Hip-hop has been with us for over forty years now. Each era had its own class of poets, and their rhymes reflected their times. Today, rhyme slingers like Kanye West and Jay-Z have become increasingly style-conscious. This is wildly evident on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye's duty is no longer to simply make art, but to make it stylish and stadium-ready without compromising his poetry. It's no easy feat juggling both. Good thing Kanye bathes in the creative process, and he's having a blast doing it.
Check his Gucci flow on "Monster," his diamond-encrusted delivery on "Power," his sharply-creased Rosewood sonic on "Devil in a New Dress." Oh, "that's Dior Homme, not Dior homey," he's quick to point out. Have fun identifying the array of ornamental displays on "All of the Lights."
But style is only half the battle. Substantive lyrics are equally intrinsic to quality hip-hop. "All of the Lights" laments a topic that took Drake an entire album to dissect: the travails of stardom. The Bon Iver-assisted "Lost in the World" examines emotional trauma to great effect.
When Kanye was addressing matters of the heart on 808s & Heartbreak, he was warbling too robotically for any pure-rap fan to tell. This time, he's blending braggadocio with emotion and dropping witty quotables as he goes. "If we die in each others arms, we still get laid in the afterlife," he sings on the aforementioned "Lost in the World." And when he muffles his voice on songs like "All of the Lights" and "Gorgeous," the vicious molasses still oozes dense rhythms. He's putting distorted riffs and synth showers where droning basslines used to be. Creative ebullience boiled down to its essence.
Dark Fantasy shows an eclectic conversationalist who is aware of the world, interested in things beyond his immediate environment. How many rappers would dare taint their street cred by inviting Bon Iver to a recording session? How many would tap a ballet dance troupe to anchor their 35-minute music video? No wonder Kanye's sound transcends genres and cultures. You might even think of him as a philosopher if it weren't for the occasional fatuous remark dressed up as profundity.
On the surface, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has little to do with rap. Just art, adventure, life, and naked honesty, which are essentially what hip-hop culture is about. It's a gracefully structured, wonderfully produced manifesto on how to meld style and substance. By the end of the ride, Kanye pulls you in and shoots you out the other side a little fresher.Best Songs
- "Devil in a New Dress"
- "All of the Lights"