[REVIEW] Let’s Have a Toast for the Douchebags
Kanye West is a douchebag. The Chicago native is by no means an individual that deserves pity or sympathy. Far removed from his acclaimed debut, The College Dropout, West has fully embraced the culture that he regretted to rap about on the Dropout track “Breathe In, Breathe Out.” Though West declared that he “always said if I rapped I’d say something significant,/ But now I’m rappin’ ’bout money, hoes, and rims again.” And in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, his fifth studio album, flashing lights, beautiful women, and obnoxious egoism abound.
What sets Fantasy apart from his last two albums, 808’s & Heartbreak and Graduation, is the maturity of the album’s thematic elements. On Graduation, the album most similar to Fantasy, the tracks share uplifting bounces and bumps, with West’s lyrics describing the culmination of his hard work in the form of fame and recognition. 808’s, on the other hand, features a brooding Kanye West traumatized by his break-up with his then-fiancee and his mother’s death. Incorporating dramatic melodies with simple lyrics, 808’s highlighted a dark low point in Kanye’s career. On Fantasy, West has seemingly blended the highs of Graduation with the lows of 808’s to produce a refreshing combination that illustrates a vulnerable West and his struggle to cope with the privileges and temptations of fame.
Though each of the tracks on Fantasy have their own subject and story, there is a constant back and forth between two opposing forces, be it the dark versus the light, life versus death, black versus white, or good versus bad. Nevertheless, the songs can also be tied in to and seen from the perspective of a man who does not know how to handle the immense attention he has been given. In “Dark Fantasy,” the song’s first line is a church-like voice singing, “Can we get much higher?” Through this chorus is a tribute to Kanye’s incredible success in the music industry, his first verse starts with, “I fantasized ‘bout this in Chicago,/ Mercy, mercy me, that Murcielago,” demonstrating the overwhelming shock and pressure that comes with money and success. Nevertheless, Kanye wouldn’t be Kanye if he didn’t have his moments of retaliation and ego. Whether he’s saying “Fuck SNL and the whole cast,/ tell them Yeezy said they can kiss my whole ass” on his hit single “Power” or admitting that it’s “Hard to be humble when you on a Jumbotron,” West embraces the haters who condemn him for his arrogance.
All the same, Kanye’s best work on Fantasy comes in the form of an admission of guilt for his many stunts that have left him with a poor public image. “Runaway,” Kanye’s lament featured in the middle of the album, he pleads to women everywhere to literally run away from men like him: men who spend all day working and no time with their significant others, men who would interrupt country singer Taylor Swift before she accepts a prestigious award, or men who would declare on national television that President Bush hates black people. By acknowledging his many faults, West is able to vault himself back in to the public’s good graces. By the end of the track, the egotistic Kanye West has been dismantled into a broken figure, begging the woman he is rapping to stay with him, for he doesn’t know “how I will manage,/ If one day you just up and leave.”
Yet for all the one-liners and quick metaphors declaring him “the best living or dead hands down huh,” Mr. West achieves a complex sound that stands alone above the simple beats and melodies that populate the radio waves. Holding himself over the current state of hip-hop, where songs are based around dance moves and have the lyrical complexity of finding enough words to rhyme with “swag,” West enlists a number of the rap game’s finest including Jay-Z and the Wu-Tang Clan’s the RZA to share their opinion on “So Appalled.” Taking shots at those artists who put out music with no substance, West attacks, “Fellas be writing bullshit like they gotta work,/ Fellas is going through real shit, man, they out of work,” commenting on the irony of the undeserving hip-hop millionaire juxtaposed with the unemployed everyday man. Songs without purpose, Kanye emphasizes, simply aren’t worth listening. And as a music listener who searches for the double meaning of lyrics and clever rhyme, this writer whole-heartedly agrees.
Ever the producer as well as the rapper, Kanye is not to be outdone musically. From the distorted guitar riffs of “Gorgeous” to the eerily haunting striking of a piano on “Runaway,” Fantasy weaves in orchestral and symphonic instrumentation with hard-hitting beats and auto-tune melodies that Kanye featured heavily in his previous albums. Known for sampling seemingly random songs and interlacing them to fit a hip-hop mold, Kanye makes no exception for Fantasy. Integrating artists such as American indie group Bon Iver and the progressive British rock band King Crimson, West even manages to find inspiration from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” on the track “Hell of a Life.” To say that Kanye’s latest work is musically ambitious is an understatement.
Even without the many samples used on the album, Fantasy features a who’s who of artists in the musical industry. On “All of the Lights,” the fifth track on the album, the song lists eleven different artists incorporated to the work. Though the track lists powerhouse talents like Alicia Keys, John Legend, and Ryan Leslie, only three artists – Kanye himself, Rihanna, and the Black Eyed Peas’ Fergie– can be noticeably heard; all the other musicians are relegated as members of an all-star choir only heard during the chorus. As he raps on “Lights,” he says, “To my surprise, a fella replacing me,/ I had to take him to that ghetto university,” pledging to those who enjoyed famed while West was at work on his album to take them back to school and teach them a thing or two about true musical artistry.
The success of Kanye West’s earlier works has led to him to the peak of superstardom. Possessor of both critical and commercial acclaim, West clearly enjoys being at the center of attention. However, Mr. West has also been a victim of his own success. Constantly commended and praised, Kanye has grown so overconfident he does not take into account the consequences of his actions. But in Fantasy, West casts a shadow on his ego and exposes a vulnerable Kanye that is torn between his addiction to fame and his struggle to remain grounded. Regardless of how conducts himself outside of the music world, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy breaks ground lyrically as well as musically. While Mr. West may be douchebag now, this album suggests that he is on his way towards amending that image.