CD Review: Kanye West


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**** out of *****

"Let's have a toast for the douche bags," Kanye West pleads in his epic-nine minute ballad of egocentrism titled "Runaway." Does he deserve one? That's the question his latest album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, tries to answer.

Some would be quick to point out that it appears as if whenever the artist isn't rapping, he's doing everything he can to sabotage any good public persona. In the last year alone, West's onstage interruption of Taylor Swift even prompted our president to declare Yeezy a "jackass." But West's honesty in this song admits to us that his ego is his sole motivation and the reason he's able to crank out hit after hit. And so we behold his fantasy, a 70-minute attempt to persuade us to cherish his crazy antics and perhaps prove once and for all that he will never be able to separate arrogance and music, which is probably a good thing.

The first toast goes to the album's ability to seamlessly transition into each song smoothly, allowing each track to stand on its own and overshadow any dull moments. His fantasy begins rather calmly with the Wu-Tang's RZA influenced opener "Dark Fantasy" and the laid-back cockiness of "Gorgeous." There are no traces of 808 & Heartbreak in these songs; West goes back to his playful College Dropout roots with snooty lines referencing sitcoms old and new with "Too many Urkels on your team, that's why you're Winslow" and "Get caught with 30 rocks, the cop look like Alec Baldwin."

The album then switches up tones with the first single of the album, "Power," a darker track that goes back and forth between a call to arms for our nation and West basically giving the middle finger to anyone who's made him mad (watch out, "Saturday Night Live" cast). This is where we find Kanye accepting his role as the "abomination of the Obama nation," because at the end of the day he has "the power to make life exciting," which is something no one can argue with. (Right, Taylor?)

The fantasy gets darker the further one goes, exploring West's trust issues and relationship problems on tracks such as "Devil In a New Dress" and "Blame Game." If 808 & Heartbreak was his immediate response to ending a long-term relationship, "Fantasy" is a realization that jealousy and passion will always be with him, whether it's referring to the women in his life or his music.

The second toast goes to his wide variety of influences that help twist his dark fantasy. The samples range from metal legends Black Sabbath on "Hell of a Life" to indie woodsmen Bon Iver on "Lost in the World." The guest stars on the album feature some of hip-hop's finest, including Jay-Z, Kid Cudi, and the breakthrough act of the year, Nicki Minaj, all of whom stop at nothing to steal the spotlight from Kanye. A toast for Minaj as well, who steals the show on the album's party anthem "Monster," with her off-the-wall schizophrenic rap style that validates her presence alongside H.O.V.A. and Yeezy.

The final toast goes to West for not only accepting that he is a complete jerk but for also helping us understand that this is who he is and is why he will continue to provide good music. Whether he's beefing with Matt Lauer or defending his love for fish sticks, he has the songs and substance to back up any over-exuberance of swagger. So cheers, Yeezy, here's to celebrating your arrogance and spontaneity as well as to putting out the rap album of the year.

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