Kanye’s Dark Twisted Masterpiece

Despite his controversial actions over the past couple years, Kanye West is still one of the best musicians of his time.

I’ve got a bit of a problem when it comes to Kanye West. Well, not really a problem, but here it is: I’ve never been more fascinated by an artist while being so annoyed by just about everything about him. He’s the only rapper I’ve ever loved that I had zero desire to ever meet or hang out with. I mean none. Kanye is sorta the dad that buys you great presents for Christmas but doesn’t remember to take you to school or call you on your birthday.

That, of course, has nothing to do with his music. Dude’s the greatest genius rap music has seen, the biggest thing in the last 10 years of pop music (help reshape the entire sound of hip hop like he did in ‘01, and yeah, you win that one). Four albums, three classics and a miss that screamed out “the label made me do it.”

The miss is Graduation. It’s not bad. In fact, at points, it’s amazing (“Flashing Lights,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothin’,” “The Glory”). The problem is I really have no idea what it’s about. Perhaps that seems an odd complaint to make about a rap album, but that’s what Kanye got me accustomed to — concept albums on steroids.

When I talk about College Dropout, I can talk about it like it’s a book. Forget about going track to track. Let’s talk about the themes and ideas. Let’s talk about how he managed to make such an evocative record with carefully orchestrated peaks and valleys. It’s a treatise, one that goes from being inspiring to ignorant (his insecurity makes the album sound more like “The College Flunkout” at times) but never stops being sincere. It’s the blood, sweat and tears of the grind that no one saw because you hadn’t made it yet laid out with the emotions of struggle and the braggadocio fostered by the knowledge that he knew something the rest of us didn’t — that he was the baddest man working at the time.

Next comes Late Registration, which as a very “what now?” vibe to it. They say in the record biz you’ve got your whole life to do your first album, then two years to do something better. You’re no longer the regular person you were before, which is a big deal for a person that makes music as personal as Kanye’s. LR is the creep toward superstardom, “We Major” and “My Way Home,” like going back to your old high school and remembering that, while you love it, pretty much everyone but your moms is officially part of the past. It’s a bittersweet celebration, where even the fun stuff lacks a certain irreverence (save, obviously, for “Gold Digger”).

We get past Graduation and hit 808’s and Heartbreaks. . I love it, but I get why others don’t. But man, it’s so cohesive and clear, an emotional tour de force, even if it forces the irrelevant “is it a rap album?” question. It’s dope. I take that however it comes.

That brings us to My Dark Twisted Fantasy, the latest one. First day it, ummm, dropped, I got nothing but glowing reviews. I gave it a run and…no. Didn’t hit me. Decided to give it three or four more runs.

Now I can’t stop listening. I just can’t.

Problem with the first run was that I couldn’t get the idea behind it. Oh, the tracks were cool, but they sounded like a collection of songs and not a singular body of work like his best work. Once I saw the title, I figured it was done as a catch-all that pretty much let him put a bunch of songs on and do whatever.

Of course, that didn’t seem like what Kanye would do. Say what you want about his insufferable arrogance, but he’s absolutely right, and he knows it. He’s playing against himself at this point. He can do whatever he wants, come up whatever grandiose concept is in his head, and the only thing between him and making it happen is time to get it done.

That’s what prompted me to keep running it until I got it. I had to get it. Maybe that’s a standard I don’t hold others to, but nobody ever said I had to be fair.

Do I get it? Oh hell yes, I get it.

And the concept? At this point, this dude is just showing off.

What’s the bond between these tracks other than being hedonistic and incredible? Where’s the almost narrative arc of College Dropout and the obvious quest for resolution of Late Registration or 808’s?

But even without that, every single track is evocative. There are no tracks on Fantasy that are there just because they were too damn funky to leave off, even if they didn’t generate an emotion. The synths are enrapturing, the bottom is sneaky good, the hooks and bridges are perfect, and every single feature is out of sight (even the doing-too-much Minaj verse on “Monster”). The sound is dark like the title would indicate, but not heavy while remaining substantial. So soulful at points that you wonder if Ghostface was just busy, and the sincerity of the emcees matches at every turn. It sounds just right at every point, highlighting what separates Kanye from just about every rapper working: nobody can find the heartbeat of a song better than him.

Lyrically, it’s Kanye being in love with Kanye and what he can do now. The last part of that is the difference between this and his earlier work: he no longer has something to prove. The man that used to do features with people and beg for reassurance that his verse was good enough actually belongs on a track with Jigga or Rick Ross. They’re just not on his beat. They’re on his song, a part of what he’s doing. Where so much of the passion of his early records came from how hard he was trying, making even his more awkward rhymes endearing.

Now? He’s made, and you can hear it. Just check the confidence in his voice and how the bragging now comes absent the implicit request for validation. He’s really telling us who’s the boss now rather than hoping we might agree.

So yeah, I get it now. My Dark Twisted Fantasy about where Kanye West is right now in hip hop, and it’s light years ahead of everyone else. He makes smart, deep records that still manage to entertain. He emotes without whining (which I wish he could find a way to do in real life). He’s strong enough with melody that even the tracks without much bass still hit in the chest.

Like I said: he’s showing off. This is about what you can do if you’re Kanye West.

The answer: sounds like he can do pretty much anything. That would be my fantasy, too.