Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kanye's Fantasy? To twist the very fabric of rap

Genre: Rap
Def Jam/Rock-A-Fella
Running Time: 68:44

The rap game sure has changed over the years.

Back in the days of Chuck D and Slick Rick, rap was all about the message. Whether it be about social change or just simple storytelling, rappers were respected for the what they had to say. But now, as some folks might say, the game done changed.

These days it seems like the goal in delivering a rap album is to project a larger than life statement of who you are. The focus has shifted from the content of the message to the actual deliver of the message itself.

It's about trying to paint your ego on the fabric of rap. And no one exemplifies this better than Kanye West.

Although his brash persona has likely rubbed many people the wrong way, it's tough to knock his skills as a rapper and producer. After the moody autotune nightmare that was 808s and Heartbreak, Kanye began promising a return to "uplifting Kanye music."  

In an attempt to mend his image he started the Good Friday series, in which he released a new track each week leading up to the release of his album.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy isn't what I'd call uplifting, but it is a return to form.

You can tell by listening to this album that Kanye thinks he's God's gift to music. But he may not be far from the truth.

Kanye is at the top of his game, combining great flow and delivery with catchy hooks and elaborate arrangements. There's a definite club feel to many of the tracks, but it sounds fresh and original.

"Power" is reminiscent of "Jesus Walks," particularly in terms of the background chanting and general tone of the song. It also features an expertly placed sample from King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man."

"Gorgeous" features a moody guest spot from Kid Cudi while Kanye hammers it home with slightly distorted vocals. Raekwon also drops a great verse. And "Hell of a Life" is propelled by one of West's funkiest beats while he weaves the tale of how he fell in love with a porn star.

But Kanye is perhaps at his best when he's joined by his friends. "All of the Lights" features a stunning guest spot from Rihanna while Kanye raps over shimmering club beats. He warns that anyone who disrespects him is going to get taken down to "that ghetto university."

The visceral Rick Ross tags along for "Devil in a New Dress," while "Lost in the World" has folk singer Bon Iver awash in autotune.

And then there is "Monster." This track plays out like a who's who of rap in 2010. Rick Ross and Bon Iver deliver short opening statements before giving way to Kanye and Jay-Z. Jay-Z breaks out with a sing-songy type verse which sounds great, but he gets out-dueled by both Kanye and Nicki Minaj.

And speaking of Nicki Minaj, one of the breakout new stars of 2010 shows she's for real. Minaj drops a splintering verse in which she challenges the notion she's a rookie.

If I had a fantasy about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I would wish that the lyrics on this album were as solid as the rest of the music. 90 percent of it is utterly meaningless. A lot of what he writes is just all about sex, although there are a few funny moments here and there.

There are a few tracks where it sounds like Kanye is trying to a little too hard. The hook in "Devil in a New Dress" - "The way you look should be a sin, you my sensation" tends to get repetitive.

Then there is "Runaway," which cracks the nine minute mark with an extended instrumental outro. Sometimes I want to smack Kanye for trying to make a nine minute rap song, but the outro provides the album with even more diversity.

I'm not too huge on "So Appalled" because of the beats. The softer approach just really isn't my thing here.

But as it is, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a sure contender for rap album of 2010. Kanye has done more than just producing a simple rap album; he has developed a beautiful sound collage, and it's a very bold statement.

He's certainly moved on from being a college dropout. But anyone who overlooks Kanye anytime soon can expect to be dragged off to that ghetto university.

Score: 88/100

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