The ‘Have you heard’ series is a look into significant albums across multiple genres. We will explore what made these albums tick and why they’re worth listening to today.
Kanye West cuts a fairly controversial figure. In the past few years, he has made headlines more for being an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump than his music. But years before Ye donned the MAGA cap, the brightest red in his repertoire was the cover of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has been widely hailed as a landmark moment in Kanye’s career. It is the peak of Ye’s experiments with lush, maximal, and often self-indulgent production. It is a sonic juggernaut, and little like it existed when it released.
Set against the backdrop of his tumultuous personal life and failing relationship with model Amber Rose, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is in many ways Ye’s take on Progressive Rock a la 1970s bands like King Crimson (whose song is sampled on “POWER”). Songs like “Runaway” is where this comes through more than anywhere else on the album.
“Runaway” is a 9-minute-long behemoth that starts with a haunting and incredibly memorable piano melody. The intro gives way to a beautifully convoluted mess of vocal samples, singing, heavy bass, synthersizer, and half an orchestra.
Much like the song’s chorus, a tongue-in-cheek call for accepting one’s worst qualities, the unique song structure does not apologise for being what it is. For instance, the outro has only a vocoder (in essence, a synthesizer controlled by the human voice) and a string section playing over the introductory piano melody. It lasts a full three minutes. Such a long outro, devoid of lyrics or a sample is not something that Hip-Hop was known for.
As has been said about this song many times before, its different parts should not work together, but they do.
The album truly shines, however, because while having songs well over the 6-minute mark, it also delivers shorter, solidly written, and immaculately produced numbers such as “POWER”, “All of the Lights” and “Monster”. These songs make the album something that a casual listener can enjoy just as much as an already indoctrinated Kanye fan.
All in all, Kanye’s ability to make a point with his production just as much as with his lyrics is why this album occupies the place it does in modern Hip-Hop. “POWER”, “Runaway”, and nearly every other song on the album show that the samples, the choice of instruments, and song structure can add meaning to a song just as much as lyrics.
It is a testament to Ye’s musical prowess and ability to create art, unlike anything he had put out before.
Whether you haven’t heard the album before or you miss the old Kanye, nine years on, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy has aged incredibly well and remains worth listening to.