Music Review: The beautiful dark twisted fantasy of Kanye West

I have observed an interesting phenomenon. It seems that people occasionally define their musical tastes in terms of what genres they avoid. On more than one occasion I’ve heard the words “anything except rap, pop, country… etc.” spoken as though the speaker were proselytizing.

In the modern age we can thank Michael Jackson for the idea that the greatest records transcend simplistic genre-tags. When he released Thriller in 1982 it paved the way for innovative pop music that could draw from a wide swath of the musical world. Fast-forward nearly 30 years: Kanye West finds himself standing on the shoulders (and in the shadow) of the late Jackson.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy topped many 2010 end-of-the-year lists from music critics at all levels. Ego, Twitter, and PR stunts aside, West managed to put together a record that has more thematic intrigue than anything else on the Top 40 stations.

This is not your run-of-the-mill hip-hop record; it has orchestral, rock, indie, spoken word, and electronic elements with a slew of guest appearances to match. While several songs are poised to be radio singles (“POWER,” “All of the Lights,” and “Monster” to name a few), it is the overarching drama of Fantasy that makes it a full-album experience. Prior it its release, Fantasy made the jump to a visual medium; the nearly 10-minute “Runaway” served as the apex for West’s 40-minute art-film of the same name.

Lyrics about fame, loss, regret, pride, and uncertainty thread their way through the record as styles shift from track-to-track. The album closes on what I would personally consider to be the best song of 2010: “Lost in the World.” Beginning from Bon Iver’s “Woods,” West builds tribal beats into a four-on-the-floor dance. Winding in lyrics from Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” the circle comes back in on itself as West orchestrates a denouement that pays homage to his predecessor while maintaining a striking air of modernity.

Overall it’s the kind of record that should seriously make genre-limited listeners reconsider their stuffiness. Even if hip-hop isn’t your style, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy may change your mind.

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