DAR Roundtable Retrospective: Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 

1. Dark Fantasy 
2. Gorgeous (featuring Kid Cudi and Raekwon)
3. Power 
4. All Of The Lights(Interlude)
5. All Of The Lights 
6. Monster(featuring Bon Iver, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj)
7. So Appalled (featuring Pusha T, Swizz Beatz, RZA, Cyhi The Prince and Jay-Z)
8. Devil In A New Dress (featuring Rick Ross)
9. Runaway(featuring Pusha T)
10. Hell Of A Life
11. Blame Game(featuring John Legend)
12. Lost In The World(featuring Bon Iver)
13. Who Will Survive In America 
14. See Us Now (featuring Beyonce, Charlie Wilson and Big Sean)

There are many albums in our genre that are polarizing. For every few years, an album comes along that one person loves more than anything and another person hates. This year we witnessed this occur with the Kendrick Lamar album "To Pimp A Butterfly", as critics and a large number of fans loved it, while a group of fans hated it. Music is all about perspective. For some, this album in question today is their favorite album of all time. Some would say it is the greatest album of all time. While I wouldn't put this album in that category, it is one of the best reviewed albums of this age, especially for hip hop and with it being DAR Midwest Week, we had to stop by Chicago and discuss Kanye. With us already comparing his first two classics, having a retrospective on Graduation, and two WIRTB reviews on 808s and Yeezus, there was one album left that we hadn't covered. And with that, we gathered the team up to discuss this huge album in Kanye's career. Once again, remember Kanye haters and Kanye stans: it is all opinion. Now, without further adieu, join us for this trip through a dark and twisted, yet beautiful DAR roundtable.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. To most, this album from Kanye West needs no introduction. This album is considered by many to be his greatest piece of work. It's not an experimental album like 808s and Heartbreak, it doesn't have as many hits as Graduation, but what it does is pick a piece from all of his prior albums, and melt them together. MBDTF has features from Jay-Z, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Kid Cudi, and RZA. There are a few others but just with those features alone it's a pretty impressive line up. These artists normally steal the show on the songs they are featured, yet on this album, they merely compliment Kanye West. They each have their own style and Kanye uses them to his advantage. Whether it be Cudi's hooks or RZA's production. Normally after listening to an album a few times, one would eventually have songs they favor over others. I personally, have two favorites. One being "Dark Fantasy" due to Kanye's usual self centered lyrics such as "You ain't got no fucking Yeezy in your Serato"? My second favorite is "Monster". Featured on Monster is Bon Iver, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj, and Jay-Z. Rick Ross comes in very strong, but the lyrics aren't too impressive. Jay-Z uses the monster theme very well to his advantage, such as calling others "fake fucks with no fangs" and referencing everyone trying to find his achilles heel. As for Nicki Minaj, this arguably is one of her best verses. She delivers very strongly and uses her weird voice change up. This album appeals to every Kanye fan. Whether it be for his arrogant and cocky lyrics on "Power", or the deeper side of Kanye West on "Blame Game". Overall this album is very enjoyable to listen to, Kanye fan or not, as Kanye West seems to have mastered all of his previous styles to churn out this one.

MBDTF is one of the most well put together and cohesive albums ever created. To this day, if I listen to one song I basically have to go through the whole album, in order. It came after Kanye switched his sound up in a big way with 808's and showed another big step in his progression as an artist. I feel like it's one of those albums people either absolutely love or categorically dislike. The intensity of the album makes it impossible to be on the fence about it. Features on it are amazing, of course. And the production is sonically perfect. The use of strings still makes me swoon. If you have an affinity for "old Kanye" and you hold MBDTF in comparison to his first three albums or you only focus on the singles, you are doing the project a disservice. In my opinion MBDTF is best appreciated all on its own as a work of art.

