It would be easiest to review this album track-by-track, and by doing that the point would be entirely missed. It has more guest spots and co-producers than any Kanye album until now, and it's obvious that it's one-man show. It literally falls apart under the weight of divergent moods and sounds, and it's the most cohesive among five Kanye's albums. It's commercial and anti-commercial. It's individualistic and it can spark a movement. It's braggadocious and it's honest. It's work of genius and it's stupid. It's alienating and it's appealing. It's larger than life and it's understated. It's bloated and it's too short. It's not even hip-hop, yet it's impossible to classify under anything other than hip-hop.
That's what it is. Sixty-eight minutes and forty-two seconds of self-contradiction. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Of course it's gonna be hailed as an instant classic, and it's perfectly understandable that many people won't understand what the fuss is all about. It's unavoidable that it's gonna be overrated, although it completely deserves that. The thing is, we've become used to listening to straight-forward albums with clear orientation and goal - whatever it is - that listening to something as labyrintine, odd and uncompromising as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy can sound straight repulsive. But, then again, what could we expect with a title like that, which takes a while to pronounce, and completely explains what the CD is. And it's just that, it's beautiful, dark, twisted and fantastic, and it's definitely Kanye's.
Because no one else could imagine of doing such an album in 2010. No one else could dare to take a dusty RZA beat and wrap it in Puff Daddy windchimes and angelic chorus and serve it to a polarized public that either hates overproduction or despises boom-bap. No one else could dare to sample the chorus of a hippie-esque prog-rock song and put it in completely different context, making the sample abuser the definition of 21st Century Schizoid Man. No one else could manage to have Rihanna, Fergie, Alicia Keys, Drake, Charlie Wilson, even god-damn Elton John and a whole battalion of other superstars on a single song and not to give any of them featuring credit. No one else could force two consequent six-minute posse cuts on a single album. No one else could make a nine-minute pop song with extended coda consisting of repetitive beat and heavily auto-tuned and distorted off-tune vocals that could easily be mistaken for an electric guitar. No one else could make a song that's at the same time drug-induced hallucination and dreams of fucking a porn star, all of that to a subterranean backdrop that's as much electro-pop as industrial. No one else could make a rap song that sounds as bunch of robotic drunkards singing a Summer of Love anthem. No one else could make a two-minute outro consisting just of long Gil Scott-Heron sample, without any original lyrics. And nobody could or would in the punch middle of all that a simple, sweet chipmunk soul love track.
But Kanye did all of that. Never since the Bomb Squad heyday has anyone with ambitions to the top 40 dared to push the boundaries of pop music in such a daring fashion. Speaking about Bomb Squad, seems that Kanye did the same thing as Hank Shocklee did with classic funk samples with his own music until now: those are super-polished choirs, orchestral breaks and string solos which are straight rudely juxtaposed with dirty samples of all damn genres, from psychedelia to ambient, with thunderous 808 drums (courtesy of criminally underrated dirty south pioneer Mike Dean) and with vocals which are as often distorted almost beyond recognition as they are crispily recorded. It's a soundclash - and I thought I would never use this word while referring to Kanye's music. It sounds brash, and it sounds hypnotizing. It's psychedelia for the end of decade zero.
It's obvious that the music is the focal point of the album and that the voices play more of an instrumental role - as on all Kanye's albums since Late Registration -, but on the closer inspection it becomes clear that Kanye took his introspection seriously. Over is deadpan self-aggrandizing of Graduation or emo weeping of 808's and Heartbreaks: what Kanye says here is more related to what made him a popular rapper in the first place - a clever mixture of bombastic and self-deprecating, but this time with a hint of a person who has really taken some punches - and isn't channeling all that into a destillate of sad faces, Kid Cudi style. Kanye is angry but doesnít show it, making all of his beefs sounds like a big joke that he takes too seriously. But, what's really amazing is how Kanye skews the traditional verse-chorus structure of hip-hop and pop songs, allowing himself to have choruses longer than verses, to have few minutes of instrumental or singing break among verses, and to have verses of varying length and even songs that don't even have verses or choruses. The rap goes with the flow, not following the pre-determined structure, which makes it more fluid and appealing than the mechanical raps most of today's rappers prefer to use.
Guests are, as usual, technically outshining Kanye, but they don't play against the host, but continue his train of thought through their own perspective. The biggest surprise here is, actually, Jay-Z, who hasn't sounded this much on fire since the good old days of the Blueprint.
So, yeah. Itís a difficult album, and, while the majority of public will embrace it because itís Kanye and other half will shun it for the same reason, the quiet truth remains that itís a pop-rap album that is as far from pop-rap as it goes. Everybody will love it or hate it for different reasons, and itís okay - Fantasy isnít here to please any target audience, but to be heard and listened to, to engage and provoke, to prove to everyone how great musician Kanye is while making it at the same cryptic and in-your-face. I donít know what the future holds, how much will this album be Xeroxed and diluted by following releases (or if it will be at all). I at least hope that this album wonít fall into the Web 2.0 era HD junkyard, that will be listened and remember, because that is what My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, at least to me the best album Kanye recorded, more than deserves.