A few weeks back, after his badmouthing of Beck at the Grammy's, yet another act of assholery, I decided to see just what this guy was all about. I've never really been much of a fan of hip hop, but I was wanting to open my mind to things outside of my supposed wheelhouse, and delving into hip hop music seemed like a perfect fit, and perfect timing with my desire to see what this Kanye jackass was all about, outside of his public image, which was really all I had known at this point. So I went searching the cooler of the music sites. In nearly every list you see of the best music of today, Kanye is included, often near the top, if not at the top. Pitchfork Magazine named My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the best album of the decade so far, and most music critics agree. It has gotten rave reviews across the board. Many hip hop haters out there may say this is just me acting provocative for the sake of being provocative, but dickhead or not, Kanye's music is some of the most critically acclaimed of the day. And as a fellow critic, I know that's gotta mean somethin'. So, I thought to myself, as a cinephile, I enjoy every genre of cinema, I enjoy all different types of TV shows and books and what have you, so why not try to enjoy every genre of music as well (instead of sticking with the narrow view of music I have held all these years) - and what better place to start, and in what a most challenging way, than with the nearly unlikable Kanye West, and his most heralded album.
But enough of this talk about how and why I decided to take on Kanye. What about the album itself? What makes it so damn critically acclaimed? Well, I'm more of a film and TV critic (mediums which I know well, and have every confidence in analyzing) than a music critic, but I'll give it my best quasi-neophyte try. The album, the artist's fifth studio disc, was conceived while Kanye was in self-imposed exile in Hawaii, and is a grandiose effort compared to his previous four albums. Incorporating everything from electronica to symphonic elements, baroque and neo-soul. Twisted Fantasy is Kanye's take on celebrity and its myriad of pitfalls. Considering the producer/rapper was in exile because of public image problems as well as legal entanglements, he could have been an expert on such things at the time. Yes, Kanye's earlier albums were more than your mere hip hop albums, but none of them had the oomph, the no-holds-barred attitude of Twisted Fantasy. His latest album, Yeezus, keeps going with what he did here, but even that is no comparison to Twisted Fantasy. Taking his game up about eleven levels, Kanye weaved together a startling gaudy grand guignol, something akin to a modern day hip hop version of Miles Davis. Yeah, that's right! From the opening salvo of Nicki Minaj's Brit-tongued intro, all the way through to West's closing political slam poem, Twisted Fantasy is full of experimental neo-bebop jazz-inspired hooks and hops. It is also an album, just like its creator, full of controversy. Hell, even the album cover has induced wrath for some. But behind that stupid controversy, is the album itself, anything but pure and simple. Tracks like Power and All the Lights and my fave, Monster, combine to make exactly what Pitchfork called it - the best goddamn album of the decade so far. Proof that Kanye West is more than an egocentric douchebag.
There was recently an article (I forget the where's and who's) comparing Kanye to John Lennon. Granted, much of the article was serious bunk, but the author did have a few solid points. Both artists are/were obsessed with their dead mothers. Both artists are/were the biggest names in their biz, but also very experimental in their music. Both artists married women who were hated by the public (although, I happen to love Yoko, and Kimmy K., you are no Yoko). Both artists are/were big on grandiose public antics, and both artists have a way with pissing every one else off. Sure, through the tragedy of Lennon dying so young, the ex-Beatle has become deified in recent decades, but he thrived on being an ass to the media, and sometimes to his fellow artists. Just like someone else we know, eh? Okay, okay, don't get your panties all in a bunch. Even my newfound respect for Kanye, isn't going to let me say he's a greater artist than Lennon. That'd be kinda nutso. After listening to the album, and realizing I can indeed enjoy hip hop (I mean, I am including the damn thing in my Great Albums series), I wouldn't say it is as good as Lennon's best album (1979's Plastic Ono Band), but it is a damn good album. And in many ways, he can be seen as a modern day Lennon (or maybe a modern day Ali, if you will) - at least in attitude and public antics. Yeah, all those aforementioned hip hop naysayers may not agree, but as my horizons are stretched, and I open my mind to other areas of music (maybe country music or opera is next), I have found another great album, full of vim and vigor and all that - even if the guy is a total douchebag and a half. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.