Five years and a week ago, the greatest rap album in modern music was released when Kanye West dropped My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in late November of 2010.
For more reasons than we can explain, Kanye’s brilliance was not only ignored and unaccepted; it was misunderstood, misjudged, and quite honestly, left for dead.
Patrick and I are here to break down this historic album for you from two different viewpoints: Production and Cultural Relevance. And why both meshed together in one symphonic sonic masterpiece that was far ahead of its time.
We’ll start with production.
Looking back, the production on this album still stands on its own pedestal five years after its release, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. MBDTF begins famously with Nicki Minaj, and from the outset her introduction sets the themes and subsequent musical counterparts down the entire track list.
It sounds as if she’s reading a fairy tale introduction to a small child before bed, and hell, maybe she is. With sounds exuding of soothing hymns and pianos infiltrating the speakers, the voice aggresses and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy officially begins.
Moving right along into the album’s second track, “Gorgeous,” Kanye taps the likes of his former G.O.O.D. Music companion, Kid Cudi, and Wu Tang’s legendary Raekwon.
Listening to the gritty production, the guitar riff throughout, and the overall discontent in Kanye’s voice; this track set the blueprint for Yeezus. With Kanye rapping into a distorted microphone, the pain is present and Kanye’s take on black oppression in America is apparent. It’s also brilliant.
While introductions set the pace for an album’s overall tone and direction, cohesiveness must remain consistent throughout. The next few tracks after the introduction are crucial in taking your audience for the ride of a lifetime. Great artists know this and do it with absolute precision.
Claps, chants, sirens, drums and samples; that’s what we get with “Power” — closing with a minute and a half instrumental and Kanye proclaiming that “This would be a beautiful death,” this song could have been the last track. It’s the third track on the album and Kanye has already proclaimed that he’s on top and could just let everything go at this point in time.
What “Dark Fantasy” provided in table-setting intro’s, “Power” cleans it up with a menacing outro. In the hopes to break up said outro on “Power” and the album’s first single (and probably its most commercially successful track), West inserts an interlude to let us clean ourselves up.
“All of the Lights” made a very clear statement. It’s the first time that we’ve seen a rapper truly make a commercial hit track while also telling a story about the plight of the black man.
Emphasizing the horns (my favorite instrument) and Rihanna’s amazing voice and feel for the track’s vibe, I think it’s safe to say that every hip-hop and simultaneous sports fan felt that this was their track. You know what I mean, though? Anyone who has had hoop dreams knows exactly what I’m talking about here. This is the song that plays after you hit the game-winning shot to win the state title, man.
As the album moves forward to “So Appalled” and “Monster”, I’m going to pass the torch to Brian to bring it full circle.
All of these production nuggets all circle back to one thing: Kanye West took more Hail Mary shots on this album than Steph Curry takes in a season. And like Steph, Kanye basically hit them all.
Remember one very important thing about Kanye West before you start slamming this. People have two emotions towards Kanye West: love or hate. Those who love him tend to over-love his music and rise as Stan’s for his abrasive personal life.
Those who hate him ignore his music and denounce him as a person.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was released at a point in Kanye’s life where his personal life and his professional life were on such opposite sides of the spectrum that they were practically one in the same — meaning that one couldn’t be impacted without the other.
I refer you to the 2009 VMAs. You know, that one award show that pre-teens watch unless you catch wind of a drunk Kanye West jumping on stage to berate a teenage girl because she won an award over someone else.
Yeah, folks were not fond of Kanye West after that event and, in turn, pretty much chose to boycott his music as a result of it. That included, perhaps to the biggest detriment, MBDTF.
First, as Patrick notes, the album opens up with “Dark Fantasy” which most people will recognize the famous “I fantasized ’bout this back in Chicago,” an ode to his Midwestern roots.
What’s far more important, and far more culturally relevant, is that soft female intro that precedes that.
Now, in 2015, Nicki Minaj is one of the biggest superstars on this planet.
In 2010? Not so much.
Her first album Pink Friday hadn’t been released yet, and the initial single off the album, “Massive Attack” was a huge flop to the point it was rescinded of its single-ship and left off the album.
Kanye went with her anyway.
And you’ll see her pop up again later on down the track list.
From “Power” to “All of the Light” and even intermediary tracks like “So Appalled” and “Lost In The World,” Kanye started to brandish a new form of rap music. He took the effects of being both self and socially aware and found a way to make them commercially successful — much like his mentor Jay-Z had in the late 1990s.
To make a long story short, he literally told the entire world sorry for being a dick but I’m going to make you bump this shit at parties at the same damn time. That’s important. It allowed rap consumers to feel important by simply putting on headphones.
In his book “The Rap Year Book,” author Shea Serrano had this to say about the Ye-Nicki marriage on the hit track “Monster”,
…And yet, there she stood, a month away from the release of her first album, anchoring a song that celebrated the bigness of Rick Ross, the mythic Jay Z, and the transcendent return of Kanye West.
“Monster” was built to culminate with Nicki Minaj’s verse, and that Kanye West would do that is indicative of the way she was already being seen by rappers, despite having not even put out an album yet. But “Monster” was really the culmination of her arrival as rap’s next great figure.
That is extraordinarily high praise that, at the time, went embarrassingly unnoticed.
Not only does Kanye West lay some of the most aware lyrics over perpetually mind-blowing production, he is the sight unseen jetpack that launched Nicki Minaj’s career on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
You can reference the come up with College Dropout or Late Registration; but you would be remised not to include My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as one of Kanye’s most impactful and best works — even if it took five years to realize it.