Though like Mt. Vesuvius we’ve been dormant for quite some time, the boys here at You Must Learn would be greatly remiss in our duties as arbiters of dopeness if we didn’t bring you a review of Kanye West’s hotly anticipated album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. So why waste time? Rajib, Gregston, and I run the three man weave on this one, bringing you our thoughts on each track. Enjoy!
Rajib: Nicki Minaj does her best British narrator impression to introduce a wonderful choir into DAT BEAT that makes you want to Fast and Furious a Lamborghini under an 18 wheeler. Again, this song just shows Kanye sounds better rapping off the vocodor.
Jon: I am supposed to love this song more than anything ever created in the history of music. It’s RZA, it’s Kanye. It’s supposed to make my head explode. It might not be the mind blaster that it could have been but it bumps, it has beautiful moments, and it’s a solid album opener.
Gregston: A tale of a new era begins, out with the old watered down days of hip-hop(or what I refer to as Hip-Pop). Welcome to the genesis…at least that’s what it seems Yeezy is going for with this latest effort. A beat oozing with the essence of the Wu, some classic mixed with classical; The new school of Hip-Pop.
Rajib: Kid Cudi slowly begins to realize he needs to take the T-Pain route, minus the auto tune and just sing choruses. He’s damn good at it. Also line of the song: “choke a southpark writer with a fishstick” lolz. Incredible beat once again, and Raekwon was the perfect guest rapper for it.
Jon: Oh yes. I’m not really sure where to start with “Gorgeous” (as is the case with many of the album’s better tracks). The production is spectacular, Rae kills it as has been par for the course since OB4CL II, Kid Cudi’s chorus is a perfect complement, and Kanye leads the proceedings wonderfully with his verses (which at the very beginning lapse into a sort of Andre 3000 impressionism that would be welcome from Mr. West more often). Great track
Gregston: From the riff to the chorus Kanye makes me feel like this one would best be delivered from a soapbox(I hope people get that reference in 2010 haha) to let people know that “this the real world homie, school finished” (possible reference to the theme/titles of his previous works)…get it?
Rajib: I find it hard to believe that kanye really spent 5000 hours on this song as he claims, but its damn good. Album version is same as the single, which really set the bar high from what to expect from the rest of album.
Jon: From the time an unmastered version appeared on Soundcloud early this summer, I was into “Power” something heavy. As big as its name and as bold a statement of purpose as exists in popular music today. Even in the wake of the full album’s release and the many GOOD Friday’s we’ve had since August, “Power” still sounds important. This should have been the album opener, as it announces Kanye–the Kanye West of the here and now–like no other song on the album. Which might be why nothing else on the album sounds anything like it. I’d argue that “Power” is every bit as personal as “Blame Game.”
Gregston: I’ve heard this too many times now haha. The chanting and the drums in this album, that really begin with this track, gives the album a feel of a tribal rite of passage. In addition the track is very in your face and unapologetic. Some neo-braggadocio for that ass, I dig it.
All of the lights (+ interlude)
Rajib: I’m a sucker for strings, so im a big fan of the interlude. In kanye’s biggest posse cut of the album, it can be easy to get lost in all the guests, particularly when trying to find all of the artists that were supposed to be on this song (John Legend, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Tony Williams, Charlie Wilson, Elly Jackson, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Kid Cudi, Rihanna, & Elton John). Still cant hear The Dream, Ryan Leslie, Elly Jackson, or Tony williams. Well I wouldn’t know a Tony Williams even if I did hear him since I still cant figure out who that young bull is. Highlights for me are def Rihanna and the Elton John piano cameo. Also DEM HORNS.
Jon: Good lord we’re not going to be able to escape this one once the NBA’s marketers get their hands on it. This is 21st century stadium music. Star studded cast borders on absurd, but ultimately aids the grandiosity of a song that doesn’t feel like nearly as much of a hodge podge as it could have been. In the end all that matters is that the music is about as triumphant as anything Kanye has ever released.
Gregston: YO. SON. Track to interlude is some Jekyll to Hyde, Bruce to Hulk, Zord to Mega Zord shit. It lulls you then it hits. Horns blair, fast cars, shooting stars, HELL YEAH, the glitz, the glamour, shortcomings, failure, frailty of it all thrown into a pot and ready to serve…Is that Fergie, Elton John closing? Musical jambalaya.
