My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is a perfect record. It’s Kanye West, one of the final purveyors of the album as a collective entity, at the peak of his expansive creative powers. It showed him at his most inquisitive, not just with the themes, textures and influences of his music, but with himself as an artist – and human being. Here was a man many claimed to know and understand following his 2009 VMA’s controversy; arrogant, brash, obnoxious, crazy, whatever. For all of the accuracy in the adjectives that were fired into the public conversation, they were, still, second-hand observations. They weren’t declarations from him. Cue My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. At almost seventy minutes long, it’s a sweeping, grandiose confessional, an intricately crafted portrait of every inch of Kanye’s psyche. For every Power, there was a Lost In The World, for every Monster, a Runaway. This was a shared space where West could brag to have fallen in love with a pornstar over a Mojo Men sample on Hell Of A Life, before borrowing Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th and an extended Chris Rock monologue to unguardedly depict the breakdown of that very relationship in Blame Game. For all of his visceral brashness, there was a vulnerability, too – a Fantasy it may have been, but it was a world built on honesty, however warped the narrative may have been.
The album’s opener is the almost-titular Dark Fantasy, a spanning piece of postmodern hip-hop that explores hedonism, money, success and popular culture, while questioning the fulfilment of such endeavour. As the track’s title suggests, it serves as an introduction for the rest of the record as a piece of music – a personalised exercise in self-awareness through the vessel of garish fiction. From Nicki Minaj’s opening nursery rhyme, to West’s existential pondering in the song’s epic hook, Dark Fantasy is a sonic hallucinogen that blurs both fact and fiction and high in low under the umbrella of a numbly decadent netherworld. Much like the body of work it belongs to, it’s a perfect piece of music. In four minute and forty-one seconds, it almost single-handedly launched the next chapter of Kanye West’s strange and bonkers story.
‘You might think you’ve peeped the scene, you haven’t / The real one’s far too mean / The watered-down one, the one you know / Was made up centuries ago’ rhymes Minaj, in a pseudo-cockney accent that’s part-fairytale, part-horror flick. Through her voiceover, the listener is introduced to the ‘twisted fiction’ that makes up the rest of the record. It’s a weird and memorable prologue, that perfectly encapsulates the song in all of its abstract ramble. From then on, however, the track belongs to Kanye and him alone. It’s a one-man show, in which the curator of this technicolour nightmare takes us on a guided tour of cars, clothes, money and Leona Lewis. West is unshackled, revelling in the post-breakdown landscape of moral ambiguity and producing some of the finest world-play in his career ( take, for example: ‘my chick in that new Phoebe Philo/ So much head, I woke up in Sleepy Hollow.) Featuring joint production from RZA, Dark Fantasty thrives as an outlandish, brooding score, providing West with the perfect instrumental platform for which to narrate. Everything is built together, and together it thrives.
Just like the album, Dark Fantasy flourishes as a piece of music because it takes the bravado as a double-edged sword. He may be gloating about the amount of oral sex he’s receiving a few lines earlier, but when West asks ‘Can we get much higher?’ during the song’s chorus, you can’t escape the emptiness of the statement. This is a song about the pain of pleasure and vice, an exploration of an individual who has given himself to the dark and doesn’t really know where that places him as a result. It’s a modern day, existentialist tragedy, set against the backdrop of sex, money and Lamborghinis. No stone in West’s mental interior is left unturned, and nothing is downplayed. My Beautiful Dark Fantasy is without doubt, his finest hour to date. This was the only way he could have started it.
Words by Niall Flynn