Jonah: So, I don’t really know where to start with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the new album by an up-and-coming young artist named Kanye West. The ridiculous album art? The first perfect score from P4K in a decade? The fact that I can’t stop listening to “Monster?” On a macro level, what I find so compelling about this record is that Kanye seems to have spent the last year reading every negative thing written about it and decided “you guys are right, I’m an awful person.” Am I reading too much into it? Is it possible to hear Kanye The Musician WITHOUT hearing Kanye The Public Crazy Person? What are your thoughts on MBDTF?
Michael: I’m with you, lost on where to begin. There’s so much hype surrounding this record, most of it based on its egomaniacal author. I can tell you that after my first listen, I was impressed on several levels, but I didn’t get up on my roof and sing Kanye’s praises to the world. On second listen, I was further impressed, yet there’s still several things that are far from perfect for me. On one hand, I think you have the first great rap album of the 2010s, the record that will change the way rap sounds and is perceived for this decade. But on the other hand, I hear songs that go on too long and childish or poorly conceived lyrics coming from Ye that lack the power songs like “All Falls Down” or even “Stronger” had. Do you think Kanye has traded in better music for weaker lyrics? How do you compare him to the hit machine that made The College Dropout?
J: I definitely agree about songs going on too long, being too childish, and generally feeling overstuffed (case in point, the Chris Rock monologue about how happy he is Kanye improved his sex life by sleeping with some woman first at the end of the otherwise bleak and powerful “Blame Game”) and yet, its Kanye’s inability to stop himself that makes MBDTF such a compelling and singular listen. I think all of it – Kanye’s need to load every song with every idea, his attempts/desire to sing like MJ even though he can’t, his weak and goofy lyrics (which aren’t exactly a totally new development – klondike/blonde dyke? – although they grated on me more here), his inability to censor himself – are what allows Kanye to release such consistently singular and compelling music. Its weird to listen to College Dropout and hear where Kanye was then compared to now, but I think the crucial difference is that Yeezy lost interest in being a rapper/producer somewhere along the line and decided he’d rather be a pop star/performance artist. Which Kanye do you prefer? When you look back at what he’s done since Graduation, does it seem like he’s been trying to figure out exactly what kind of musician he wants to be? Is MBDTF the answer?
M: It’s interesting that you ask that, because all along, I’ve thought of MBDTF as Kanye’s return the past successes he had on his first three records. Yet the more I listen to it, the more I find it a culmination of it all: one part the ambitious producer (“Lost in the World”/”Who Will Survive in America”), one part unstoppable hitmaker (“Power”), one part tortured artist (“Runaway”), and one part introspective minimalist (“Blame Game”). It’s all these things combined that lead me to think this is Kanye’s strongest complete album to date. It’s by no means flawless, but I think this is what he’s been gradually building to throughout his entire career. I think that anyone that thinks Kanye isn’t that bright is wrong. He’s just a man with an ego that overshadows his brilliance. Not to knock Lil Wayne, but he could never in a million years put out a record as complex on so many levels as MBDTF. I love Jay-Z, but while the production of his recent albums may match MBDTF, his lyrics haven’t been this deep or real in years. So Jonah, I’ll pose to you my last questions: is Kanye West the best popular artist today and should MBDTF be added to the pantheon of great rap albums?
J: Kanye is certainly the pop star I’m most compelled by and, although its too early too tell, MBDTF feels like its my favorite Kanye album. I think what separates Kanye from his peers is his ability/willingness to step aside, which is at odds with his egomaniac persona. But look at “Monster,” where Kanye is basically content to play barker and ringleader while ceding the spotlight to an elder statesman (my favorite Jay-Z verse since his “retirement”?) and young guns (Nicki Minaj nearly walks off with the whole album), yet the song is still distinctly Kanye. He doesn’t have the flow of Lil Wayne and he’s not as adorably off-center as Big Boi (who made this year’s other hip hop record of the year contender) but Kanye thinks about music in such a fascinating and distinctive way that I feel challenged and engaged by him in a way I simply don’t by his contemporaries on the pop charts. Kanye has turned his unique turmoil into something universal and identifiable; My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a record for the douchebag asshole scumbag in all of us.
Michael’s Score: 89
Jonah’s Score: 86
TUIW Grade: A