Rajib: WILD. Enough has been said about this one. Nicki Minaj will likely never rap a verse as good as this one. I have a feeling Rick Ross likely rolled into the studio yelling “BOUSS” repeatedly until Kanye let him onto this record. Jay Z tried, kind of. Still love this one cuz its just FONKAY.
Jon: Probably my second favorite song of the year. Oddball arena superstar rap. 10 seconds of Ross works oddly well. The beat bumps like rusty razor skid marks and that Nicki verse. Daaaaaaamn that Nicki Verse.
Gregston: It is what it is.
Rajib: Havent been able to get into this one yet. Maybe its because im still waiting for Swizz Beatz to yell “OH U FANCY, HUH” whenever possible, because that is what life has embarrassingly come to for myself.
Jon: Wasn’t digging this until the DJ who opened for Odd Future at Webster Hall spun it through The Studio’s bass-y speakers. It’s a bit long but it definitely bumps and it’s melancholy groove (though denounced by my colleague Mr. Mitra) seems to hook me in more with each successive listen. Still not sold on this Cy Hi character though. Much preferred his verse on “Take One For the Team.”
Gregston: I have been waiting, anticipating, feenin for this since the snippet leaked a year ago and it was so much more than what I expected. Raunchy, raw, grimed out, audacious…I mean come on it sparked some beef between MC Hammer and Jay-Z–I was “so appalled” after seeing this haha
Devil in a New Dress
Rajib: Just when I thought this song coudlnt get better, the album version feautres a wonderful distorted guitar solo lead into a suprisingly fitting BAWSE verse. Like “Ms. Fat Booty”–its just voluptuous.
Jon: Beautiful music. Though it’s structurally a bit unwieldy, that’s part of its smooth, swaggering brilliance. The guitar solo is an impressive touch that takes the place of what elsewhere on the album might have been a bloated guest list (see “So Appalled” or the grandest offender of them all, “All of the Lights”). Everything about this just works.
Gregston: For me this track feels as though it slows down the pace of the album, lulls you, and carries you into the second more personal portion of the album. After hearing the “G.O.O.D. Friday” version, hearing Ross come in at the end to close out the track was a nice treat.
Rajib: Album version of this song ended up having the Rick James live samples and scratches I loved. One of my favorite kanye choruses for sure. This song really contrasts to some of the heavy rock based songs on the rest of this album but its the simplicity that makes this one a winner. Album version of this is over 9 min long, with the last 3 min of it being Kanye literally vomiting onto a vocodor while constipated. Its tight.
Jon: To paraphrase my man Rajib (who shifted his comparison slightly for the above review) from a gchat conversation we had about the album, the last 4 minutes basically amount to Kanye diarrheaing into a vocoder. I prefer the single version which felt fine at 5 minutes and change. The first half of the song is fantastic, the second a bit superfluous.
Gregston: The album version, similar to and perhaps the same as the Runaway film version, begins with a tapping of the keys, almost searching for something and then its found “We Gotcha!” hits and echoes throughout, welcome to world of assholes and douchebaggery.
Hell of a Life
Rajib: I’m spurtin here. This one has it all. FILTHYYYY guitar riff, the return of kanye on autotune, hyperactive xylophones(?) , chopped and screwedness, cave choirs. Jesus. The production is so nasty it could make even Justin Bieber sound obscene.
Jon: This is it. This is the only non-Odd Future song I need right now. The beat. Making nuns cremate.
Gregston: At first it made me think of cruising in a murdered out sports car through some hyperrealistic city out of some new age twilight zone…then the hook hit. A delivery reminiscent of Black Sabbath's “Iron Man”. AWESOME.
Rajib: Aphex Twin sample of Avril 14th. At first I thought this was one of the albums weaker points but there are some heavy verses and content buried in there. His sporadic use of chopped/screwed actually turns out really interesting…almost like there’s 2 Kanyes rapping. Chris Rock’s skit at the end brings some lolz.
