If you care about Kanye West, you’ve already heard almost every song from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, either through West’s G.O.O.D. Fridays series or as the soundtrack to his Runaway film. There are lots of tracks left over, which he’s saving for the deluxe album. So what does the completed, hour-plus album, as is, have to offer as a whole that the individual tracks we’ve already heard did not? Mostly a complete picture of where West’s head is at right now.
What makes Kanye West interesting and feel so relevant is that he’s got bravado mixed with a very current, generational need to be liked, as well as loved. He’s the kind of guy that answers the question, “What are your weaknesses?” with “I work too hard, I care too much, I try too hard.” He’s the kind of girl who shuts down her Livejournal because people are mean, only to start a new one a week later. His weaknesses are strengths, his real weakness is thinking we don’t already know that. He once rapped, “We’re all self-conscious, I’m just the first to admit it.” It kinda sums up what drives West. He doesn’t know he’s the best, he thinks he’s the best, and the difference between that drives his furious creative output. He possesses a mixture of perfectionism and egotism that leads him to agonize and second-guess himself until he produces something he is convinced nobody can beat.
He’s made a record that few can beat. MBDTF is West’s darkest, most glamorous, and most excessive album. From its too-long name down to its final, extended outtro, it is, and has, too much. Too long, too many people, too many sounds, tries too hard. For all that, it’s a mirror image of the man himself. It’s too good. That we’ve heard almost all of this material already doesn’t dilute the final product, since there’s still a lot of room to admire the richness of the production, and a lot of time to unpack what’s going on. Some of the best moments: The sparkle on the opener “Dark Fantasy,” the stalking beat behind “Monster,” the horns on “All Of The Lights,” the dark scratch and shrieking on “So Appalled,” the ugly echoed vocals on “Blame Game,” the broiling synth toward the end of “Runaway.” But what’s also striking, and what comes out mostly in his outtros, is that West is also an expert at slicing and cutting down, letting a lonely, thin bass, a splatter of kicks, or a single sigh between a few words stand out starkly, as on “Hell Of A Life.” All this doesn’t leave much room for goofiness. He quotes I’m Gonna Git You Sucka alongside Malcolm X on “POWER,” mimics Napoleon Dynamite on “Monster,” reminds you that “you got too many Urkles on your team / that’s why your Winslow” on opener “Dark Fantasy.” Maybe after a year of being a punchline, you become less interested in making them. But it’s easy to miss the West of “The New Workout Plan,” and “Gold Digger.” That guy may not be coming back. So his MBDTF characters do the mundane, though when West speaks for himself, he’s a superhero (along with all the self-torture baggage that superheroes come with). The other West that appears on “All Of The Lights” and “Devil In A New Dress,” with their broken relationships, missed signals, and cell phones that pocket dial — really round out the album and provide some nice counterweight. Take this verse from “Blame Game,” the second to last proper track:
On a bathroom wall I wrote: ’I’d rather argue with you than to be with someone else’
I took a piss and dismissed it
And went and found somebody else
Arguing, harvesting the feelings, I’d rather be by my fucking self
’Til about 2 a.m. and I call back and I hang up and start to blame myself
There are a lot on this album: a lot of producers, a lot of guests, and a lot of Kanye Wests. But this one is the most startling, the one who sounds like everyone else you know.
You’ll have to forget the Kanye West that allowed Chris Rock to finish this song off.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is out 11/22 via Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella.