Kanye West's 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy': Read EW's review

kanyeFans who sifted through the official singles, televised short film, and free downloads that Kanye West released this fall are already familiar with most of the songs contained on his fifth album. Even so, students of pop culture will be missing out if they don’t listen to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in its finished form. West has tricked out these tracks with sharper verses and grander instrumental interludes, then lined them up in a sequence that demands to be heard from start to finish. Songs that might have felt self-indulgent or tossed-off in other contexts are now essential components of a soundly built structure—easily his most consistently compelling full-length since 2005′s Late Registration.

This review will appear in the next issue of Entertainment Weekly. Click through to the jump to read the rest.

West begins Fantasy with a flashback. “I fantasized about this back in Chicago” are his first words on the opener, evoking his now-distant pre-fame years. He spends the rest of the album exploring the sounds that have defined his work since then. The luxurious soul of 2004′s The College Dropout, the symphonic pomp of Late Registration, the gloss of 2007′s Graduation, and the emotionally exhausted electro of 2008′s 808s & Heartbreak all recur at various points, as if to remind us of his achievements.

But those echoes of past styles don’t mean West is repeating himself. He is ravenous for fresh inspiration, and the last four decades of music are on the menu. He samples atmospheric noodling from Aphex Twin and bombastic nuggets from Black Sabbath and King Crimson, and he gets help from some of the biggest names in pop, rap, and indie rock. West crafts these influences into a fever dream with a crescendo around every corner—the Beautiful Fantasy of the album’s title.

So what makes West’s new music so Dark and Twisted? Nothing much, unless you pay attention to his outrageously hedonistic lyrics. The rapper makes only a handful of explicit references to the damage his image sustained after he interrupted Taylor Swift at the 2009 VMAs. But while he’s sounded humbled in recent interviews, his attitude on Fantasy couldn’t be more different. If anything, he appears even more narcissistic on critic-baiting tunes like “Gorgeous” (where he threatens to “choke a South Park writer with a fish stick” and declares, “I need more drinks and less lights/And that American Apparel girl in just tights”) and “Hell of a Life” (in which he imagines “marry[ing] a porn star”).

Yet the ruthlessly self-indicting “Runaway,” expanded to nine minutes from the version he debuted at this year’s VMAs, complicates Fantasy‘s intermittent ugliness. “You’ve been putting up with my s— just way too long,” he admits to a girlfriend, or maybe the entire listening public, before leading a bitterly ironic “toast for the douchebags” in the chorus. It’s a dose of harsh reality that casts the excesses around it in a new light. West may be obnoxious, but at least he’s interested in confronting those aspects of his identity through his music. Few stars of comparable wattage would dare do the same. A

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

More from EW.com:
Kanye West cancels Today show performance
Kanye West on Today show: Watch the interview he called “brutal”

Comments (244 total) Add your comment
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  • Twitter-Entertainment2u

    it’s a shame he is such a baby – because he is talented. but his baby personality ruins it for me. i just cant stand him.

    • Eynak

      I lurves me some of his baby personality.

      • Miss Talk

        As a big fan of Kanye, I am not in love of his baby personality but I don’t mind it either.
        It’s like wanting Michael Jackson without his plastic surgeries, Beyoncé without her sexy-fierce-revealing outfits, rock’n’roll legends without their you-know-what (back in the day, of course), Celine Dion without her tirades.
        Those are (extremely) talented people. We have to deal with the whole package.

      • psychoanalyzer

        True words, Miss Talk. Kanye’s crazy is obnoxiously loud at times though that even as a huge fan of his, I find myself wanting to slap him pretty often. Actually, I’d rather he just take his meds and chill after the musical magic and the mania subsides.

      • jason

        If you’ll think back, while MJ gained new fans as time went on, he also lost many fans when the surgeries got ridiculous. Who listens to Celine Dion anymore? Willing to bet that has something to do with her rants (and that song). The antics/hysterics get old, and people do get turned off by it. His crybaby ways are why I can’t say the name of a single one of his songs/albums that aren’t listed above. Sadly, if you aren’t a fan of the genre, you only know him by his antics, and not by his “talent”.

