As 2012′s dawn peeks from over the hills of yesteryear, more new young rappers are poking their head out to bask in the sunlight. More than a few have managed to take their influences and spin them in ways that outsiders would find difficult to trace. One of them is Khalil Nova, a young man in his early 20′s from Atlanta. Like Tyler, The Creator and Spaceghostpurrp before him, he’s a producer with an eclectic style which looms over his vulnerable personality. A personality which is is embodied by the struggle within last year’s “808′s Of Death”.
It’s easy to see why Danny Brown declared “Khalil Nove got next!” While more and more bedroom rapper/producers are popping up out of the woodwork at an alarming rate, few of them have the immediacy in their production styles to stand out and arrest your attention. But on opener “Cloud Mover”, Khalil seduces the listener with a haze of soap-opera strings, low thudding bass, and melodies meant to pull at heartstrings. Throughout the tape, his sounds form a confusing array of realms to dwell in: whether on the murky sitar-tinged plod of “Combo”, the eski/R&B hybrid of “Freezer Bhudd” to the lo-fi could’ve-been-a-malnourished-Zomby-tune of “Internet Muzik” and the Juicy J gone cybernetic grind of “The Ultimate Track”. Khalil manages to merge the sounds of video-game bleeps from bits 8 to 32 with the bombast of modern trap production.
Future is almost solely the reason I came back to blogging. During my hiatus, I stumbled across Dirty Sprite, after noticing a few friends highlighting the Atlanta rapper’s ode to codeine and pop beverages. Future, whose real name Nayvadius Cash is envious in its strength, was exactly what I’d been looking for in a world crowded by lo-fi bedroom rap and post-Waka trap music. He was just street enough to appeal to the dopeboys and critics infatuated with the lifestyle, while possessing pop sensibilities that allowed him to a crossover success with Racks and Tony Montana.
There’s no denying the fact that Future can make hits. His signature croak, a deep-bellow that is far more sinister than Wayne’s, but not quite as bombastic as his bigger figured peers, give his raps a distinct sound. His sometimes autotuned-assisted hooks work because Future’s God-given voice doesn’t derive too far from the pitch corrector’s often maligned sound. It’s often hard to tell where the autotune starts and ends for Future; sometimes it’s questionable if it’s used at all, or if Future is taking vocal cues from Kermit the Frog.
I’m not gonna be able to dazzle you with the same vocabulary that the writers of The New York Times possess, or the grandiose-knowledge of the recording process, including all the instrumentation in each element of the song, or the nature of how it was engineered. I can’t make allusions to how this album is Kanye West’s tour de force, or compare it to other masterpieces released from artists outside of hip-hop and their greatest pieces of creative expression. I don’t know where most of these samples originate (really, that’s Aphex Twin on Blame Game? You expect me to actually have heard a King Crimson song before Power?), but I can give you the average person’s view on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, as long as the average person is a 22 year old rap nerd from Pennsylvania who still remembers Kanye as the guy who spit and I still ain’t grow up, I’m a grown ass kid on Through The Wire six years ago.
It feels longer than that; it feels like Kanye West has been a wrecking ball of pop-culture for longer than the mere six years he’s been a solo artist, and no, I’m not including his pre-College Dropout career in that equation either. Despite the fact that Mr. West produced a number of hits for The Roc before CD dropped, I was never very fascinated with the man until his first single dropped, and I realized that the guy who produced H to the Izzo was a lot more interesting that I could’ve ever imagined. It helped that he was wearing a giant teddy bear mascot on his cover, because you don’t see that much in rap music, unless you consider Danger Mouse to be a prominent force in rap music (and I really don’t).
You’ve seen everyone and their indie-listening mother talk about this album since the clean version sprung a leak (ayo) a week ago, and I feel like my opinion is not even genuinely necessary. For the last three or four albums I reviewed (Bastard, The Appeal, Flockaveli, Rain In England), I was covering an album rather early that has a niche audience on the internet; as popular as Gucci Time maybe on the radio (and it’s really not), he still has a snug spot with the rest of the internet rap darlings that can’t go gold. Kanye is different; Kanye has, in the past six years, become the most important figure in pop music. Maybe Jay-Z and Eminem have sold more than him, maybe more little girls flock to Wayne and Drake’s music, but there’s no denying that Kanye is the most relevant artist of this generation, whose influence reaches across virtually every genre in existence. This is his grand statement; the album that solidifies his spot as the Bloody King With A Sword Through His Head envisioned on one of his five album covers.
You don’t need to hear me try to gather enough wit to genuinely convey how I feel about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and try give it the justice it’s due. You can go elsewhere, and find a far more articulate, and adventurous take on Kanye’s magnum opus. But before you do, I ask you a favor; grab the best pair of headphones you can, and submerge yourself in the experience that is MBDTF. Go into this album without any corrupted expectations, and here it for what its purpose is supposed to be; artistry in its purest form. An album that probably would’ve never been green-lit by a label like Def Jam if it weren’t for Kanye’s name involved, and an album that quite frankly couldn’t have been orchestrated by anyone else in 2010. You don’t fucking need Detox, people; Kanye West is our true OCD-laden, frustratingly brilliant perfectionist.
