By JOSHUA LAWSON
If Kanye West is a superstar then his latest effort, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” is his grasp at hyper-stardom.
The album is teeming with a star-studded cast of guest artists and beats that remind the world that while West may be famous for his obnoxious ego, he’s truly successful because of his ingenious production. His inflated ego is still present here in spades, peppered across lines referencing everyone from Michael Jackson to the writers of “South Park,” but when West claims to be the best in the game with an album as good as “Fantasy,” it’s hard to fault him.
Yet West’s music isn’t entirely self-absorbed, as a majority of the tracks on “Fantasy” incorporate samples from other songs, like Aphex Twin’s “Avril 14,” Smokey Robinson’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man.”
When the album’s first single, “Power,” was released several months ago, it assured fans that West had moved away from the heavily criticized style of his last album, “808’s and Heartbreak.” But if “Power” simply strays away from his previous auto-tuned, minimalist effort, then the epic “All of the Lights” races away from it at full speed.
“All of the Lights” reaches for the musical stratosphere, boasting more than ten prestigious guest performers, from Drake to La Roux, as well as an orchestra of violins, cellos, French horns, flutes and more. The fact that “Lights” is able to refrain from collapsing in on itself from the sheer amount of sonic activity is a testament to West’s undeniable skill as a producer.
Other, less complex, standouts include “Monster” and “So Appalled,” which serve as breaths of fresh air amid other modern hip-hop outings. Both feature well-crafted beats throughout while guest performers display their lyrical chops between choruses in what feels like the hip-hop equivalent of a jam session.
“Devil in a New Dress” finds a relaxing, mellow niche somewhere between rap and lounge music before the album descends into darker territory with “Runaway.” At nine minutes in length, “Runaway” may test the patience of some, but the eerie instrumentation does a good job of holding the listeners attention throughout. The same cannot be said, however, for guest performer Pusha-T’s uninspired, juvenile attempt at a verse on this otherwise seamless track.
In fact, many of the low points on “Fantasy” are a result of poor performances on the part of guest artists. In addition to Pusha-T’s “Runaway” blemish, relative newcomer Nicki Minaj comes off as goofy and spasmodic during her verse on “Monster” and Chris Rock overstays his welcome at the end of the generally enjoyable “Blame Game.”
While the length of many of the new songs yields rewarding results more often than not, sometimes it feels unnecessary given the amount of time that is thrown away on poor performances such as those.
That said, many of the guest performances are phenomenal. Elton John’s fantastic piano and Rihanna’s impressive vocals add exciting flavor to “All of the Lights,” West’s mentor, Jay-Z, name-drops the “Dark Knight” on a terrific verse during “So Appalled” and West’s protege, Kid Cudi, carries the chorus of “Gorgeous.”
While the inconsistency of the album’s guest stars is at times frustrating, West and his latest opus remain consistent in its offering of an interesting and eclectic musical pallet unlike anything else on the hip-hop or pop market.
West has done more than create a solid bunch of songs; he’s crafted a coherent album with minimal drag from start to finish. It’s extremely enjoyable and reminds us why we put up with his ridiculous ego and allow him to act a fool on national television.
5 out of 5 stars.