Happy birthday, beautiful

Caleb M. S. – Staff Writer  

Ten years since the release of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the album holds even more weight than at its release. Equally parts retaliatory and prophetic, Kanye’s Magna Carta now holds an unofficial top ranking in his vast catalogue of albums.  

The 2009 VMAs recolored public perception of West when the rapper staggered onto the awards stage to seize the microphone from 20-year-old Taylor Swift. The now infamous “I’mma let you finish,” interruption from Kanye forced a change in public perception. West, once the out there creative with innovative sounds and masterful projects, was now a bully in the highest order.  

West retreated from the public eye after the VMA debacle, self-exiling on Oahu, Hawaii in a recording studio surrounded by a Mount Rushmore of hip-hip—Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, and Nicki Minaj. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver made an appearance, Q-TIP penned lyrics, and RZA threw melodies at West until they stuck. “Camp Rap,” as it was dubbed, focused so much collective brain power at one project it was amazing no one spontaneously combusted. Kanye and Camp Rap debuted My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy to an awestruck hip-hop community on November 22, 2010. The cover, which at first glance looks like a heavily pixelated mess, features a depiction of West in intercourse with an armless, neo-angelic, white woman. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but Kanye wanted to be damn sure any listener could judge his project by the visual alone. The cover was designed intentionally to be banned, Kanye needed Fantasy to be aggressive, over the top, monolithic, and sprawling.  

West got his wish. Clocking in at just over an hour and featuring a more star-studded lineup than most Grammy Award ceremonies, Fantasy delivered on all fronts. Critiques and fans expected the artist to write to Taylor, or about Taylor, but Kanye didn’t need to. He wrote about the one thing he could control—himself. West embraced the villain label so many reviewers wanted to put on him and expressed in equal measures his invincibility and vulnerability.  

Instrumentally alone, Fantasy is a masterpiece. Power ballads lead into orchestral suites, lead into simplistic piano, lead into classic west-cost inspired beats, lead into pounding 808s. I was barely aware of Kanye West at age eleven in 2010; my musical exposure did not reach much beyond the local Christian stations my parents played in the back of our Dodge Grand Caravan (same model and color as the vehicle on the cover of Kendrick’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d city). The first rap I was exposed to a year later was Jay-Z and Kanye’s Ni***s in Paris, then a bootleg of Fantasy. I vividly remember sitting with my iPod Nano, running around my basement at one am, unable to sit still as I blasted “POWER” from the MP3 player. Today, ten years later and almost twice as old, “POWER” still has the same effect.  

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy lays out the psyche of a hip-hop god, wrestling with his own mortality. Kanye equally draws off his intense egoism, then only a few songs later is wallowing in the depths of his own humanness. From “I’m killin’ this s***,” in “POWER,” (it is reported West spent 5,000 hours on production for the track) to a perfect embrace of his own d*****baggery in “Runaway,” West is a self-recognized imperfect perfectionist on a musical rampage seeking to set his own image before it is taken from him. Kanye’s lyricism is at its peak on Fantasy, as he throws gems like “They say, I was the abomination of Obama’s nation.”

Kanye is loud, brash, abrasive, vulgar, and at sometimes a downright a**hole, as he readily acknowledges “Lets have a toast for the d*****bags / a toast for the a**holes / every one of them that I know / …Runaway as fast as you can.” 

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy purposefully sets up Kanye as the unhinged genius we still see him as today, a decade later. Before the memes, before the tweets, before the SNL skits and before the presidential run, there was “All of the Lights,” Kanye, and “Monster,” Kanye—the drunk thirty-year-old waving a microphone in one hand and a near-empty bottle of Hennessy in the other—redefined his own persona with an album never-since rivaled in the cult-classic sense. Swizz Beatz best sums it up on the seventh track of the album: “it’s like that sometimes, this s*** ridiculous.”  

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