Jon: This is the last track review I ended up writing because I’ve been truly puzzled by “Blame Game” since first getting my hands on MBDTF. The rapping and production are mostly wonderful, but I’m not sold on John Legend’s presence, the chorus, or the Chris Rock skit. Don’t get me wrong: Chris Rock here is amusing as all hell, but his inclusion points to an interesting trait that seems to follow Kanye throughout his albums, in spite of musical and personal progression: though he is self aware, his self importance hinders any ability for self deprecation (and that is about as many “self’s” as you should ever be allowed to use in a sentence). The result is a sense of humor that avoids making fun of the humorist. The closest breach of this I can remember comes from “All Falls Down.” I would be happy to be corrected in my theory if you have an example (he brushes up against it on Runaway, but doesn’t go all the way because it’s such an achingly sad song). The takeaway is that Chris Rock’s inclusion seems incongruous with an otherwise soul-bearing track, a humorous attempt to mask real emotion. I will probably end up listening to this more than anything else in an attempt to figure it out.
Gregston: Pianos, melody, synthetic symphony, scattered over vocal distortion only Ye could get away with. Truth, Honesty, Love. Breaks filled with testimony of a tried heart. Oh and Chris Rock is hilarious. How’s that for a twist.
Lost in the World/Who Will Survive in America
Rajib: Absolutely love this one. Great use of Bon Iver, and Kanye really added a lot to the original leaks of this song. Added a couple of layers of drums that give it more dance feel, and this really cool aboriginal sounding distortion that layers perfectly over those tribal 808s.
Jon: I love everything about this. I love it so much that I’m not really sure how to properly critique. It is wild release and works for me on almost every level (I probably could have done without the Gil Scott Heron sample). Love the drums, love the melody, love Kanye’s lyrics. The whole shebang.
Gregston: I remember this one from the Runaway film. Straight Dionysian on fools with this one. Chaotic revelry is what comes to mind when this comes on. Almost too much to handle. Drums, chanting, Charlie Wilson. Ritual Music.
Rajib – Kanye’s most developed album by far. Miles ahead of 808s (and I actually grew to love that album). Definitely on par with Late Registration/College Dropout. Arguably better but I’ll have to ask myself again in a month. This is one of the best bounce back albums I’ve ever heard, and there is downright NO end to the creativity that emanates from this album. I would have shat and/or creamed my pants had all of these songs arrived to me in one package. The leaks/ GOOD Friday leaks definitely did wonders for Kanye hype, and I’m sure we’ll see how Kanye’s new approach to the album release affects other artists in hip hop, rap, and even other genres.
Jon – In the last week I have alternated between listening to MBDTF and Odd Future. I think 2010 will, in Hip-Hop, be remembered as the year that Kanye took maximalist rap to its greatest extreme yet (there is an argument here that Kanye is like some sort of weird pop Bomb Squad, packing sound into every imaginable corner) and OF made grimy DIY rap really fucking cool again. I’ve been theorizing about the two as opposite ends of a spectrum–though really OF represents the anti-Dre, making music from the heart and the gut at rapid speed rather than fine tuning plasticized fossils into glossy oblivion (see: Dr. Dre’s ENTIRE post-2001 output). I don’t want to wax too poetic about OF at the moment, this is Kanye’s review after all, but I think it’s helpful to see the sort of gulf that’s growing in Hip-Hop at the moment (and perhaps not for the first time). We have high budget, bright lights cinematic Hip-Hop Music (with a capital M), and lo-fi, low budget, fuck-the-standards rap. One requires 3D glasses, the other plays fine on any old TV set, if you catch me. Kanye has created one of the most accomplished, rich, and intriguing sets in recent memory. It is a real album, with considered sequencing (though I’ll argue that there’s a better sequence in which the tracks could have been placed), a discernible flow, and definite peaks and valleys. It is an emotional roller coaster and a block buster in every sense–it has action, romance, tears, and laughter. Kanye wraps pathos in beautiful and occasionally obscuring music, but comes as close to fully expressing himself in his production as I think he ever has. Though I don’t fully agree with the comparison for a number of reasons and find it largely ludicrous, I think it is telling that a good friend of mine (whattup Bayo, if you’re reading) compared Kanye to Richard Wagner. Kanye is moving steadily away from producer/rapper to entertainment iconoclast, a figure who perhaps wishes to be more baffling and illuminating than he truly is at this point in his career. MBDTF is a fascinating and highly enjoyable ride that I’ll be taking on into the New Year. I suggest you do the same.
Late breaking news from Gregston: “The album is dope, bombastic even.” Honestly, in a nut shell, that’s all you need to know about MBDTF. Go cop it.