At a time when breaking the rules of commercial rap will get you great publication on the internet (Lil B, OFWGKTA, Waka Flocka Flame), but will likely never be heard from anyone outside of hardcore rap-circles, Kanye’s album stands out as the one that may not just open the flood-gates, but completely obliterate them in the process. 808s and Heartbreak left the Drake and the Cudi’s of the world run rampant, but despite its sonic similarities to its predecessor, MBDTF turns that entire sub-genre of hip-hop that Kanye brought to the popularity on its head. Not only is gangsta rap represented in great form here (Pusha T, Raekwon, a reinvigorated Jay-Z, and Rick Ross all make at least one appearance here, and all of them deliver), but the production is something else entirely. Dark keys are present everywhere, but most specifically on the album’s lead single, Runaway, which defines the rest of this album like all good Kanye singles tend to. Runaway now runs at a nine minute length, featuring an extended intro, the LOOK ATCHA’s that were present at the VMA’s, and three-minute long vocoder (not autotune) solo that closes out the song on a flabbergasting note. It’s an epic, certainly, but one could argue that it’s entirely too long with the additional solo that ends the song. It’s hard to say; some of these songs feel like they should be too long, but everything almost feels seamless. Almost.
There are few negatives on the album, but they are there, and most of them can be solely contributed to elements that were added after the songs were finished. Despite the fact that I’m a fan of Ricky’s verse on Devil In A New Dress, I feel like his additional verse and the guitar solo proceeding it are unnecessary, despite the fact that they don’t really damper the song. It’s just that the G.O.O.D. Friday version had us kinda spoiled, and I think most of us were waiting for an end to the story Kanye was telling, and he kinda lives us on a cliff hanger. Ricky drops a flawless sixteen, but it doesn’t really fit the nature of the song. Then there’s Blame Game..
Blame Game is easily one of the most emotionally provoking songs you’re going to hear all year. Between John Legend’s black Elton John (who appears on piano on All The Lights, no less) impersonation and the sprinkling pianos keys, this song is essentially the perfect counterpart to Runaway (fitting since both apparently featured a Pusha verse originally, although he’s nowhere to be found on Blame Game now). Kanye tells a story on the song much like all the stories found on this song, about sex and betrayal. This is kinda like Kanye’s Pinkerton, in the sense that this was an album created by a sex-obsessed asshole who’s trying to come to grips with the fact that he’s, well, a sex-obsessed asshole. Blame Game takes both sides of the story, and finds Kanye expressing his regret while maintaining that he stands firm in his decision. The ever-distraught egotist. Despite how evangelical this song is, the (admittedly hilarious) Chris Rock outro really throws the mood of the song out the window. Anyone got a version of without Mr. Rock? We need one here soon, because three minutes of Chris Rock talking about reupholstered pussies is great in any other context, but mildly annoying here.
There is also some serious rock influence here, outside of the much-discussed 21st Century Schitzoid Man-sampling. Both Hell of a Life and Gorgeous feature prominent guitar riffs, the former of which being a lot more electronic and digital, while the latter being a more organic, funk-driven affair. This isn’t surprising at all from Mr. West, as he already destroyed genre-benders with Stronger, but the amount of songs that are clearly driven and inspired by other genres sprawl across all eleven songs and interludes here (including a violin-driven interlude for All Of The Lights). Also, one thing I wanted to note that very few have so far: chopped & screwed vocals. They’re prominent on at least two songs here (Blame Game and Hell Of A Life), and with the recent revival in witchhouse and OFWGKTA songs, it’s making me wonder if slowed-tempos are gonna soon become the next autotune? Let’s hope not, because as much as I love the genre it doesn’t need that type of overexposure. It’s used very creatively and expertly here, so let’s just be thankful for that. But we all know how quick everyone is to jump on whatever Yeezy’s doing (Yeezy Taught Me).
We all know about the posse cuts, and aside from Power, those are the songs which feature the most actual rapping. Both So Appalled and Monster are great, the former posessing a highly familiar sense of Wu-isms, even beyond the small RZA guest feature. The beat sounds like something you would’ve heard on Wu-Tang Forever, and the lyrical onslaught from the four rappers involved takes this song into another echelon of great rapping. Monster is more minimalistic, but features a great opening verse from Officer Ricky (FAT MOTHERFUCKER, NOW LOOK WHO’S IN TROUBLE), as well as that Nicki Minaj verse that everybody feels they must mention at least once. Let’s just hope Pink Friday is half as interesting as her verse here. Power is still great; it’s only become more refined with age. Dark Fantasy probably features some of Kanye’s most clever lyrcism on the album though, as well as the most vintage-RZA production.
All Of The Lights is a song I thought I’d hate, but there’s no way you can. Despite the giant monster-mash of crooners, this song still manages to seam effortlessly, even if it could’ve used a little more Tudda. The same can be said of the album’s closer, Lost In The World, which samples Bon Iver’s Woods and also features the lead singer himself. Unlike most Kanye albums that end on a triumphant note (Last Call), arrogant note (Late), homage to inspirations (Big Brother), or somber, will I ever love again? pondering (Coldest Winter), this one just sorta ends.. drifting into an interlude that asks Who Will Survive In America. Rather Based.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an excursion, a journey into the mind of a clearly damaged human-being who is still struggling to come to grips with how much of an asshole he is at thirty-five, but is closer to accepting it with each breath he takes, no matter how much it pains him. He’s finding some comfort in it now; he may not be drowning himself in liquor like he was in 2009, but he’s still hiding beneath all the excess that comes with being Kanye West. That’s the general theme and execution of MBDTF; it’s excess, and just like Kanye, we’re all bathing in it on this album. But beneath all the escargot and Kaws sculptures, the Versace sofas and paintings of the Mona Lisa, there’s a man who will probably never find happiness again. I don’t think we’d ever have it any other way.
Thank you, Kanye.
When I see that nigga, I’mma thank him! I’mma buy the album, I’mma download that motherfucker, I’mma shoot a bootlegger! That’s how good I feel about that nigga.