The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited. Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? On November 22, 2010, the music-review site Pitchfork granted Kanye West’s new album its highest distinction: a perfect 10 out of 10. The 10 is a distinction rarely bestowed – in the last decade, only four non-compilation albums have gotten such a high score. For a site that normally gives only one rap album a halfway decent score (say, an 8.5) annually (ostensibly only to appease the hip-hoppers in its audience), this review suggests that Fantasy may belong among the pantheon of greatest albums ever released.
But does that really make sense? How does an album that proclaims “Have you ever had sex with a pharaoh?/Put the pussy in a sarcophagus” (“Monster”) merit perfection? At the end of this review, critic Ryan Dombol positively bubbles “With his music and persona both marked by a flawed honesty, Kanye's man-myth dichotomy is at once modern and truly classic. ‘I can't be everybody's hero and villain, savior and sinner, Christian and anti Christ!’ he wrote earlier this month. That may be true, but he's more willing than anyone else to try.” It is perhaps true that relate-ability can elevate music from “good” to “great”, but Kanye’s album falls far short of that standard. On “Runaway”, which Dombol hails as a “rallying cry for all humanity”, guest artist Pusha T opines “I’m just young, rich, and tasteless.” I choose to focus on the line of a guest artist because here, Pusha T says in one line what takes Kanye West multiple minutes to tell you metaphorically. He seems to be informing us that he is an asshole, which should come as no surprise to anyone that pays even a minute amount of attention to pop culture. And speaking of relate-ability, I can’t help but consider the ways in which “Profit, profit, nigga I got it/Everybody know I'm a motherfucking monster/I'm a need to see your fucking hands at the concert” profoundly impact my daily existence. Which is to say, not at all. In this album, perhaps more so than any other that Kanye has ever released, the audience is overwhelmingly struck by the reality that everything that Kanye is talking about only relates to the life of Kanye West. Unless you, too, are a narcissistic pop star that was unfortunately introduced to twitter (or, as Kanye himself would expect, Michael Jackson), there is little in this that makes me reevaluate my own life in a new way. All I glean is that, somehow, Kanye realized that he was imperfect, and decided to write about it.
But wait, there’s more: “'Runaway' marks the rare moment where Kanye sides with his detractors-- if the whole world thinks he's a douchebag, well, this one time he's inclined to agree.” Whaaaaa? When did it become a best-album-ever-scale accomplishment to realize one’s inherent flaws? I would be willing to wager that better part of all music released in the last century featured at least some critical reevaluation. In fact, it’s not even that uncommon in rap music. Pitchfork also asserts that “[the album] begins to feel as if Kanye is stage-managing his own award show with enough starpower…to flatten the Grammys, the VMAs, and the rest all at once.” Seriously, if we’ve gotten to the point of evaluating this album on the starpower of its guests, then we really are hopeless. There is little value in a music review that fails to break from the context set by its own artist. And, let’s face it, we’re probably giving him too much credit. For an album that is introspective at its core, there is a lot of bravado on display – Kanye is constantly talking about his own prowess at just about anything. It’s easy for the artist (and even easier for Pitchfork, it turns out) to pass this off as irony – that Kanye’s just providing you a stereotype of himself so he can subtly undermine it later. It’s art, they’d tell you. Ironic art, however, is a total cop out. We can never know what Kanye meant, but this album is chock full of the pussy-in-a-sarcophagus stupidity that makes mainstream rap painful to listen to.
Let’s agree, please. Kanye may well be the best producer alive. And he’s not a half bad rapper – I’d choose him over 50 Cent or Lil Wayne any day. But he’s not the best ever. And that’s just the dark, twisted truth.