    • ashley

      lol, yeah, i think it was stephen colbert who called him an ‘emotional china doll.’ too true- but he has mad skills nontheless.

      • Ben

        Mad skills? Is this 1993? Is he also wicked bad?

      • MultiPass

        borrrrring. he sucks

      • Mad Skillz

        Mad Skillz is still as relevant a term today as it was in 1993. If you were from the streets Ben, you would know this.

    • Kevin

      Couldn’t agree more… the dude is incredibly talented but I refuse to give him any of my money because of his childish attitude. I gladly part ways with my cash for artists who deserve it but Kanye is one of the reasons I’m glad there are alternate ways to download music for “free”.

      • cj

        your a jackass. kanye isnt perfect, but who is? you shouldnt care about how he acts, if he makes good music and you enjoy it, then buy it.

      • MC

        no one is perfect, but few are as narcissistic and pompous as kanye. i agree with kevin, i just don’t like the dude, so i’m not going to contribute any of my money to making him richer.

      • Jaymalls

        lmao… listen 2 urself bro! You make no sense… n u sound like a condescending ass.

      • u

        A LOT of musicians are complete a-holes as human beings, much more so than Kanye (Axl Rose comes to mind), so going by you guys’ logic, your music collection must only contain albums by Disney artists. Have fun with that.

      • @Jaymalls

        You can spell out condescending but not simple words like yourself, and or you? Just please learn how to put a sentence together before you insult someone for just speaking their mind, which he has every right to do…it’s called freedom of speech, bro!

      • Dylan

        So essentially you are being just as childish by refusing to by his music because you don’ t like his personality. If the music is good enough to be purchased I will buy it I don’t care if Hitler produced it.It is about the music not the artist. I think kanye is an annoying bigot but that won’t stop me buying his albums because he makes fantastic music.

      • Juneau

        Oh, bully for you Dylan. Don’t tell people who they should and shouldn’t give their money to. But you go right ahead and contribute to his diamond teeth and immature, entitled attitude.

      • ry

        Riiight, such great responses to this guy. He’s also being childish by believing that rich narcissists whose “talents” are purely relative (he can’t build a super computer or cure AIDS can he?????….seriously, can he?) actually DONT deserve millions that they will hoard into a bank or spend on prostitutes and drugs. The reality is that they do deserve the money because like it was said, such “talented” people you take the whole package, and starving kids in Africa are just plain lazy. That is why Kanye West deserves the millions that could go to a charity for them. And that is how capitalism works! Yay!

    • Devin Faraci

      Please. The music is garbage and so is he.

      • ccc

        Literally every single major publication that has reviewed this album would like to have a word with you

      • mcgrady

        Have you even listened to album yet? I’m assuming that you haven’t considering that it is fantastic.

        Come on, man. Take the hate elsewhere.

      • Lara

        So it’s okay to call a person you don’t know “garbage”? Stay classy, Devin…

    • Person Who Talks

      Of course Mr.Vozick-Levinson loves this album, he can’t comprehend the fact that there is music out there that is not Katy Perry or Rap…how sad…

      • mark

        regardless of whether or not Vozick-Levinson is aware of the music you listen to, Kanye still is an incredible talent. Making odd comparisons doesn’t diminsh or heighten his abilities.

      • Person Who Talks

        Alright, I’ll admit that Kanye is talented compared to Bieber, Kesha, Miley Cyrus and the likes and most other rappers. And don’t get the impression that I merely dislike all rap, because some of it can be mildly intelligent or amusing, but can Mr. West hold a candle to the incredible talents and inherent music making abilities of Paul Westerberg, John Lennon, Julian Casablancas, Craig Minowa, Jimmy Page, Brandon Flowers, Bono, Jack White, Paul McCartney, Marvin Gaye, Pete Townshend, Kurt Cobain, or Alex Chilton? I don’t think so…

      • Robert

        From someone who lists Flowers and Casablancas as probably their two favorite artists, yes.

    • Person Who Talks

      Sigh thats just one of the biggest problems with the music industry nowadays: critics trying to be all hip by convincing people that this man’s trash has artistic value…try listening to some real music: The Who, The Replacements, The Strokes, Hendrix, The Beatles, Cloud Cult, Nirvana, U2, The Clash, Big Star, Rolling Stones, anything!!!!!

      • Fatima

        Real music is a fake concept.

      • DanteRotterdam

        Maybe this music just isn’t for yo… Oh, wait a minute you mentionede U2… Let me rephrase that, maybe Music just isn’ for you.

      • Person Who Talks

        Hahaha @DanteRotterdam: Do you actually know the first thing about music? Do you know how to play an instrument (and I mean actually frickin play an instrument not just a few riffs or chords)? Have you studied and reveled in the history and impact of popular music for the last 7 years? Do you actually ever sit down and listen to full albums for an hour or so at a time, not just using an i-Tunes playlist as background noise? Have you ever bought books at Borders and studied your musical heroes? Have you ever been in a band and gotten paid to play in many various venues throughout your broad local area? Have you ever won awards for your musical performance? Did you even know that music can be used to display an emotion other than lust, arrogance or greed? Maybe I’m not the one that music “just isn’ for”.

      • u

        @ Person who talks (too much):
        Do you do any of things you asked of the previous poster? If not, then STFU and keep it moving, toots.

      • Person Who Talks

        @u: Yes, as a matter of fact I do all of them.

      • u

        @ Person Who Talks:
        So I guess your opinion must be more valid than anyone who is merely just a music fan and doesn’t study or play music for a living. I hope it’s comfortable up there on your high horse.

      • ha!

        HAHAHA!!! You just got called “toots”….I love it. And as someone who has such “vast musical experience” or whatever the hell….why are you so judgemental about someone else’s musical taste. REAL musicians and people who actually give a rat’s ass about music know that there’s room for everybody. Get over yourself….. And as Kanye himself says “Let’s have a toast to the douchebags”. I’m sipping a beer in your honor as we speak.

      • @ha!

        Wow, you really told him. These are discussion boards for a reason. He can criticize certain music artists if he wants. What would be the point to commenting on here if everybody agreed and nobody gave a point to the contrary. Sounds to me like you’ll be sipping a beer in your honor as well toots.

      • DanteRotterdam

        Wow… The agression is so heavy I must have hit a soft spot. Yep, U2 sucks. You speak of emotions and how music shows a wide range besides the 3 you listed. hell, listen to Kanye’s album BEFORE you make such comments next time.
        And to answer your (obnoxious questions: Yes, I play guitar, bass (both bass guitar as well as stand-up bass), Ukulele, Drums and trumpet. Most of these I have played well over 20 years.
        I have perdormed all over europe with multiple acts and have a wide range of musical interests if I were to make any such comments on the validity of someone’s opinions I would not use a list of bands the najority of whom are no longer functioning (or even alive) and then pat myself on the back off my knowledge of music which I “reveled” in for 7 years. Dude please, you are like broken recording of old peope repeating the same “hat’s not music, that’s trash”-matra that has been around for almost a century now.
        Jazz musicians were critized as such by lovers of classical music, Rock & Roll musicians were critized as such by jazz lovers, Punk musicians were critzed as such by rock lovers, hiphop music has been critzed as such by people like you.
        you claim openmindedness and an informed opinion on what you (supposedly) did. I find no validity in those questions and the fact that you seem to find yourself to be an oracle when it comes to music anywhere.
        Matter of fact it shows me that for all the “studying” nd “reveling” you did you still remain a closeminded person.
        Maybe the award was for that?

      • Ned

        Dude, almost every band you named hasn’t come out with an album in at least 5-10 years. I think the main reason you don’t like Kanye is because the generation of people that listen to him, passed you by. It’s okay though, I’m like 14, and I only read this stuff because I actually wanna be a rapper as well.

