After four Platinum albums, 12 Grammy Awards, two public mentions by United States presidents and a hand in the biggest hip-hop shift of the last decade, Kanye West as we know him is officially dead. When My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Mr. West’s fifth album, drops on November 22, everyone will have to settle with the fact that all the components that propelled Kanye West to the top of his game have been ripped out. In their place lies a more mature and artistic product but one that’s devoid of all the textbook Kanye style. At a time when he could have gone back to his roots and produced something in line with the College Dropout series, he went the opposite direction, sealing his future as an artist.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy isn’t bad by any means. It’s in fact very varied and unique, words usually thrown around to describe Kanye West’s style and torch-carrying attitude. But where the lyrics are in line with Kanye’s unmatched quality and still manage to go above and beyond some of his previous efforts, the overall style and direction of the album prove that the chapter that defined him from 2004 to 2008 is not coming back.
The opening track, “Dark Fantasy,” wraps up a disarming beat with rough verses but a melodically sung chorus. The album has a handful of other strong, impressive and surprisingly listenable tracks, the mark of any solid album. “Gorgeous,” which features the ease-laden flow of Kid Cudi, employs a catchy distorted guitar hook, while “Power,” one of the early singles, is Kanye West pulling out his raw rapping from the earlier days over a pulsing group chant. It makes the track more a source of nostalgia considering it’s one of the few tracks that has retained this style.
“All the Lights” is a powerhouse song so catchy and pure that it was probably written and produced with the sole intention of becoming overplayed in the first week of release. It features a chorus from Rihanna, one that could arguably stand against Alicia Keys’ section of “Empire State of Mind” by Jay- Z, and a few amazing lyrical gems from the man himself. It’s the only song on the album that seems to sound like it could have come off something pre-808s & Heartbreak, and therein lays the main problem with Kanye West these days.
With his unfettered ego and with- out the millions of media microscopes dissecting his every move, Kanye West used to be a king. Nobody told him what to do or how to act, dress or speak in public. He wrote, produced and delivered his music on his terms. He didn’t set out to simply change the game—he wanted to invent a new one. Even to his harshest critics, he was still an iconic hip-hop musician who was more influential than they gave him credit for.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has none of the true Kanye West soul flowing through it. It’s completely de- void of the energy and the passion and the gut-wrenching pull that had him up in your face screaming, “I dare you to tell me I’m not the best.” That was what made “Last Call” of College Dropout a 14-minute epic with mind-blowing lines, and made his Jamie Foxx collaboration “Gold Digger” a hit before anyone had gotten past the first chorus. It even made his slow songs, like “Flashing Lights,” better than an actual dedicated R&B artist, and his lyrical heavyweights, like “All Falls Down,” brutally honest.
He was a rap artist whose trade- mark image was a teddy bear and no one had a word of criticism. That’s how raw and respected his music, his themes and the direction he was taking hip-hop in was for the four year period that he dominated.
I sit and stare at what Kanye does now, wishing I could re-live the first moment I saw the “Jesus Walks” video where he donned a crown of thorns while a flame-engulfed KKK member tumbled down a cliff. Where are those aggressive, envelope-pushing moves to- wards something greater, like his album art collaboration with Japanese-surrealist Takashi Murakami and his Akira– themed music video for “Stronger”?
When he stood in front of the 2008 Grammy crowd with a pyramid of red light at his back to perform that Daft Punk-infused track, you had to shake your head and laugh. Because while his custom Alain Mikli sunglasses shined with light-beacon LEDs and his electronic vest flashed with blue lights, you and the whole world and even Kanye himself knew he was taking home a handful of Grammys later that night. At that point, he was just having fun.
Critics said his head was so big it had to explode, and sure enough it eventually did. He stupidly broke from a Hurricane Katrina benefit script to say that the standing president didn’t care about a whole race of people, and his ego was starting to take armor-piercing hits. While his image was catching flames, he was still making music. But when 808s and Heartbreaks dropped in 2008, Kanye, for the first time in his career, had to accept a “love-it-or-hate-it” response from his entire fan base. It was the birth of the coffin, but the nails came down when he drunkenly grabbed that mic from a giddy 19-year- old pop phenomenon.
Maybe Kanye West, after all has fallen to pieces, has matured. Maybe Graduation was the conclusion to one of the most beloved album series in American music history and the College series will stay a trilogy. Maybe 808s & Heartbreak wasn’t the exception but the first of a new direction. He’s sure to go down in music history and nothing, no matter how controversial, can undo what he’s created. But here’s the sad part – maybe no one, myself included, will find much interest in the grown-up Kanye West.