Many people said he’d gone off the deep end. His career was on an unrecoverable downward slope. He was a whirlwind of madness, tantrums, and frenzy. His name became a punchline.
Into this mess, Kanye dropped My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. If ever there was a question of Kanye’s skills as a musician, he answers them all here.
The album is bookended by two questions: “Can we get much higher?” “Who will survive in America?” The album runs through ego that would make Narcissus blush. And while Narcissus is regaining his composure, Ye turns around and turns to the viewer to display the depths of his depression. It’s littered with lines that land like a suckerpunch. “’How’s Ye doin’?’ I’m surviving. / I was drinking earlier, now I’m driving.” Ouch.
This is an bleak and honest an album as Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan, cleverly disguised as a club-ready banger. And his sonic palette is top notch. After the stark minimalism of 808s and Heartbreak, MBDTF is sonically excessive. There are soul horns, lush choirs, a King Crimson sample, a bit of rock and roll, and, famously, a Bon Iver remix. From ballads to bangers, Mr. West hits every box here.
Despite its commercial friendliness, MBDTF is a challenging and rewarding listen. Despite being only thirteen tracks, this album almost hits seventy minutes in length. None of these songs are rushed. Even the bangers reach the five minute mark. “Runaway,” the first single (released via a short film, remember) breaks nine minutes. It’s a clear message that though West is a master of pop structures and textures, he is by no means bound to pop’s limitations.
And if that isn’t Kanye West, I don’t know what is. He is the paragon of pop superficiality and celebrity excess, yet he is also an artist of the highest caliber. And between the youthful exuberance of his early albums and the defiantly non-commercial later works, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy remains his best work.