Today’s installment of Arachnophonia is by student worker Colin (class of 2021) and features Kanye West’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Thanks, Colin!
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (MBDTF) is my favorite Kanye album. Many fans, reviewers and artists in the industry also agree with me that the albumis both technically amazing and culturally significant, with many music publications reporting back in December that MBDTF is their top album of the entire 2010s, such as Rolling Stone and Billboard. Why I believe this album is worthy of this praise is two-fold: first, the album continues the musical genius and masterful production that were present in The College Dropout, Late Registration and Graduation; and second, this album marked Kanye’s public apology for his previous wrong-doings and public controversy, while apologizing in the most ‘Kanye’ way possible; self-reflection upon fame and ego.
I would be remiss in writing about MBDTF if I did not first acknowledge the character and artist behind the production of the album. Kanye has had his fair share of headlines throughout the past ten years or so, between his support of Donald Trump and the idea that Democrats have “brainwashed” black Americans, to his laptop being “stolen” by his cousin who leaked private videos of him, to his famous Twitter tirades in which he has attacked figures such as Wiz Khalifa and the company Nike, to his ongoing bouts with Taylor Swift. The list is long and could have been expanded upon further. Kanye is rarely in the news for positivity, but I argue that his albums should be judged separately from the creator. It is actually the last headline, his history with Taylor Swift, which started the production of MBDTF. In 2009 at MTV’s Video Music Awards, Kanye infamously took to the stage to interrupt Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video, proclaiming that Beyoncé should have won the honor. This prompted nationwide outrage against Kanye, which prompted an apology tour soon afterwards. He then took off to Hawaii that same year in the form of a retreat, in which he began working on MBDTF in Honolulu’s Avex Recording Studio.
MBDTF is a journey. First, many elements of his previous albums can be identified on tracks throughout this album, indicating a feeling that the work in its entirety could be considered Kanye’s magnum opus. It borrows on the soul and experimental hip-hop aspects found in The College Dropout and Late Registration, mixed with the unrestricted emotional and innovative gleam evident in Graduation and 808s & Heartbreak. Second, the album explores themes such as wealth, prominence, decadence, excess, escapism, self-aggrandizement and self-doubt. An interesting understanding I found in my research is from Andrew Martin of Prefix Magazine, in which he notes in his review that this work “derives its intrigue from the shortcomings of its creator” and “it’s a meditation on fame.” Topics from previous, and even future Kanye albums, explore social issues that plague the world, such as abuse of drugs or the ongoing mistreatment of people of color. However, the “apology album” that MBDTF was expected to be allowed Kanye to reflect on the personal characteristics of his life, and to recognize that he is not perfect.
Focusing on specific tracks, the album opens with the aptly titled “Dark Fantasy.” Nicki Minaj introduces the first track through spoken-word, which then transitions into Kanye rapping about his images of grandeur as a child, and how the population perceives the fame, he has experienced incorrectly. Continuing through the album, “All of the Lights” is my personal favorite track. Between the masterful uses of synthesized sound bites to the lyrical story of a convicted man due to physical assault charges, the song is amazing in my eyes and by the public, receiving many accolades such as Best Rap Song at the 54th Grammy Awards. Another noteworthy track is “Runaway,” which appropriately premiered as a live performance at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, a year after Kanye’s public condemnation for his action against Swift, which prompted the creation of this album. Many reviewers laud “Runaway” as Kanye’s best song, placing emphasis on the ego of himself in a statement of lyrical apology for his public figure, but referring to the flaw of human nature of self-absorption that caused his problems. Some other album highlights include “Monster,” “Devil in a New Dress,” and “Lost in the World.”
Music is a strange dichotomy in which it is explicitly linked with the creators of itself and its performers, while also taking on its own personality completely separate from association with a person. I believe that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy should be viewed through a similar lens. Personally, I have friends who refuse to listen to Kanye West’s music simply because of the nature of himself as a person and the way he has publicized himself throughout the world. However, I believe it to be a great tragedy to close oneself off to the music that he creates as a separate entity of himself, only to experience the idea of the music and what it is trying to portray to us as an audience. No recommendation could ring more true than his album, which should be experienced and loved by all listeners.