Five Years On Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' Is Still My Favourite Album Of All Time

Written By Sam Murphy on 11/26/2015

mybeautifuldarkIn 2010, the art of the album was dying. Of course, there were still artists making great albums but the music world was still learning how to deal with the rising number of one-song consumers enabled by iTunes and the death of the physical CD. In 2015, it seems that people are less keen to declare the death of the album. Kendrick Lamar, Tame Impala, Jamie xx, Björk and many more have released phenomenal album with almost no debate surrounding about the need for an album.

In 2010, I questioned the need for an album. I was fast becoming a Soundcloud scroller and became more and more obsessed with the daily cycle of new music. I’d listen to hundreds of songs a day, most of which I’d forget, leaving me little time to sit down and delve into an album. There were two records that year that changed that for me - Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

The two records perfected the album format, proving the need for sonic narrative and a story that endures longer than a four minute song. Arcade Fire was good, one of the best of my generation even, but Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one step further - it’s a masterpiece.

It only takes the record 20 seconds to prove the necessity of the album. It begins like a feature film with Nicki Minaj’s twisted narration immediately followed by Charlie Wilson’s vocals and a form of instrumental grandeur unmatched in the hip-hop world at the time. It’s like in front of our eyes, West was painting a perfect renaissance-inspired painting and every little detail counted. Dark Fantasy is instrumental to the album’s perfection. Had it been placed anywhere else on the tracklisting, the record’s quality would’ve been diminished.

It introduced us to a sound as big as West’s personality. That one song set the benchmark for the whole album and used every tool in his kit. Every song that then followed used that same kit with the goal being perfection.

“No one man should have all this power,” Yeezy raps on the first single Power backed by tribal cries. It’s a huge chest-puff but he justifies it time and time again. When the instrumental got bigger, West rapped harder and when we’re simply left with silence he made his words profound. It’s like every moment of the album was perfectly calculated - put together like a puzzle without one piece missing.

At the time I wasn’t a hip-hop fan. Tupac died when I was four, the only Jay Z album I recall from my childhood was his Linkin Park mash-up and Graduation passed me by. I needed an entry point to hip-hop in order to go back and discover the genre and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy provided that. Maybe because it was so much more than a hip-hop record - it collided every genre to make something unlike anything at the time. All Of The Lights was twisted pop, Hell Of A Life was rock ‘n roll and Blame Game was jazz. Hip-Hop was the core but Kanye’s dreams were what made it colourful and that’s why it was accessible.

You get a feeling on the record that every feature knew they were a part of something special. Not one person lets it down. Pusha T brings even more beauty to Runaway, So Appalled gives Jay Z one of his last memorable verses and Rihanna found personality and attitude on the All The Lights hook. In sport, people say when you play someone better than you and makes you play harder. If that’s true then this record was a sport.

Of course, I can’t make a comment like that without mentioning Nicki Minaj’s verse on Monster. One week out from her debut album, people already knew she was good but not this good. She embodied the spirit of Dark Twisted Fantasy adopting several characters in the space of one verse leaving three of the biggest rappers in the game in her shadows. It’s spectacular but throughout her career Minaj has always been a fighter and that spirit came out here in full force.

People say too many cooks spoil the broth and that may be true but here, even though there were heaps of people in the kitchen, there was only one head chef - Yeezy. He directed everyone perfectly to make sure each had their moment. Maybe that comes from being a producer - he’s always focussed on how to get the best out of people.

What so many hip-hop albums, and albums in general in fact, fail to do is balance more aggressive moments with the softer. This album does that perfectly. On Runaway, West begins with a simple one note and then expands to two before denouncing himself. It’s the most beautifully humble moment of the record, one that expands over nine minutes. That’s then followed by one of the most aggressive moments - Hell Of A Life. Driven by a Black Sabbath sample, West raps, “make her knees shake, make a priest faint.” Within the space of two songs he goes from heaven to hell. He’s always been wildly unpredictable in public and this is his first album that really captured that.

As mentioned up top, if this was a film it needed an ending and Kanye gave us exactly that. Lost In The World is one of the most beautiful, sprawling pieces of music he’s ever made. It was lonely and emotional but also had a rebellious spirit built by tribal drums and Bon Iver’s howling vocal. Again, it wouldn’t have worked anywhere else in the album but right at the end. It’s the final brush-stroke of his masterpiece.

Dark Twisted Fantasy tracks the pros and cons of fame and fortune which is not something everybody can relate to the feeling of being trapped in your own mind. There was something freeing about this final climax which, even if momentary, was the best feeling in the world. This song still gives me chills when I listen to the record from start to finish. It’s arguably one of the best closing statements of an album ever.

There are few songs in the world that rely as heavily on the album format as these songs do. Not because they’re weak on their own but because they’re so much stronger as part of this perfect set.

On My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West uses his imperfections to create perfection. The exploration of human flaws from arrogance to douchebaggery was honest and eloquent, made by a man who makes music because he cares about its larger existence as an art form. You get the feeling he cared endlessly about every aspect of this album and that’s why I care so much.

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