Coping with tragedy is a long, often painful process. For Kanye West, one of the most successful and talented artists of the past quarter century, the entire world was afforded a front row seat as he struggled with the sudden passing of his mother and first supporter, Dr. Donda West. Subsequently, grief presented itself to audio archives in the form of his emotional and desolate 808’s & Heartbreak. From there, anger sucker punched pop culture with the now infamous 2009 MTV VMA debacle – both in Kanye’s immediate actions and the general public’s backlash in the proceeding months. Lastly, ‘Ye’s eventual sabbatical represented healing. Healing from his mother’s death. Healing from his own self-induced mistakes. And most of all, healing to paint a masterpiece which would ultimately showcase a Kanye West who had exercised his demons and recommitted himself to artistic and cultural expansion. The result of such an internal photosynthesis culminates into excellence with his fifth solo effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
Roughly three years ago, Kanye spoke on the desire of taking Hip-Hop and making it synonymous with some of the world’s largest venues. Even if it meant bending the common notions of what the genre was supposed to resemble. MBDTF continues to practice the trend. Directly out of the gate, Chicago’s own introduces “Dark Fantasy,” a boisterous firestarter combining sharp lyrics, a spurious Nicki Minaj English accent and an enormous chorus pondering the $6B question, “Can we get much higher?” This sole inquiry goes on to define the remainder of the album. As a producer-at-heart, ensuring that his cohorts approach music with a similar tenacity remains a prerequisite. Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Monster,” in the eyes of many, ranks as her premiere outing as a solo artist while “So Appalled” with its layered grim instrumentation and extra raw lyricism could very well be the posse cut of the year.
Trumped up offerings like the combative and pugnacious lead single “POWER” provide granite pillars to support Yeezy’s Colosseum. An alchemistic interlude leads into arguably the album’s most powerful and Grammy performance-ready selection, “All Of The Lights.” The horn-heavy and hook dependent record does not flex an abundance of lyrical muscle. It does, coincidentally, showcase Kanye’s propensity to create compelling music with his mere influence and a robust eleven featured guests.
Still, Mr. West’s unfiltered and emotional songs are where he repeatedly does a Good Ass Job, as they will outlive any of the effects of his non-musical antics can ever hope to. “Runaway” is the piercing self-examination of a man whose lifelong love of music spawned him into a self-proclaimed “douchebag” and “asshole” – something Kanye himself is unsure will ever change. Where track nine is an admirable Kanye and “Hell Of A Life” is the braggadocios version, the LP takes a dark and twisted turn – pun intended – with “Blame Game.” Coupled with a haunting piano and the musings of Chris Rock which could be disguised as a metaphor for West’s view of his own impact on Hip-Hop (or just a blatant swipe at Amber Rose), the G.O.O.D. general retreats back to a spurned relationship with hindsight ranging from regret to arrogance to pride with lyrics like: “All of the lights, she was caught in the hype girl/And I was satisfied being in love with the lie/Now who to blame, you to blame, me to blame for the pain/And it poured every time when it rained.”
Compared to his first three lyrically heavy outings, this audio peril does not boast nearly the amount of unsolicited rapping moments as evident on “Lost In The World.” Some credit this as a testament to his ever-evolving scope of songmaking. Yet, others may not be so willing to sip the Kool-Aid® of this newfound approach. The extended outros on songs teeter the lines of artistic ingenuity and overkill. It’s a risk ‘Ye has proven time and time again he’s willing to embark upon, even if the majority initially refuse to accept his vision.
Not since Late Registration has Jay-Z’s little brother been more pressed to live up to the magnitude of his own expectations. How does a man who has pushed the boundaries of workmanship since the inception of his career continue to do so? Well, it’s rather elementary. Simply by being Kanye West: the captivating, unruly, enigmatic and the downright weird individual we have come to know, love and tolerate. As his divination reveals, his personal experiences are roller coaster ride through his mind, which don’t need to make perfect sense 100% of the time. A thousand spins could trigger a thousand critiques. By the end, however, we’re left with that one redundant and ominous question: “Can we get much higher?” Only Kanye West truly knows the answer. And honestly, maybe it is better that way.