By Julian De Ocampo ’13
A lot of people know Kanye West in different ways; music devotees and critics view him as the savior of 21st century hip-hop, the media views him as the devil’s spawn and President Obama views him as nothing more than a “jackass.”
But West has had a tough few years. First it was the death of his mother in 2007, and then his fiancé left him in 2008. And it goes without saying that 2009 was a rough year for the rapper, who fled the country after interrupting Taylor Swift at the VMA Awards.
2010 promises to be a different sort of year for West, who is making his triumphant return from exile with his latest effort “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” his most grandiose and perplexing album yet.
The album is the soundtrack to all the egotistical overachievers of the world and a love letter to overindulgence.
On the swaggering first single “Power,” West calls his critics “short-minded” and compares them to, inexplicably, Napoleon.
It’s an ironic twist, seeing as how the album reaches such extravagant heights of overcompensation that it appears that West has quite the Napoleon complex himself.
Take, for example, the bloated guest list on the album, which has West trading off verses with Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj, who also delivers a deadly verse on the brooding “Monster” that trumps both West and Jay-Z.
Yet tracks like “Monster” and other posse cut “So Appalled” fail to reach coherence with the combined talents of the rappers, often coming across as unfocused and scattered.
“All of the Lights” features over a dozen musical giants such as Rihanna, Elton John and Kid Cudi, and yet West relegates many of them to unnoticeable flourishes.
West proves his excess by bringing in a superstar like Alicia Keyes, only to have her sing a subtle “Woo-aah” towards the end of the song.
On 2007’s “Graduation,” West painted scenes with nearly every song, and even a shallow brag track like “Stronger” was a forgivable breather, partly due to a well placed Daft Punk sample and several perfect one liners.
On “Fantasy,” West rarely approaches the narrative structure of each of the songs on his previous albums. West only tells stories on a few choice cuts, such as the sultry “Devil in the New Dress” and heartbroken “Blame Game.”
Despite a few lyrical gaffes, the album rolls along with a technical precision that could tell a million stories. “Dark Fantasy” sounds as if West’s ego was manifested into a song, pausing from its rollicking tempo only to ask a maudlin “Can we get much higher?”
The album’s impeccable production climaxes during its last two songs: “Blame Game” and “Lost in the World.”
The former is morose, bitter and utterly lonely, with sweeping string sections and a teary eyed piano.
However, it abruptly appears to self-destruct in the form of an extended, juvenile outro provided by Chris Rock.
“Blame Game” is easily one of his greatest productions yet, but West seems to intentionally mar the track with Rock’s knowingly infantile ramblings.
Perhaps it’s part of the plan, symbolizing West’s realization that he simply does not care for the fruits of his labor anymore, but it’s still a shame to see the track end in such an ugly manner.
Finally, “Lost in the World” closes the album with a slick Bon Iver sample. It’s joyous, but not in the same way that previous hits like “Touch the Sky” or “Champion” were. Rather, the joy expressed in “Lost in the World” is one of liberation, heedlessness and newfound knowledge.
It’s a shame that West lets his most banal and shallow tendencies rise to the surface instead of the introspective rhymes that made him famous.
Yet, for all the boastfulness and conceit that West brings to the table, “Fantasy” is a feat of technical tenacity, acting as a work that is oftentimes dark and twisted while often remaining altogether beautiful.
Although America may have turned on him, West is willing to stand up for something bigger: his identity in all of its manic glory.