By Ryan Croke
Ah, yes. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye West’s magnum opus. Arguably the most iconic hip hop album of the 21st century, if not all time. An album that has to be listened to by every hip hop and music fan in general. A critically acclaimed album loved by Kanye’s millions of fans, myself included. For many, this is the best album they have ever listened to, and it does not disappoint. The maximalist production, the lyricism, the features, everything about this album is incredible. It is easily the most important album in Kanye’s extensive discography, and I would even argue it saved his career.
West was all over the place from late 2009 well into 2010, and frankly, still is today. I’m sure you have all watched, or at least heard of, a drunk Kanye West interrupting a 19 year old Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Music Awards during her acceptance speech for the Best Female Music Video, saying that his friend Beyoncé “had one of the best videos of all time,” and deserved to win. The news and media slammed West, and rightfully so. Even President Obama, in his first year in office, was caught on video calling West a “jackass.” Nobody except his inner circle of friends wanted to be anywhere near Kanye, and I can understand why. West has never quite been the same mentally since the death of his mother, Donda, due to complications during surgery back in late 2007, and just by looking at some of the news headlines today it is apparent that he is not the most mentally stable person. He has become one of the most polarizing figures in not only pop culture but in the world. After the VMAs, West retreated to Hawaii, eager to find a way to escape the hatred and make new music. The months spent in Hawaii culminated into one of the greatest works of art ever. There are many intersting videos on YouTube that document Kanye’s time in Hawaii creating My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF, as I will be calling it throughout the article), and they are fascinating to watch. I highly recommend you take the time to watch one of these videos if you are a fan of this album, of Kanye, or just interested in learning more. The album focuses on fame and superstardom, but not in the way you might think. It shows us the dark side of fame, and the struggles that come with being a celebrity. And who better than Kanye to tell us what the worst parts of fame are? After one of the darkest periods of his life, West, along with a star studded lineup of features and producers, set out to make the greatest album ever, and they accomplished something truly special. Without further ado, let’s begin the review of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Dark Fantasy is an excellent introduction to what we are about to experience over the next hour and 8 minutes. The only complaint I have is about the first 22 seconds, in which Nicki Minaj, who was still pretty much an unknown entity at this album’s release, reads a passage from a Roald Dahl book in a terrible British accent. I do not care for it, but the piano key right as she finishes talking instantly takes all my complaints away as we get into quite literally the best first song on an album I have ever heard. There are some greats up there, and it’s not the best introduction to an album I’ve ever listened to, but as an opening song, it’s definitely my favorite. The repeating “can we get much higher” sample over a soft orchestra is wonderful, and the switch right after into a piano melody behind Kanye’s first bars of the project is incredible. The song gives us a taste of the themes and sounds we will hear on the rest of the album. I cannot accurately describe to you in words how much I love this song, and that is a recurring theme throughout the songs on this project.
Gorgeous follows the opening track and is another strong song. I have noticed that most fans, myself included, don’t have Gorgeous as their favorite song from the album, but most critics do. I can definitely understand this, as Kid Cudi’s feature is great, the guitar sample is wonderful, Kanye’s lyrics are great, talking about the unequal treatment of black people in America, and ironically calling the country “Gorgeous”. On top of all of that, Kanye convinced Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon to drop a verse on the song. I am a fan of Gorgeous, but definitely not as much as other people. Kanye’s vocals are slightly muffled the entire time, which gets kind of annoying when listening to it over and over. The guitar is repetitive, and while featuring a small beat switch to a more piano-centered instrumental, the guitar is still there, and I think the song could have used an earlier beat switch. Regardless, Gorgeous is still a great song but doesn’t fit into my personal taste as well as other tracks on the album.
The most popular song on MBDTF, POWER, is up next and is one of the most iconic tracks of the last decade. I’m sure everyone has heard the opening to this song at least once, and I’ve heard many people say, “Oh, this is that song.” when they hear POWER. This song is great and features a frequently changing instrumental, and a lot is going on, as with every song on the album. This song is another standout from the album, and despite being pretty mainstream, which many music fans cite as criticism for the song, POWER is an amazing track and is another standout hit in the tracklist.
The fourth track, All of the Lights, is accompanied by a minute-long interlude of an orchestra and piano playing the main melody of the track. While I don’t mention interludes too much in albums I review, this one deserves a mention. It is the best interlude of an album I have ever heard, and the extremely smooth transition into the opening of the actual song, a Choir saying “All of the lights” before the horn instrumental gets going. It elevates the actual song so much, and honestly, I wish it was included in the actual song itself. If you don’t listen to the interlude before listening to the actual song, you’re making a mistake. Featuring a star-studded lineup of Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Elton John, Elly Jackson, Drake, Alicia Keys, and Fergie, this song is an all-time favorite of mine. And those are just the vocals. So many people worked to create this song, and it shows. Rihanna on the chorus is amazing, Kid Cudi’s bridge is great, and Alicia Keys and Elton John on the outro are outstanding. Kanye of course, is incredible as usual, but I am sure you already knew that. The song won the Grammy award for best rap song and best melodic rap performance back in 2012, and I can certainly see why.
Track 5, Monster, is another great song. Featuring Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Bon Iver, Monster has a rough sinister tone as you might expect, and is arguably the best song so far. Kanye’s lyrics are great, the instrumental is great, the changes of pace are awesome, and each feature is great in its own way. Jay-Z does what Jay-Z does and that is bring a strong delivery, Nicki Minaj, who grew lots of her initial fame from her appearance on this song, sounds like a genuine monster, and she feels right at home with her vocal delivery, her lyrics are shockingly impressive, and honestly, I think she might be better than Kanye on the song. The gradual buildup of her voice that leads to the conclusion of her verse with a scream is chilling and effective, and Bon Iver finishes out the song with a strong outro about owning up to sins and mistakes.
