Kanye West’s ‘Twisted’ Masterpiece

Courtesy of Def Jam Records

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Kanye West these days. Some hate him, others love him and there are very few people in the middle.

Prone to public outbursts, West has used national television to call President Bush a racist and tell Taylor Swift that she didn’t deserve an MTV award. He has even enraged critics by wearing a crown of thorns on the cover of Rolling Stone.

His public personality has certainly been nothing short of controversial, but his music keeps getting better. West’s latest effort, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” is his best album yet; it may even be enough to finally justify West’s obvious obsession with himself.

The first track on the album begins with a question: “Can we get much higher?” The rest of the album may be taken as West’s answer, and by the end of the record, it is clear that for West to make an album better than this one, it would have to be almost perfect.

Can he get much higher? Probably not. It would be pretty difficult for someone that can’t dance or sing to make a better record. It is certainly doubtful that West can get any more obsessed with himself while simultaneously making an album striking enough to cause listeners to forget about that self-obsession, if only for a moment.

This album is the embodiment and culmination of everything that everyone loves – and hates – about Kanye West. Everything he does well is on full display, and everything he doesn’t do very well must not have made it out of the editing room.

From West’s acknowledgement and celebration of his own hubris on “Runaway” to his recognition of himself as the greatest ever on “Gorgeous,” he seems well aware of what people think of him throughout the record, and he doesn’t really care.

West’s arrogant excessiveness, from the verses to the production quality itself, makes the album what it is. If “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” doesn’t confirm West’s greatness, it certainly makes a compelling case on his behalf.

Standout track “All of the Lights” is a textbook exercise in how to have an inordinate number of guest vocalists contribute to a song. Artists as disparate as Elton John, Kid Cudi, Fergie and Elly Jackson, among others, supply vocals for the song, and a catchy hook from Rihanna completes the mix. West enlisted his favorite vocalists to contribute to the track, and the results are impressive. And yet, while “All of the Lights” might be the album’s most over-produced song, it also finds West in a rare and oddly refreshing moment of lyrical humility.

On the other end of the spectrum, “Monster,” a head-turning track that features an eerie introduction from Bon Iver and verses from Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj alongside West, is the sort of “out there” track that pushes the album to greatness. Each verse artfully pushes rapping to shrieking and almost screaming in just the right proportions, and the initial shock of the track leads to appreciation of the fact that it was even attempted, much less realized.

Perhaps none of the tracks on the album are anywhere near as radio-ready as the songs on his previous albums were, but this simply reflects the continual process of evolution in West’s music. The subject matter has certainly gotten more serious, but the listener is still having just as much fun.

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” combines the carefree appeal of 2007’s “Graduation” with the thoughtful, and sometimes melancholy, reflection of 2008’s “808s and Heartbreak.” All of West’s abilities and talents are on display in full force, and the more reflective moments add a degree of legitimacy to the episodes of airy haughtiness.

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” is certainly that – it is always beautiful, certainly dark at times and absolutely a fantasy. But perhaps the most defining element of the title is that the album is definitely very twisted. As with any top-notch album, the listener is surprised and even shocked at times.

Part of what makes Kanye West so appealing is that he is a dangerously unstable human being. The only thing predictable about him is his utter unpredictability – which is why nobody seems surprised anymore at each subsequent outburst of public rudeness and boastfulness. We expect it out of him by now.

The bottom line is that nobody else in rap or hip-hip today could have made this album. West’s greatness is evident in part by the simple fact that no one else in music is even trying to do the things West is doing. Call him crazy, insane and twisted – and even though you’re probably right, that’s what makes him Kanye West.

For those who already hate him, this album will probably give you even more to be annoyed about. For everyone else, this album is an experience on the brink of musical genius.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5