Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

It seems abundantly clear that Kanye West is an ass. It is also amply clear, with the release of his gnarly, brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, that no one in hip-hop has mastered the role of the self-hating villain as well as West.

In one of the album's most ingenious moments, we see a collusion of its two extremes: glorious pop and overblown experimentation. As the lecherous, glittery slow jam "Devil in a New Dress" is followed by the swollen, orchestral and somber pop masterpiece "Runaway," you hear the album's impressive shifts from the sublime to the grotesque.

In a contemporary pop world where the Biebers and Swifts are doing their best to lull the masses into an inoculated illusion, West is a necessary, snarling approbation from the wings. The throbbing, terrifying standout "Monster" is pop at its most savage. These are neither easy nor happy times, and West seems compelled to shout that from the main stage. On the dark techno bump of "So Appalled," West blasts saccharine pop with sputtering economy, barking, "That's why another goddamn dance track gotta hurt."

But people don't take sanctimonious, droll criticisms from the rich and famous, so West never sacrifices melody or nimble delivery in favor of message. Whether plowing his words through the tribal, urgent grind of "Power," Auto-Tuning his loneliness with Bon Iver on the glorious "Lost in the World," or moaning to the operatic bathos of "All of the Lights," West is deft in wrapping a poignant message in an engulfing soundscape.


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