      • Person Who Talks

        @Ned: I’m actually 20, so no, its not a generational thing. Its not even a “disliking rap in general” thing. Rap can be amusing or intelligent at times and I actually thought that Graduation was decent, Kanye just got a big head afterwards and hasnt really done anything worth mentioning in awhile…its just that there are so many people out there that don’t listen to any music beyond rap or modern mainstream pop, and it saddens me, because there is SO MUCH more good music out there…

      • Han

        I find it very hard to believe you are 20 cause frankly you have been acting like a 10 year old. You elitism and ignorance is stunning, you seem to think that just cause you apparently study and play music than you know best and assume that all of us don’t listen too albums in full and are idiots cause we listen to rap. Well my favorite album is Is This It, my most listened to artist are The Beatles and yet astonishingly I still admire Kanye and think he is one of the greatest artists of the past 10 years. It saddens me that their are still people out their like you in the world who assume that just cause we listen to Rap, we don’t listen to any other music. Grow up mate :)

      • Tim

        Honestly U2 is the most overrated band I have ever listened to in my entire life.

      • Auguste

        Don’t you realize that U2 (primarily Bono) *WAS* the Kanye of “our” generation? The analogy is so perfect, I can’t even tell you. And that goes for you, @Person Who Talks – Kanye is a huge talent, and you, @Tim and @DanteRotterdamn – U2 pushed the envelope of their style of music, in their day, exactly as much as Kanye is doing now.

        You idiots are arguing with each other as if you aren’t the same fans of different eras.

    • Chip

      I gotta agree. He so turns me off I wouldn’t buy it due to that

    • wakeforce

      No matter how good the reviews are some people just can’t help ragging on certain artists. Kanye, Lady GaGa, Taylor Swift, just to name a few. If you don’t like them, don’t bother listening to their music.

    • sally

      Your right. I think Kanye is so talented yet his personality is such a turn off that it’s hard to want to buy his music.

    • MammaG

      No, he is NOT talented. He can’t sing, his “music” is electronically-programmed garbage and he is a moron. Why in the heck is this loser famous?

      • Kanye

        You don’t sound very intelligent.

      • Ethan

        I think it has been universally acknowledged at this point that Kanye West is a musical genius, and that he has indeed revolutionized the sound of both pop and hip hop multiple times throughout his career.

    • Jeff

      P U N K !

    • Andrew

      He’s incredible and this new album is amazing. Don’t care at all about his “baby attitude.” The simple fact is: he’s a total musical prodigy and I could/will/do listen to his genius music all day. Great job, Kanye!!!!!

  • Ap

    Can’t wait

  • TruthMachine

    Kanye’s music is great.

    All these haters and lameballs have knee-jerk reactions to him, but when it comes down it, he’s one of the best rap artists of the last decade.

    The End.

    • Jay

      “he’s one of the best rap artists of the last decade.”

      Are you serious?!? Thats stretching it a bit

      This stuff is “meh”, at best.

      • Mike

        Geico for yo moneeeyyyyyy!

      • TruthMachine

        Yes, he is ONE OF the best rap artists of the last decade.

        I really don’t understand how or why you would debate this. Five critically acclaimed, bestselling albums. Infiltration of pop culture, to the point where his Tweets make headlines. Headlining Lollapalooza. Etc etc etc.

        I mean, I’m a fan of pretty much every area of hip hop. I love me some UGK, Slaughterhouse, Atmosphere, Ghostface Killah, Mos Def, etc. But at this point, you just can’t deny Kanye’s impact on the last decade of rap.

      • u

        @ Jay:
        Um, yeah he is. He’s pretty damn creative as a hip-hop artist, especially for a mainstream one.

    • Jeff

      R A P is C R A P

  • Fatima

    And yet fools will still try to claim he has no talent. A) Try to separate his music from his public persona. B) You don’t have to like him, but no talent? COME ON.

    • asdf

      Uh, Kanye West has zero talent. And it has nothing to do with his public persona. All he does is loop samples from other songs over a heavy beat, and then rhyme some dumb lyrics. His lyrics are truly embarrassing.

      • Phil

        He is a GENIUS producer. It takes an ear to be able to find those samples, and he is very methodical in that regard. You can trash his rapping & lyrics all ya want, but his production skills are phenominal.