Sigh. Yes, I'm sighing in text form. Why? Kanye West still hasn't dropped that new album, Swish or whatever he's calling it now. So, that's left me to fend for myself and revisit "old 'Ye" that I've already revisited before. Thankfully, MBDTF isn't one of the albums that I've grown tired of from him. The album, it's a beautiful clusterfuck of music. That's pretty much the only way you can describe it accurately without saying "it's proto-Yeezus" or "it's not Late Registration, so it's automatically buttcheeks." I'll give you my final thoughts on it in a few. Since this, like TPAB, is one of those incredibly polarizing albums (and one of my personal favorites), it's going to be, possibly, one of my longest reviews.

The album is cinematic. I mean, hell, just listen to the intro and:

1) its Nicki Minaj-meets-Masterpiece Theater opening
2) the lush piano instrumentation and its layered chorus
3) the fact that the track switches up three times, at least, before its final salvo's fired.

It's a great introduction, even though Kanye's bars on it become somewhat cringe-worthy (the "Urkel/Wins-low" pun is one of those moments). Honestly, I would've loved to hear just the instrumental for a minute or two, kind of like a throwback to Kanye's Freshman Adjustment mixtape intro ("Can't Nobody"). But, the fact that Kanye played with a couple different genres on the intro sets us up for the rest of the album, sonically speaking.

"Gorgeous," in all its lo-fi, psychedelic rock-sampling glory, is one of my favorite songs on the project, mainly because it shows Kanye's ability to DITC like he did on "old 'Ye" stuff, but still make it feel fresh and "new 'Ye"-like. Lyrically, Raekwon waxes Kanyes, but that's ok. The album, as much as it's about Kanye and his post-808s life and whatnot? It's more about Kanye letting others serve as his surrogate storytellers about the dangers of celebrity and whatnot.

"Power" is an overrated song. The beat is cool, though. This is another problem I have with MBTDF. As much as I love the surrogate storytellers idea, I hate that the beats constantly outshine Kanye's lyrics. It's probably because, five years later, we've heard everyone and their mom on MBDTF beats. But, as of now, the beats overpower the lyrics. I do, however, like Kanye's brashness on this track.

"All of the Lights" is also overrated a tad. The instrumentation on it is amazing. The lyrics themselves, even if you remember them, they're forgettable and, like the intro, cringe-worthy. It was, however, amazing to hear Alicia Keys, Elton John, Elly Jackson from La Roux--a criminally underrated act/artist, as Jackson performs solo as La Roux--and Kid Cudi on one song, blending together to create this "We Are The Mothafuckin' World"-like vibe. The remix of this track, with Wayne, Big Sean, and Drake, however, trumps Kanye's version.

After "AOTL," we're given the Angry/Thuggish Ruggish Yeezus tracks. "Monster" is great for Nicki's verse. That's it. Rozay, Hov, and Yeezus all get waxed by Nicki. Sorry, that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. "So Appalled" is a nice "fuck you, I'm gonna do me, even if you try to shit on me" song. Pusha T was, well, Pusha T. Kanye got on his grimy tip. And Jay provided a serviceable Jay verse, tossing around references to MC Hammer (lulz) and The Dark Knight. "Devil in a New Dress" also draws its strength from its beat. While Kanye and Rick Ross deliver some humbling lines, but the lushness of the beat allows for that "bitches ain't shit but hoes and tricks"-type of vibe. Sorry for calling the women bitches, but the bitches love it (hi Drake).

"Runaway" is epic. It's epic because Kanye admits, apologizes for, and refuses to change most of his assholish ways (that is, until little North West was born). Pusha delivers a dope verse as well. And, the breakdown for this song, in all its Auto-Tune/voicebox-y goodness, is the shit legends are made of. It's also, for me, the influence for Kanye's work on the bridge for The Weeknd's "Tell Your Friends." It's a criminally underrated song on a somewhat overrated album. But, it's Kanye. What the hell do you expect? Everything to be one way or another?

