Kanye) in fact had turned himself into an instrument. You have to admire that.
Every album has that 1 song that just doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, and for this album, there were a lot of mixed reviews for Hell of a Life. It still ties in with the ‘Twisted Fantasy’ theme of the album, so I could understand that. This wasn’t a song I’d just have on repeat; I usually skip this, but I can tolerate it from here to there. What comes to mind is an interview with Nicki Minaj, she said that she went into the studio and Kanye was just watching porn, so and listening to the lyrics, you can definitely tell that they’re pornography influenced (I’m not mad at that). Combining religion & sex into one is what many would call ‘blasphemous’, ‘obscene’, ‘shameful’, and whatever other negative word you can think of. The sample of ‘Iron Man’ by Black Sabbath was creative because no one really samples rock songs or incorporates them into their flows (at least not to my intermediate knowledge). Is it just me or did it sound like Kanye was getting head at the end of the track when he kicks in the moans from the woman? The song made people feel uncomfortable, and if you’re against sex in all forms, I’d be uncomfortable too, but in a production state of mind, it was still on point because of the different sound that it incorporated.
Blame Game is the less autotuned & cinematic version of Runaway, to me, because he (allegedly, but obvious) focuses on his relationship with Amber Rose and it’s something that many can relate to because we never got to hear just exactly how he thought about their break up. When a relationship ends, the first question people ask you when they find out is “well, whose fault is it?” Both parties will blame it on the opposite person, so 9 times out of 10, there’s no common ground until feelings settle in and you think to yourself that it was all on you for the break. I find it funny that I went through a break up not too long after this album was released, but prior to that, a conversation came up and it went along the lines of “would you go and take another person you’re with to the same places and do the same things that we did?” It didn’t hit me until I heard the skit with Chris Rock, that this is what she (ex gf) was talking about when she asked me that. When you’ve been with someone for a good length of time, you do learn some things, and ideally whereas one person wouldn’t want to have to treat someone else the same as the previous relationship, there are always things that you learn that carries forward ahead. It’s human nature: we live, learn, make mistakes, and grow from those mistakes. It’s a constant cycle, so of course someone is going to get the benefits from the past if they’ve never been accustomed to that standard of good nature. Much like any of Kanye’s wild rants, this song felt like a good vent: it was angry, it was emotional, and the feelings were raw, which spoke to the listener because it’s such a common element in the love lives of many. And don’t forget the best one-liner ‘Yeezy Taught Me.’ Yet another top pick of songs for the album.
Lost In The World is a great way to sum up this album because the emotionally charged Kanye West is still unsure of where he’s at in the world. Whether it’s because of his personal growth, or his lack lustre love life that has him in a funk, but there’s still a woman who makes him feel these contrasting emotions, and that’s natural (listen to Tyler, The Creator’s ‘IFHY’ and the same theme applies when it comes to contrasting emotions while loving another). The production of this song is what will keep it on repeat for a while, and not only that, but the poem by Gil-Scott Heron portrays America as a woman who has been going through a lot, because everyone wants her, but she’s become weak (America just hasn’t been the same). It’s a reflection of what life in America has been and what people will do to ‘survive in America.’ I had to listen to it a few times before truly understanding it, but again, that’s Kanye West telling it like it is when it comes to his views on America.
A poetic masterpiece filled with audible bliss is what I can say about this album, and yes, I’m still mad that it never received an Album of the Year nomination from the Grammys. This album obviously won’t appeal to the people who simply wanted old Kanye with just beats and rhymes, because as he’s shown us from 808s, he’s able to develop and bring variety to his production skills that we already appreciate. He stepped it up to another level with this album, and it’d be a shame to let it go unappreciated. It hasn’t been 3 years yet (at the time that I write this) since the album was released, but I can confidently say that this is a classic album, and that word gets tossed around a lot. Why is it a classic? You can still listen to it today and it’s still refreshing, the growth of Kanye West is expressed throughout each song in a more mature state of mind, and it’s him venting out his emotions while still keeping it real with anything else. Production alone makes it a phenomenal album already. There was a different sound, it wasn’t consistent the whole way through, sonically, but it all came together to make a great album. If you haven’t listened to it, you should, because before recent, it was really the last ‘great’ Hip Hop album to come out in a long time, and it can appeal to people who don’t particularly listen to Hip Hop. You might think different from me, but this is my opinion, this is my review, and ultimately
That’s My Word & It STiXX