      • asdf

        You can’t be serious! There’s nothing remotely genius about picking a sample. Every time I hear that horrid Jay Z “Young Forever” song on the radio, I cringe because of how it just blatantly steals from Alphaville. So I looked it up on Wikipedia, huge surprise… it’s produced by Kanye West. I guess I’m a genius too because that’s been one of my favorite 80s songs for decades!

      • Jay.Chyllen

        Wow. Giving Kanye maaaaaaaaaaaad neck right now.

      • asdf

        And for the record, I’m not completely anti-sample. What the Bomb Squad, The Dust Brothers, Rick Rubin, etc were doing back in day by mixing and manipulating dozens of samples to the point where you couldn’t tell what they originally came from… that was genius. Looping a familiar Daft Punk sample just makes Kanye an overpaid DJ.

      • TruthMachine

        Duhhhhhhh!!! Uhhhhh!!! Dooooooo!! Doo, doo, doo!!! Bleehhhh! Farrrrt! Brrrrapp!!

        Ignorant comments warrant ignorant replies.

        Classic rap song #32983048293 that is a “lazy sample”: The Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.”

      • Wu-Tang Forever

        Yes, Kanye can be a lazy sampler… and Young Forever may actually be the worst song he’s ever produced. But the way he surrounds the samples with live instruments and vocal snippets makes them what they are. I’m not denying there are better producers when it comes to sampling technique, but when it comes to effort and song arrangement (not to mention the fact that every album he makes sounds different from the last and they are always executed well), there’s nobody quite like Kanye West.

      • @PHIL

        “He is a GENIUS producer. It takes an ear to be able to find those samples”
        -
        -
        As opposed to actually writing original music? It does not take a genius to sample music that has already been written, arranged and recorded.

      • Anna

        Elvis did not write Hound Dog. It was a cover version. I guess according to some people here Elvis lacks talent because he covered other people’s music.

      • justin

        lol.. i love ppl who have NO clue what they’re talking about.. it’s one thing to have preferences, but to discount a true art form (clearly w/o having listened to the album) because you prefer a more “traditional” approach is really just a disservice to yourself.. it doesn’t take a genius to sample, you’re right.. but it does take a lot of talent/skill to do it effectively.. and if you actually listen to kanye’s music, esp. post-College Dropout, you’d see that the way he uses/intertwines samples is actually pretty deft… but by all means, keep your mind closed

      • asdf

        Uh, Elvis IS way overrated!

    • MammaG

      No. N-O talent. Can he sing? No. Can he play an instrument? (Pressing a button is not playing an instrument.) Does he write interesting songs? No. He blows.

  • Rawezy

    Best MC in the game

    • manpower

      “Best MC in the game” I wouldn’t go that far by any means. Talented producer, artist, hip-hop visionary, but MC skills have been and still are probably the most average part of his repertoire

      • Wu-Tang Forever

        Agree with manpower, although Kanye is getting better on the mic he’s still not an elite MC by any means.

      • u

        ^^^ What you guys said. One of the best producers out there indeed, but he has a long way to go before he can be considered as one of the best MCs ever.

      • ultakid

        yeah i agree also, though as a music producer i always felt he was GENIUS..but as a rapper hes decent, but no where near the best rapper..now as for his mentor/big brother -jayz..now thats a LYRICAL genius

  • Phil

    I am really eager to see if Kanye can turn “Runaway” into a mainstream pop hit cause I dont think that bloated video is going to do it. It seems completely unlikely at this point, but the only other thing that interests me about this album is if he puts out a sick video for “Monster”. To me, a blak & white creepy video like “Paranoid” would totally get that already huge track to the massive point it needs to be a mainstream hit.
    its also a shame that people have been giving him a hard time this week about the TODAY show. If half the morons saying he got what he deserved realized it would be totally OK if the interview was LIVE instead of recorded, edited & chopped up by NBC to make him out to be a certain way. Kanye gets alot of falk cause he doesn’t know how to properly express his creativity to the media outlets, but I stand by him this one time. He did get played, and anyone who has ever been censored, silenced or had their words completely taken out of context should realize that instead of saying he finally got what he deserves.

