Amidst his latest, still-lingering media tiff (with morning TV anchor Matt Lauer, no less) rap megastar Kanye West is back to jostle for the top spot on the album charts with his new creation, the curiously titled My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam).
This is a spectacular, hypnotic 13-track record that is nothing if not an instant-classic recording. Via this latest disc, West delivers indisputable proof of his genius as a hip hop revolutionary. What’s more, this is rap music like it was meant to be: menacing, dramatic beats, intricate rhymes and rhythms, lush and flawless instrumentation. As with each of the rapper-producer’s previous four albums, the music consistently pushes the status quo into a new realm and challenges the mind, all the while entertaining and charming your socks off.
The central character may be possessed of bottomless reserves of ambition and spellbinding creativity, but his A-list collaborative recruits make for sterling contributions. On the incandescent “All of the Lights,” pop sensation Rihanna and a lineup of 12 guests (Alicia Keys, Elton John and Charlie Wilson, to name a few) show up to lend some star power. A beastly Jay Z, Pusha T and Swizz Beatz are superb standouts on the enchanting, addictive “So Appalled,” a stadium-bright meditation on dreams, human relationships and the standard of living. But it doesn’t get any better than the all-star-powered “Monster,” which leans on the mean lyrical skills of Jay Z, Nicki Minaj and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.
A gigantic leap from West’s last effort, 808s and Heartbreak, each song on the new album kills. The ego-driven yet lyrically excellent “Power” is a gem of a lead single, as the 9-minute clip for the remarkable follow-up track “Runaway” elevates the game as far as videos by rap stars go. If I were to name all my favorite tracks on the album, every single one would probably make the final cut. Still, the rhythmic beauty and clever lyricism on “Devil in a New Dress,” “Blame Game” (featuring vocalist John Legend) and the sublime opener “Dark Fantasy” are hardest to shake.
Not unlike his genre-bending music, Kanye West remains a controversial and compelling figure in the entertainment industry, whose travails have commanded headlines ever since his advent on the scene. Not one to hold his tongue (Taylor Swift can testify), West never shies away from topics and scenarios that can potentially make others uncomfortable. Which is why he is a man idolized, feared and despised in equal measure. Has ‘Ye officially become the man the world loves to hate? His reputation is duly earned but, in any case, no one can hold a candle to the man’s ever-evolving musical intellect that gets a glittering showcase on this latest release.
Epic and mind-blowing, West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a sonically pleasant peek into the rapper’s spectral visions, dreams and desires. By far the best rap/hip-hop album of the year, it’s a powerful artistic statement that takes listeners adrift in time and experience. You can’t help but surrender to the raw passion and luminous intensity of the priestly protagonist.
Best tracks: Every single one