"Hell of a Life," I almost always skip over. I feel the album could've done without it. Yes, it speaks on the yays and nays of being a celebrity and whatnot, as the album does as a whole. Yes, it, in some ways, expands on the idea that Kanye presented in "Runaway" about how he wants classy, but usually gets trashy. But, ultimately, it's just not that good of a song. It has some funny lines, such as "Make her knees shake, make a priest faint/Make a nun cum, make her cremate." But, ultimately, it's just Kanye talking about porn--possibly about his fascination with Kim K's sextape, for all we know about Kanye. I don't know. The fact that it's sandwiched between "Runaway" and "Blame Game," I guess that's his intention (make a musical menage a trois about the women he meets, dates, and sexes), but it feels forced overall.

"Blame Game" is a beautiful song. Thankfully, Kanye got John Legend to sing most of the choruses. Yeezus couldn't have done them the right amount of emotional justice. But, the song itself is beautiful because of its chronicling of the dissolution of a relationship and, well, trying to figure out who the fault really falls on. And I'm sure that a lot of people can relate to something from this track. The outro is jarring, because it's kind of downright hilarious--and depressing, if you listen to it from Kanye's perspective. Plus, "Yeezy taught me" makes for a lot of hilariously sad memes.

"Lost in the World"/"Who Will Survive in America" is the transition from MBDTF to Yeezus that some people may miss because of its frantic nature. It's part-love song, part-cautionary tale against celebrity, part-"can 'Blackness' survive in 2010s America" questioning, part-"I really don't have all the answers, Sway" admittance. Now, the bonus track "See Me Now" is, thankfully, just a bonus track. Beyonce or not, it doesn't really fit within the album's story. It's a cool feel-good track, but it kind of fits more as a bonus track. Although, Big Sean's verse on this track was top-notch.

So, with all of that titangraphing out of the way, where does this album rank? Is it the greatest album of all-time? No, no, and hell no. It gets overrated because of what I'm about to say. MBDTF is Kanye's most-ambitious (yes, even more so than Yeezus) and, at points, his most-cohesive. There are some hiccups on the album, and some songs are more about the moment. But the overall thought process which went into the album and the story presented? Yeah, it's his greatest album in some degrees. Lyrically? Nah. I'd give that to either LR or CD. But, the growth shown by Kanye on this album, from a storyteller's standpoint? Top notch. So, that's why I feel the album gets overrated. It shows the world what Kanye West, completely unhinged (see what I did there) can come up with. But, best album of all-time? No way.

Looking back at it, this is a great album. In some regards it's a classic, just from production alone it's a classic. The subject matter was dark and the beginning of "Yeezus" Kanye. Dark Fantasy and Hell of a Life are some examples of this. He also managed to keep some the innocence that shown in his earlier albums, with songs like "All of the Lights". "Gorgeous" and "So Appalled" are my favorite joints on here as they show Kanye kill the verses. The only problem with this album to me is the extent of some of the songs. "Runaway" and "Blame Game" are too long and Rick Ross was not necessary on "Devil in a Blue Dress". Other than that, very great album.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Kanye's best work in my opinion. The most gorgeous album Yeezy has ever put out, and we'll never get an album like that again. That is why we must appreciate this album to the fullest. First off, this was the first album Kanye really expressed his talent writing wise, since his earlier projects were ghost -written. Kanye was very creative with this album, obviously putting in his best work with quality production, great talent featured, and memorable songs like "Runaway" & "Power". Kanye truly lived up to his potential on this album. It is a dark, smooth masterpiece. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is the best album Kanye West has ever created, perfection from top to bottom. Fight me if you disagree.