    • Phil

      *flak

    • kanyeisagayfish

      the south park creators are real genius because they have an eye for spotting people like kanye and trolling them on epic levels

      Kanye is a gay fish…. and everyone who likes his music, also likes putting fish-sticks in their mouth!!!!

  • Shelby

    BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jerz30000

    All this talk about kanye’s personality is irrelivent to me. Untill I meet him and he disrespects me personally i cant judge him. Most artist have eccentric/questionable personalities anyway(Michael Jackson anyone?).

    All I kno is this guy is on his 5th striaght musical masterpeice. The last artist I know of that has done that is Stevie Wonder with his “Classic Period” and he was 15 albums in when that started. Give the guy his credit.

    • Jay

      Kanye has disrespected ME (and about 100,000 others who went to see him at Bonnarroo 3 years ago), is that good enough for you?

      • Krystal

        what happened?

      • Jerz30000

        Yea I heard about that. You are well within your right to horbor ill feelings toward Mr. West.

        I still say a great albums a great album. Personality aside.

    • Dave

      I wouldn’t call 808s and Heartbreak a musical masterpiece. I though it was an auto-tuned mess. I know everyone loved “Heartless,” but I thought it was such an obnoxious song (the music at least, the lyrics were fine). But I will say I loved his first two albums (College Dropout and Late Registration). Graduation was fine, but I didn’t think it was as good.

  • asdf

    Why would anyone care to read a review of Kanye West’s album by Simon Vozick-Levinson? That’s like asking Will Smith what he thinks of Jaden Smith’s acting abilities.

    • Phil

      Completely sad but entirely TRUE. Glad someone said itr so I didn’t look like the ‘hater’ yet again.

    • zryii

      Read every other review by a reliable source and it will echo this article. Rolling Stone gave it a perfect 5 stars. Spin Magazine gave it 9/10 and that is a good rating for Spin.

    • Wu-Tang Forever

      Yeah I’m with zryii, I haven’t seen a professional review yet that genuinely did not like this album.

    • Branka

      Exactly. Simon has his head so far up Kanye’s butt he can taste Kanye’s food before Kanye can.

  • Preston

    Very good review! I think that Kanye is honest and outspoken more than ever with this new album!

  • ok

    unless the artist is a cold-blooded murderer, rapist, or child molester i have to separate them personally from their music. kanye west, as portrayed, is not my favorite person in the world. HOWEVER, he is VERY talented. i won a couple of his works, but not all. not because of HIM, just because i ddin’t want that particular album. i will, though, defend him on the today interview. they did work it so that he would look even worse, and that just doesn’t sit with me. yeah he screwed up, but let him get a fair shot at defending himself, don’t edit something to make it something it isn’t. just MY opinion.

  • ok

    sorry *own, not won.

  • Bradley

    And another stellar rating for Kanye’s new album.

    Keep on hatin’ people.

    • MammaG

      “Hater” Yes, I suppose that’s what a child or a full-grown moron would say. The simple fact is, regardless of his personality (or lack thereof) he has no talent. He sure does have a lot of luck, though, and a lot of really really gullible fans. Enjoy your 15 minutes, Conway!

  • Will

    My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy:
    Rolling Stone: 5/5 Stars
    Spin: 9/10
    All Hip Hop: 10/10
    EW: A

    Bow to King

    • CB

      Er, you mean queen, right?

      • dipshat

        I gotta admit ‘Gold Digger’ and especially ‘Stronger were amazing. Other than that, meh.

      • matt

        Gender jokes are cheap comedy for the tragically simple minded, it’s not even funny. As you can see the reviews speak for themselves, even i can’t deny it looks like he’s hit a home run with this one.

  • ciara

    I am rooting for Kanye and Kim to get marry it would be a marriage made in heaven. Out of all of Kim’s lovers she is more compatible with Kanye.

    • MammaG

      Yeah, together their I.Q. might top 50!

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