Review: My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy

Merry Christmas!

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy [Explicit]It's not like there's any lack of reviews for Kanye West's My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy, released last month.  While I can't necessarily offer anything new in terms of why it's broadly appealing or important to the genre, a coupe of friends have recently asked (a) why I like it so much, and (b) how I can tolerate such demonstrable misogyny.  While I don't want to defend myself, or West (neither of us need it), maybe this post (it may turn into multiple posts) will be helpful...

Track one: Dark Fantasy opens with an allusion to Roald Dahl's rendition of "Cinderella," which opens:
I guess you think you know this story.
You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.
The phoney one, the one you know,
Was cooked up years and years ago,
And made to sound all soft and sappy
Just to keep the children happy...
To parallel, West's track features hip hop phenom Nicki Minaj, who recites in an oddly Harry-Potter-esque accent (especially odd for a hip hop mega-album):
You might think you’ve peeped the scene,
You haven’t. The real one’s far too mean
.
The watered down one, the one you know,
Was made up centuries ago.
They made it sound all whack and corny!
Yes it’s awful, blasted boring
Twisted fiction, sick addiction,
Well gather ‘round children, zip it, listen!
The last line slips from sing-song Brit-poetics to a monstrous fairy-tale "roar" as Minaj brings the climax of her introduction to an unexpected ferocity.  Minaj is already well-known in the hip hop world, though her first album released only last month.  She's  been incredibly successful in countless cameos over the last year or so, with a schizophrenic lyrical style that could only be compared to Eminem's Slim Shady/Marshal Mathers multiple personality syndrome.  But where  Em settled for two personalities, Minaj has already demonstrated at least six vocal personas, and the list is growing.  Minaj claims these personalities began to develop for her own survival as a child in a violent household. 

The hook of the song follows immediately after by indie rock band Bon Iver, singing, "Can we get much higher... so high... oohhh oohhh.... oohhh oohhh..." and it repeats.  It's dark and ethereal and the whole song begins what is clearly a direct evolution off of West's previous album, 808s & Heartbreak.  The vocals here sound as much like Annie  Lennox as anyone else, but they are as jarringly unexpected as the Roald Dahlesque intro we've just heard, and further disorient the listener expecting a typical hip hop album.

When the first verse of the album breaks off of Bon Iver's hook, it carries a rhythm and tune nostalgically reminiscent of Tupac Shakur's "California Love."  Seriously, listen.  I don't think it's an accident that West's hip hop opus-to-date is making an allusion to one of the most important rap songs of the '90s.  Try singing along if you remember the original: "California... knows how to party..."  I haven't heard anyone else make this observation so I'm sort of proud of it.  I digress.

West ends the first verse with the words, "So much head, I woke up in Sleepy Hollow."  Casual and/or aggressive sexual references in hip hop are so common I almost don't blink when I hear them anymore.  They're very much a part of the genre.  And why not?  These artists are literally surrounded by sexual availability.  Their reality is so typified by sexual access that there's  no point in writing songs about easy women.  Those songs are for amateurs and new artists.  For performers like West, sexual access is merely punctuation or verse-filler.   Again, that's not justification, it's sad and unconscionable, but it also has very little to do with the music itself (I'll write a little bit later about how the marginalized marginalize, which I've written about, before).


Ha!  "Too many Urkels on your team, that's why your wins low"!?  That's just brilliant pop cultural worldplay.

All right, I can see this is going to be a much bigger project than one post, so I'll end with the first song.

I hope you had a really nice holiday!
Peter

3 comments:

tmamone said...

My favorite tracks are "Runaway" and "Lost in the World" (gotta love the Bon Iver sample!). I also love the Chris Rock bit at the end of "Blame Game." "I was fucking parts of your pussy I ain't never fucked before. I was like, 'Oh shit, I ain't never been here before!'"

David Golden said...

I read the review on pitchfork.com, and I am truly interested to read your complete review, but it occurs to me that I may be just too far away generationally, culturally, and otherwise-ly to comprehend this. When I grew up as a child listening to the Monkees and the Archies, that prepared me for understanding why the Doors were great. My parents of course thought they were ridiculous and obscene. My parents were correct, so was I, it just depended on our background, and the cultural understanding and reference points we brought to it. With such overwhelming response to Kanye's work it's obvious that there is something of artistic integrity, creativity, and value being presented. If I have to work so hard to see what seems at times like the emperor's annoying new clothes, it's just as obvious that I would have to go back and do a lot of research listening before I could plug in to this with any understanding. I'll still try to salvage some coolness by pointing out that I was grooving to Gil Scott-Heron when you were just a Hershey bar in your father's back pocket (hip Laurie Anderson reference).

Peter J Walker said...

David, I think that's fair. There IS at times a level of disconnect that's simply insurmountable. I made a set of rap mixtapes for some middle-aged seminary classmates a few years ago. Their appreciation was hit-and-miss. The songs they appreciated were the ones they could extract a consistent meaning or narrative from. I'll talk more about why that isn't a realistic expectation for most hip hop today.

And Travis... ;) You're making my case for justifying West's artistry harder, here, bro ;)

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