Guess I'll be fighting him and everyone else who shares that opinion. I don't agree that it is Kanye's best album overall. While dope, this album is not in the same regard as one of the best albums ever in Late Registration. Late Registration featured complete production, stories, cohesion, was flawless in execution and songs that felt powerful. While I enjoy MBDTF, it has moments that I didn't really enjoy. I was never a true big fan of "All Of The Lights", though it is a pretty good song, but it just wasn't one of my favorites(production is dope however, with that anthem feel from Graduation). I felt like Ross was unnecessary and didn't fit on "Devil In A New Dress" though I enjoyed his verse, and I think "Monster" wasn't even a good song like that honestly (production was eh, and I have never seen a verse more overrated than Nicki's verse on the song. Lyrically, Nicki was quite eh, but she flowed very well and had the best delivery. Also Ross and Hov have pretty standard mediocre verses). Now, I have heard people say that this is one of the greatest albums of all time and that's where I draw the line. Just because it infuses, or attempts to infuse all eras of Kanye together, doesn't mean it is his best. I feel like after 808s was met with mixed reactions, the G.O.O.D. Friday songs gave people what they wanted. It was a great run and restored that old Kanye feeling mixed with the new Kanye sound. With that, I feel like this made people go overboard with the praise and also follow the critics. Perhaps I look for more cohesion and consistency and a story with albums, and I feel like this album didn't provide that in the manner of a College Dropout or Late Registration. It had some of the big sound and anthems of Graduation to me as well, but none of the songs here were as good as some of the tracks on Graduation. Sure, people say Kanye attempted to infuse all his albums together here, but I always felt as if the songs Kanye made here didn't truly wow me like those from the past. Now, I'm not saying I hated the album. I like it. It is a really good album, but the praise bestowed upon it never made much sense to me. Production wise, I'll say it is probably Kanye's 2nd best album, while lyrically, it is probably his 3rd best. Overall? I would put it as his 3rd best... possibly 4th. Why? I think the first 3 Kanye albums are almost flawless and I pointed out what I feel is flawed here. Now, onto what I like of the album.

I really enjoyed "Dark Fantasy" and "Gorgeous". I thought "Power" was a bit eh when it first dropped, but it grew on me after a while. While it isn't an amazing song lyrically, it is a powerful song in execution and is stadium music in that "Graduation" feel(I saw the Graduation influence on this album a bit more than CD or LR). My favorite song on the album is probably "So Appalled", as the production is top notch and all the MCs come with dope verses(I don't count Swizz or RZA on this song, otherwise they would ruin it for me). The production from Bink! on "Devil In A New Dress" is one of my all time favorite beats. Kanye coasts over this beat effortlessly and this would likely be my 2nd favorite song of the album. While I wasn't a big fan of "Runaway" initially, it's grown on me and I think it is a very solid track. "Blame Game" is an amazing song and John Legend provides a great hook. I think Chris Rock was a bit unnecessary for the song, but he is funny enough to make it work. "Hell Of A Life" and the final tracks are all solid, but I wish that he would have held some of those G.O.O.D. Friday tracks for this album. He was releasing nothing but heat during this period and a lot of those songs would have been perfect for the album. Music marks time, and in my mind, a large number of the people who feel it is Kanye's best or the greatest album ever, didn't get to experience Late Registration or College Dropout in its true glory. Those are albums that had true substance, anthems, glorious production, and took Kanye to his creative and artistic heights without forcing anything. While MBDTF is a good album, I just don't share the sentiments of some folks that it is a classic or truly a legendary album. Now, I'm sure some people feel MBDTF is a classic or godly and that's your opinion. A number of people here in this roundtable feel it is a great Kanye album and his best. The beauty of hip hop and OPINIONS, is that we can exist with differing opinions, thus debates such as these occur.

However, what I will give credit to Kanye for with this project, is crafting a story in which fit his life and his mind in 2010-2011. The Kanye of 2004 was gone. The Kanye of 2005 and even 2007 before his mom passed away was gone. After going through what was likely his toughest personal battle with losing his mom and his relationship at the time, Kanye seemed to find therapy in detailing the battle with being a celebrity in the limelight and his reactions to it. He had been with and broke up with Amber Rose during the end of recording this album and you can see the image of a man torn down by his celebrity, loss, life, love, but rebuilding piece by piece. In that way, yes, the album is beautiful from a narrative perspective. I just don't feel as if the music truly lived up to the narrative. MBDTF will be heralded as a classic forever by many, and while I don't personally agree that it is, I respect that opinion and I genuinely understand how one could arrive at that assessment. It is a daring album in some ways, yet a safe album in some other ways. All depends on perspective and your interpretation of it. Regardless, revisit this album with us and enjoy. Let's have a toast for the douchebags.

What are your thoughts on this album? Post them below in the comments.



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