Kanye’s "Dark Twisted Fantasy" not perfect, but still a masterpiece

Kanye—No single artist has been as controversial yet influential, loved yet hated, in the last ten years. From his remarks on Bush and Katrina to the Taylor Swift incident, he has marred his genius repeatedly in the public eye. After his panned 808s and Heartbreak album, a strikingly minimalist record of Auto-Tune and stark drums, there wasn’t a whole lot of hope, as he faded from visibility. But taking to Twitter starting last summer, West found the perfect opportunity to explain himself–anything he wanted or needed to say, cut up into 140 characters at a time. Regaining the respect of fans worldwide, Kanye began releasing new tracks over the summer from his upcoming work every Friday, known as “G.O.O.D. Fridays” after his record label. The tracks were fantastic and only served to raise hype, until the album was perhaps the most-anticipated release since Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III . Unlike that record, however, Kanye’s fifth studio album has actually delivered something beyond expectation, an album in the truest sense of the word. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was hyped to be the best record of the year, but I believe it deserves to be called the best rap album of the last decade. While it is by no means a concept album, Dark Twisted Fantasy does roughly follow a gradient lyrically, beginning with West lifting his middle finger to the world, and then growing ever more reflective and personal, until he is literally “Lost In The World” on the final track. The first five real tracks (excluding the introduction and interlude) all focus on West’s interaction with society and the media, while the last five discuss his interaction with females, from being in love (“Devil in a New Dress”) to a relationship’s bitter end (“Runaway,” “Blame Game”) and even his dark, twisted fantasies (“Hell of a Life,” perhaps the album’s weakest track). The album features a ridiculously all-star cast, which mostly enhances, but sometimes detracts and distracts from, Kanye’s message. Fantastic verses from Pusha T, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, and CyHi Da Prynce reflect West’s love of flow and wordplay, but Rick Ross’s verse on “Devil in a New Dress” is boring and cliche, doesn’t match the rest of the song at all, and just sounds like an afterthought. The move to give Fergie a couple lines on “All of the Lights” was also a terrible decision: we’re going to have to bear another new set of abominable “hits” from the Black Eyed Peas in the coming months, so I’d prefer to keep that trash to a minimum. As with all Kanye, there are plenty of standout lyrical moments on Dark Twisted Fantasy . “Gorgeous” finds West spitting perhaps his best verses on the album under a distorted filter; “POWER” throws the most memorable lines in years (“Reality is catchin’ up with me/Takin’ my inner child, I’m fighting for custody“; “They say I was the abomination of Obama’s nation/Well, that’s a pretty bad way to start a conversation”) in front of an ambitious, tribal beat, and then reverses on the incredible, grandiose “All of the Lights” (featuring too many stars: John Legend, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Tony Williams, Charlie Wilson, Elly Jackson, Alicia Keys, Fergie, KiD CuDi, Rihanna & Elton John ) to have Kanye painting the portrait of a superstar forced to face the sober consequences of his egotism (“Public visitation/We met at Borders/Told her she take me back/I’ll be more supportive”). The album takes a quick detour from Kanye’s soapbox to feature both rap legends and rising stars on “Monster” and “So Appalled”: Nicki Minaj gives perhaps the best featured verse of the year on the former, while the latter is simply a boastful put-down of wannabe rappers and comparison of talent (“I wear my pride on my sleeve like a bracelet / If God had an iPod, I’d be on his playlist / My phrases amazes the faces in places, the favorite”-CyHi Da Prynce). It’s refreshing, then, to hear Kanye’s voice once again on the single-take freeform “Devil in a New Dress,” where he breathlessly praises love, lust and beauty in the world–until Rick Ross comes in with his meaningless bragging and uninteresting lines (“So many cars, the DMV thought it was mail fraud”…I mean, what?), and then on the self-deprecating “Runaway,” which features about three minutes of West droning under a distorted Auto-Tune but is still as good as the shortened version he performed on SNL. “Hell of a Life” and “Blame Game” pass by relatively unimportantly, save for experimental pitch-shifting on the latter to create kind of a three-man complaint of relationship problems, followed by a skit with Chris Rock on the phone that is as hilarious as it is raunchy. But Kanye saved the best for last, as the album’s coda, “Lost in the World” opens with a delicate Auto-Tuned voice, morphing into a deep chorus that ranks among the best melodies I’ve heard in a long, long time. One verse is all West needs before the track explodes into a rousing chorus bursting at the seams with animalistic drums, a Bon Iver sample, and overdubbed vocals galore, then fades into a sample of Gil Scott-Heron’s "Comment #1." There are still a few weeks left in 2010, but I’m ready to bestow the title of my favorite track of the year on the song. Your aunt may hate him, but Kanye proves on Dark Twisted Fantasy that he is more than just his public gaffes and outbursts–and that his role as World’s Biggest Jerk has indeed taken a toll on him. On “POWER,” he laments, “My childlike creativity, purity and honesty/Is honestly being prodded by these grown thoughts / Reality is catchin’ up with me / Takin’ my inner child, I’m fighting for custody.” It comes out, too, when he sings without Auto-Tune, especially on “Runaway,” which cautions a lover to “run away fast as you can”–sounding innocent, fragile, regretful. In those fleeting moments, he’s not Kanye the jerk or Kanye the megalomaniac or even Kanye the genius. He’s just Kanye the human being, struggling to find contentment in the world. Just like the rest of us.