There are so many conflicting public and private personas that culminate in the egotistical, frustrating and yet undeniably creative and brilliant man that is Kanye West. After all, West consistently invites criticism and speculation with each successive exasperating public stunt and diatribe. He may be an exhausting media fixture, but West has never shied away from confronting his own demons. It's this unnerving introspection that makes Kanye West's music electric, enjoyable and undeniably important.
With My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the superstar has returned with an album that speaks not only to tabloid sensation Kanye, he of the Taylor Swift debacle, the Amber Rose over-sharing, the Twitter rants and media posteuring, but also to the private emotional depths of a man at a crossroads in his life. The album blends the dark, haunted self-analysis of 808s and Heartbreak with the slick, hip-hop-faithful production techniques of The College Dropout and inspired samples of Late Registration; it's the climax of everything West has been working up to until this point.
The album opens as hip-pop ingenue Nicki Minaj does her best British governess impersonation in a storyteller-inspired dialogue, before the tracks launches into a soulful, uplifting piano-assisted sample of Mike Oldfield's “In High Places.”
The brooding “Gorgeous” features a languid, dirty and progressive post-punk guitar hook. As Kid Cudi sings a threatening chorus, West's rhymes betray the desperation and conceit of a man on the edge.
The drum scratches on "Power," Afro-influenced tribal chants and sample of King Crimson's apocalyptic “21st Century Schizoid Man,” create an intense, heart-pounding epic tale of authority, prerogative and limitation. Radio-ready “All of the Lights,” is a cameo-frenzy, featuring Rihanna's soaring vocals on the hook, Fergie's saucy rap, a soulful choral siren call and a commanding horn reveille. “Monster” is an angry, beat bouncing, in your face rap-off between West, Jay-Z and Rick Ross, but it's Nicki Minaj's sassy, virulent verse that steals the show.
Debuted at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, the esoteric piano-ballad cum rap tell-off “Runaway” confronts West's outrageous behavior as he sarcastically calls for a toast to the “douchebags, assholes, scumbags and jerkoffs,” while at the same time acknowledging his own inability to let down his guard in private and personal situations.
On the eery, fantastical “Hell of a Life,” West rhymes about marrying a porn star over a blurry synth that stealthily snakes its way through the inauspicious verses. The rapper recreates a chaotic world where morals, warped normalcy and complete and utter hedonism do battle before surrendering and cascading into complete dissolution.
John Legend's moving vocals on “Blame Glame” are in magnetic opposition to West's manipulated rhymes, as he tackles his twisted relationships and angry combative emotions. Chris Rock's amusing, yet somehow unfunny, monologue closes the song with an unsettling feeling, never mind the blatant misogyny explicit in the lyrics.
Bon Iver mastermind Justin Vernon's a capella Auto-Tuned opening on “Lost in the World” is stunning, while Beyonce's vocal attitude on “See Me Now” commands attention. Both tracks leave the album with pop pleasant beats and a combination of spiritual and introspective rhymes, with a dash of typical Kanye pomposity thrown in.
What's most arresting about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is West's willingness to blend his own blinding bravado with an unnerving and surprising fragility. Behind all of the samples, computerized beats, crazy fashions and wordplay, West has never hid his humanity. It may be practically impossible not to identify with some semblance of West's music, as it's his open, yet conflicted, heart that beats beneath every song he meticulously crafts.