Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Once upon a time, Kanye West was the ideal crossover rapper. He wasn’t a grandstanding thug rapping about moving coke supplies and shooting dudes and he came from a production background so his tunes seemed to be constantly ahead of the curve. In short, he was exciting.

Of course then came a whole lot of external shit that seemingly overshadowed the man’s music including some serious autotune overload, a ballooning ego and a few public meltdowns. But after nearly a year out of the spotlight working on becoming ‘a doper person’ and preparing his fifth album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye is back in full force, once again demanding your attention and this time he’s more than deserving of it.

After the downbeat curveball that was 808s & Heartbreak – which actually holds up better now than it did on first listen in 2008 – the thing that’s immediately striking about My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is its sonic breadth. It’s honestly awesome to hear Kanye traipsing over a smorgasbord of sounds on the album from the choral-backed clatter of Power to the dirty electronic bass of Hell Of A Life or Blame Game with its piano tinkles borrowed from Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th.

This stylistically varied approach drives the album to great effect with Kanye popping out tunes for all occasions including the radio-ready smash All Of The Lights and the nodding album opener Dark Fantasy, which was produced by RZA and feels like the rapper’s homage to classic hip hop.

As well as a reinvigorated production palette, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy also finds Kanye in magnetic form on the mic, holding his own with his featured guests like Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Raekwon and Pusha T where as previously he might’ve wilted. While Kanye can never be the underdog he once was, the events that torched his public profile in 2009 have humbled him somewhat. He’s still rapping about how good he has it – with familiar themes of cars, culture and coochie and how he’s master of all three pervading his rhymes – but there’s definitely chinks in his Armani armour, a pain behind his swaggering bravado.

To Kanye’s credit he doesn’t shy away from these conflicts, scraping the dirt from his wounds on compelling album highlights such as Runaway and Lost In The World, and it makes for a rewardingly honest journey across the record. It’s this kind of courage that makes My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy a great record. In spite of his public standing and perhaps his better judgement, Kanye tries a little of everything here, doing it all in his own inimitable style. He’s exciting once again.