So Appalled follows Monster, and makes a strong case for one of the best songs on the album. The instrumental is amazing, and most of the features are incredible. Most of them. Swizz Beatz on the chorus is very strong. Jay-Z is back for the second time in a row and delivers a verse that easily trumps his appearance on Monster, saying how he’s offended that a bunch of wannabe rappers are even mentioning his name on their songs on a very powerful verse that is one of my favorite feature verses of all time. Pusha T is up next, a long time Kanye collaborator, and his verse manages to beat Jay-Z’s for the best on the song. The lyrics are incredibly strong, his delivery is amazing, and this feature is able to save the song and make up for the final two lackluster features from CyHi the Prynce and RZA. This is easily in my top three feature verses of all time, and Pusha T shines on the instrumental. Here, the song takes a slight dive in quality, as the final two features, while not being bad, just cannot compare to the genius of Pusha T and Jay-Z, two of the greatest of all time, and they bring down the quality of what could have been a somewhat perfect song. It could have been cut off at the 4:40 mark, after Swizz Beatz’s final refrain, and the song would benefit, having two incredible features from Jay and Pusha T, but Kanye decided to leave the verses of RZA and CyHi in there, which ultimately hurts the quality of the song.
Devil In A New Dress is up next, and oh my lord, do I love this song. Kanye’s lyrics are incredible, the instrumental sample is incredible, the soft guitar from Mike Dean is incredible. Then comes what might be my favorite 45 seconds of music ever, with Mike Dean’s guitar solo kicking in at the 3:11 mark. This is my favorite feature on a song ever. Despite there being no lyrics, Mike Dean, a long time collaborator of Kanye well known for his production talents, shines here, and I am glad Kanye gave him the chance to. The beat switches for the rest of the song to a more guitar heavy version of the original beat, and queues in Rick Ross perfectly for the best feature on the album and my favorite feature verse of all time. It is hard to accurately depict the sounds of this song in words, but this is an all time favorite.
Runaway, the song most popular among Kanye’s fans, follows Devil In A New Dress, and definitely maintains the peak the album has reached in quality. The 37 seconds of chilling piano keys that introduces the instrumental is chilling, designed to make the listener feel alone. The sample that plays when the instrumental queues rings around the listener’s headphones in a circle saying, “Look at ya” adds to the isolation, and depicts the way that Kanye felt after the infamous VMAs incident, simplifying the thoughts of the media into three words. “Look at ya” is meant to simulate what the media was saying about him, and it circling around shows that he couldn’t escape it. In this song, Kanye uses his singing voice, telling someone to run away from him, and that he is a lost cause. Pusha T returns with yet another strong feature, Kanye’s heartbreaking lyrics, the great instrumental all culminates in a great song. However, I am more critical of this song than most people. The final three minutes features the highly distorted voice of Kanye singing or humming the lyrics to the song (It is hard to tell due to the distortion), and while it is cool at first, it overstays its welcome a bit, and could have been trimmed down a bit to the benefit of the song. Regardless, this nine minute epic is a highlight of Kanye’s discography, and of MBDTF, but I don’t love it as much as other people do.
As we near the end of the album, we have 4 more tracks to go. Hell of a Life is up first, and we see the beginning of a drop in quality after the incredible peak that was DIAND and Runaway. Hell of a Life features another rough vibe, and while it isn’t terrible, it doesn’t compare to the rest of the album. The chorus is great, and the outro is interesting to say the least. The beat switches a bit, and I certainly enjoy it, but it is ruined by Kanye’s heavy breathing, which somehow was included in the song. It adds nothing but the urge to skip to the following track, Blame Game. Another song that falls victim to being after the peak in quality, Blame Game features John Legend, and he and Kanye sing and rap of a relationship that fell apart over a piano beat. Again, the song is actually very good, but when you look at other songs that appear on the album, it doesn’t measure up, and that is a testament to Kanye’s talent and this album’s greatness. This song grows almost unbearable in the final minutes, with a Chris Rock skit that adds, again, literally nothing but the urge to skip to the final song. Lost In the World is much better than the previous two songs, but another one of the weaker songs in the tracklist. Featuring Bon Iver over a sample of his track Woods, Lost In the World is a great song that is a good conclusion to the album. It is hard to describe the sounds of the song, so I am not going to, but it is a very good song. It flows into the outro of the album, Who Will Survive In America, perfectly. The outro is alright, it doesn’t add much, but it’s not the worst outro I have ever heard. I apologize for the brief thoughts on the final tracks, but I don’t have much to say about them.
While that is technically the conclusion to the album, if you buy the album on iTunes, which I have, you get access to a bonus track titled See Me Now that features Beyoncé, Big Sean, and Charlie Wilson. This song is another great song, Beyoncé is great on her verses and the chorus, Big Sean has a strong verse, and Charlie Wilson is great. See Me Now is easily better than any of the final three songs, but I don’t know if I could call it better than any other songs. It is the perfect way to end MBDTF in my opinion, and Kanye relishes in the success he has achieved.
Here is my ranking of all the songs on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:
- Devil In A New Dress
- Dark Fantasy
- So Appalled
- All of the Lights
- See Me Now
- Lost In the World
- Hell of a Life
- Blame Game
MBDTF is an incredible album that is arguably the greatest hip hop album of all time. I certainly can’t name an album more iconic than it, and while it isn’t quite my favorite album ever, it breaks the top 5, and it is better than any other Kanye album, despite me saying The Life Of Pablo was better in my review of that album. The lyrics, the features, the instrumentals, everything is peak Kanye, and MBDTF will go down in history as one of the greatest albums ever conceived. My final rating for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a 10/10.