Imagine someone living in a vacuum in which the only world they knew was 2020. Imagine telling that person that ten years ago, presidential candidate Kanye West released perhaps the greatest album of the decade, one of the greatest albums of the 21st century so far and one of the greatest rap albums of all time. That person would probably laugh and call you crazy.
But that is exactly what happened ten years ago today. West’s prolific My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was released ten years ago today, and a decade later the album still remains as shockingly brilliant as it is egocentric and outlandish. Like today, the state of West’s public image at the time of the release of the album was contentious at best; he made headlines the year before when he infamously interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the 2009 MTV VMA’s, and he was just introducing the world to Twitter Kanye, an entity fans are all too familiar with today. Despite the critics, West did was West has always done and will always do: say “fuck you!” to everyone who doubts him while doubling down on himself. This approach has not always worked for West (how did he do in the election?), but in 2010 it certainly did. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a perfect culmination of West’s insane yet sometimes awe-inspiring energy, and the album is not only a triumph of rap, but a triumph of music.
The album begins right away with both a beautiful musical melody and staunch rapping, as “Dark Fantasy” serves as a near perfect introduction of the album. The recognizable melody of the chorus of the song is juxtaposed by the beat drop that introduces a seemingly classic hip hop beat for West to rap over. His first lines, “I fantasized ’bout this back in Chicago / Mercy, mercy me, that Murciélago / That’s me the first year that I blow / How you say broke in Spanish? Mi no hablo,” lets the listener know exactly what is on West’s mind: his money, success and ego. These themes are prevalent throughout the entire album, and his cocky aura is only made bearable due to the beauty of the music behind the lyrics. All at once West embraces stunning melodic brilliance with lyrical precision, not just on “Dark Fantasy” but also on “Gorgeous,” “POWER,” “So Appalled,” “Hell Of A Life” and “Blame Game.” Whether West is taking aim at race, religion, greed, celebrity culture or fame in American society, he is always embedding his unique perspective with creative and flowing lyricism that works over classic beats as well as melodic ones. West is right in the middle of fame and fortune, and while he has benefitted from the glamour and glitz of celebrity culture in American society, he still recognizes the massive flaws that exist in our society that not even a celebrity as big as West can escape.
It is rare for rap albums to contain more than one song that highlights a melodic approach, and nearly half of MBDTF shows some sort of melodic embrace without sacrificing any of the lyrical content. However, while the thematic elements of the album are important both ten years ago and today, perhaps more impactful than the lyrical content of the album is the musical content. West’ lyrics have often caused him to be a polarizing figure both ten years ago and today, but while his lyrics are able to resonate with some and not with others, his music has the ability to resonate with all listeners. West’s “All Of The Lights” remains a staple of music today because of its iconic melody and chorus. “Lost In The World” sees West completely diverting from rap and taking on an entirely new style of music with the help of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. The result is not only beautiful, but also a completely fresh sound for Kanye that remains familiar through West’s production. Perhaps the two greatest songs of the album, “Runaway” and “Devil In A New Dress,” are both held in such high esteem not only for the content of the raps, but for the musical breaks that occur in each song, as well as the melodic lines. “Runaway” opens with perhaps the most recognizable melody of any song made in the last ten years, and although the melody is quite simple, its simplicity allows it to not only shine in the intro on its own, but also during the second half of the song. Over the same chord progressions, West uses his voice as a musical instrument, and delivers a beautifully intense solo over a string and piano accompaniment. The result is not only symphonic, but quite truly perhaps the most beautiful sequence of music to be written in the past ten years, and maybe the 21st century. One of the only songs that rivals the beauty of “Runaway” is “Devil In A New Dress,” although the song is somewhat unassuming in the beginning as it sounds like another typical rap song. However, halfway into the song, the beat, which is a Smokey Robinson sample, changes into a simple guitar, string and piano accompaniment, a perfect musical backdrop to let an epic guitar solo courtesy of producer Mike Dean to shine through. The solo is very melodic and flowing, and it both captures the melody of the song while allowing the listener’s imagination to carry on with his or her own thoughts before Rick Ross begins his verse. While the music interlude is not as long as that of “Runaway,” its effect on the listener is the same, and both songs’ use of melody and instrumentation is truly masterful. West’s lyrics and actions always have and always will strike different chords with different people, but nearly everyone can appreciate the music genius of West.
Looking back at the state of rap in 2010, the use of melody in rap increased significantly as artists like Drake, Young Thug, Anderson .Paak and other big names have embraced the use of melody in their raps. Without the influence of MBDTF, the massive wave of melodic rap that surged during the previous decade is perhaps not possible. There is no denying the impact that the album has had on not only rap as an art form, but also rap and its relationship with music. More and more are artists looking to incorporate live instruments into their music, and some of today’s biggest rappers, like .Paak, are musicians themselves. Of course, the rap game is still a ways away from fully integrating with other forms of music, but albums like MBDTF have been pioneering in demonstrating how well rap could pair with pure music. Just as the best classic rock bands of the 60’s and 70’s were masters of incorporating provocative and poetic lyrics with masterful instrumentation, melody and harmony, so to may the rappers of the future be masters of blending supreme lyricism and flow with live instrumentation. If rap music ever greatly moves in such a direction, rap historians will look back to West’s MBDTF as an album ahead of its time due to its use of melody, instrumentation and music to highlight the already stellar rapping.
Listen to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy below:
I have just completed my senior year at the University of Michigan majoring in international studies with an emphasis in political economics and development, with a minor in Chinese language and culture, and I have recently been accepted into the Berklee School of Music’s masters of music business program. Although economics, politics and history are all academic interests of mine, I consider music to be my true passion.
Music has always been my passion, and it is a driving force for the way I think, act, and conduct myself on a daily basis. I have been playing the clarinet and saxophone since the age of ten, and the ability to play music at a high level has allowed me to embrace music on a multitude of levels. I am both an avid player and listener of music, and I find myself constantly in search of new artists who bring something new and different to the art form, and writing about new music has become a new outlet for me to explore what is going on in the musical world.