Song of the Day: Kanye West, "Dark Fantasy"
A couple of years back, Entertainment Weekly put out an issue called All Time Greats, wherein we sought to name the 100 best movies, TV shows, albums, and books of all time. I left my mark on that list in two different ways. First, I insisted that if we were going to have a Beatles album at number one (a practice that is more or less automatic at this point), it would not be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (which I think is overrated, but I mostly wanted to leave it off as a nose-thumbing to Rolling Stone) but rather Revolver, a more difficult but also more rewarding (and in my mind better) collection of songs.
My other big contribution to that list was insisting that Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy sneak into the top 10. My logic went thusly: Hip-hop is the second most important genre to arise in the 20th century (after rock and roll), and since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was the best rap album of all time, then it had to stand ahead of entries like Nirvana's Nevermind and the Beach Boys Pet Sounds (man, did people hate it when they saw Kanye was ahead of Pet Sounds). As much as it broke my heart to have Kanye so far ahead of Metallica's Master of Puppets on the list, I was confident of my convictions in the list-making process.
I'm still adamant about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. As much as I love and acknowledge the importance of collections like Biggie's Ready to Die, Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, Nas' Illmatic, Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Eric B. & Rakim's Paid in Full, De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, and Jay Z's The Blueprint, Kanye's 2010 release stands head and shoulders above all of them. It's worth reliving just for the subtextual narrative: A year after drunkenly (and jubilantly) pissing on white America at the MTV Video Music Awards by crashing a Taylor Swift acceptance speech, Kanye emerged from his self-imposed exile to mourn the loss of his mother and culminate his G.O.O.D. Fridays series, which counts as the most urgent music of his career.
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is 99 percent perfect. The one bit of imperfection? The dumb-as-hell intro speech by Nicki Minaj, delivered in her stupid almost-British accent. But once that 23-second nightmare is over, what's left is 70 straight minutes of lushly-crafted, hip-shaking, neck-snapping, head-tripping beats and West's rare combination of bravado, self-loathing, and one-liners (has there been a funnier line in hip-hop in the 21st century than "Too many Urkels on your team/ That's why your wins low"?). I wrote about the rise of depression in hip-hop last year, and what I didn't say then was that West is the forefather of the movement, beginning with 2008's 808s & Heartbreak and cresting with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It's an album about celebrity and loss and sex and drugs, and it takes a guy with balls the size of West's to properly balance those spinning plates and deliver all those elements in the form of a shout-along chorus.
Kanye's new album arrives later this week, and he just changed the title again. It was originally going to be called So Help Me God, then got changed to Swish, and then two weeks ago it changed again to Waves. I'm partial to Swish, but the new title's initials are TLOP, and he's hoping people will guess the title. Here are my guesses:
Two Licks of Pudding (I assume it's a Bill Cosby concept album)
The Life of Pi (Kanye really likes digital tigers)
Ten Lassos or Pistols (It's Kanye's Western; he probably loved The Hateful Eight)
Twelve Legs on Pumas (Kanye doesn't understand animal biology)
Threat Level: Octopus Pirates (Kanye's concept of terrorism is odd)
To Limp Our Putterfly (Kanye saw the number of Grammy nominations Kendrick got)
Ten Lessons on Pain (Actually, that's a pretty good title, isn't it?)