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"Outrageous, Shameless Genius": 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' at 10

Today, Nov. 22, 2020, marks the 10 year anniversary of the release of Kanye West’s masterpiece My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and much has changed for him in that time: marriage, four kids, eight fashion collections, a half-hearted attempt at a presidential campaign, as well as the development and diagnosis of mental health issues. However, other things, like his ubiquitous presence in the media and his unwavering confidence in his project and ideas have remained more or less consistent since 2010.    

Kanye West had something to prove when he released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In 2009, his first conflict with Taylor Swift occurred when he interrupted her acceptance speech for Best Music Video at the VMA’s. He declared that she was undeserving of the award and that it should have gone to Beyoncé who had, according to him, “one of the best videos of all time.” West was torn apart by the media despite his apology to Swift, which she accepted. Feeling that his actions were a symptom of the pressures of fame, he entered a self-imposed exile, first to Japan, then Hawaii, where he began recording his album.

In Hawaii, West entered a period of rigorous self-discipline in both his music and his routine. There was fear among Kanye’s fans that his arrogance outweighed the genuine talent he possessed. Rather than attempt to humble himself, he chose to prove that his skill and abilities were as great as he professed. 

It’s no surprise then that the album's production is meticulous. Kanye flawlessly uses a wide range of samples from King Crimson, Bon Iver, Black Sabbath, Aphex Twin, James Brown, Smokey Robinson, and the movie Napoleon Dynamite. The immaculate production culminates on “All of the Lights”, which is an ostentatious composition of vocals from John Legend, Alicia Keys, Fergie, Elton John, Drake, Kid Cudi, and Rihanna

MBDTF is the peak of Kanye West’s perpetual obsession with his own fame—its grandeur and excess, the spectacle of stardom that he has wholeheartedly maintained his entire career. This fixation is expressed in maximalism, a philosophy that professes “more is more,” something West undoubtedly endorses. His lyricism, an aspect of his music that West is not typically lauded for, is impeccable on multiple tracks, most notably, “Dark Fantasy” and “Gorgeous.” While Kanye’s tracks are never short of wit, MBDTF tells poetic stories. Some, like “Runaway” and “Blame Game,” speak to the more detestable sides of people’s nature but are still perversely relatable. 

Most tracks are unique to the life of excess and debauchery. West extols this lifestyle in songs like “Hell of A Life,” rapping “One day I'm gon' marry a porn star/ We'll have a big *ss crib and a long yard/ We'll have a mansion and some fly maids." He publicly revels in the chaos of celebrity life, but also often laments the effects of its immorality and corruption. It may be difficult to feel sympathy for him when the world is starving and burning and dying of thirst, but the progression of West’s life over the last ten years indicates an undoubtable truth in his words. 

In some ways, it is hard to connect the Kanye West of the early 2000s with the one that exists now. While he has always been a proponent of capitalism, consumerism, and materialism, West also used to be more vocal about the institutions that burdened him growing up as a young Black man in Chicago. In 2005, during a televised telethon for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, West said, unprompted, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” Then in 2016, he endorsed Trump, a president who is seen by many as the antithesis of movements like Black Lives Matter. In fact, he had called out the duplicitous nature of Donald Trump on the MBDTF track “So Appalled,” rapping, “I'm so appalled Spalding ball/ Balding Donald Trump, takin' dollars from y'all.” So, what changed? Perhaps he found camaraderie in someone who’s also obsessively devoted to reiterating his unfiltered thoughts and emotions through Twitter. 

MBDTF could be recognized as the beginning of this version of Kanye West, who is not just aware of his fame and success but possessed by it. He embraces the concept of his life as a performance, accepting its pleasure and excitement as well as its repulsiveness. Now, it is infused into everything he does. Unlike other celebrities who profit off of their lives being public, like his wife, Kim Kardashian, there is no filter between himself as a person and himself as an entertainer. 

Part of the ethos of MBDTF is the spiritual abyss that has formed as a result of his consumerist lifestyle. His recent foray into preaching at his “Sunday Service,” or his presidential campaign, could be an effort to answer this void. But these things too, done in Kanye West’s style, are stamped with pageantry and theatricality. 

While Kanye West’s dramatics may have changed greatly over the past decade, his desire to fulfill the prophecy of greatness that he has bestowed upon himself has not. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, incredibly complex, deliberate, and masterful, is already cemented as a classic in the hip-hop canon. Yet, it is also the marker of West’s full absorption of his persona as an outrageous, shameless genius.   


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