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).
There's a great line in the second verse, "The plan was to drink until the pain over, but what's worse, the pain or the hangover? Fresh air, rollin' down the window. Too many Urkels on your team, that's why your wins low."
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!