Album Review: Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

A friend asked me to also include some album reviews in this blog from time to time so I think I should even though it's slightly off topic. I really love music and it's always been a big part of my life even if I'm a bit quiet about it.

My music tastes are ostensibly indie, but I will venture into other areas from time to time. Kanye West drove me to really take heed of Hip-Hop/Rap with Late Registration in particular, and despite the caricature of him that is portrayed across the media, he is quite possibly the greatest artist of this era. Greatest in terms of his shear belief in himself, he's like the 70s rock stars of today. Where now rock stars are PhD qualified artists who tour a lot and don't drink, Kanye is the cocky outspoken voice of the music industry, a boy-man who has childish spats with Bush on TV. His new album 'My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy' gets a perfect score from Pitchfork. It's true they have had a bit of a love affair with Kanye, but a perfect score from them point at how grandiose this album is. Kanye is a master producer but he also knows the other greats of the industry and production credits come from Q-Tip, DJ Premier, RZA, Pete Rock, Madlib, DJ Toomp, Swizz Beatz, Lex Luger and Justin Vernon. Only Kanye has the ability to bring all these cooks into one room and not spoil the broth. To get an idea of who these guys are, the top four hip-hop producers as ranked by are 1. DJ Premier 2. Pete Rock 3. Dr. Dre and 4. RZA, while Kanye is ranked 8th. Madlib has huge underground notoriety and Justin Vernon is basically the guy from Bon Iver. So it might not be an understatement to say that this could be the best produced album of all time.

One of the drawbacks with his previous work was that it was very smoothed over, but for this album there is an obvious edge to it, considerably darker and more explicit than what we've come to know from him. This can be reasonably accounted for the recent loss of his mother as now he's not making music for his mother any more, some of the themes like in 'Hell of a Life' are something he wouldn't want to share with his mother, where he is lauding one night stands and signalling his reaction to the end of his engagement to Amber Rose who he broke up with this year. As with the top producers, he also brings in some great vocalists to compliment his sound. Kanye is always downbeat on his singing abilities so he seems to bring in the smoothest singers and rappers at the top of their game, but manages to not let them steel the show. KiD CuDi is brought in to sing the soothing chorus in 'Gorgeous' but this is still Kanye's baby, his story and like other songs on the album he invariably remains at the core of the song rather than handing over the baton completely. But the conflict between his confidence and self deprecation remains as the overarching theme, he poses and parades in public with such confidence but it seems like the greater his character becomes the more self doubt he feels. Despite all the people he has around him, he still feels alone and struggling with his own legend, still coping with the loss of his mother. I've always likened Kanye to a young prodigy, he still acts like a young kid but I think he's fighting with these thoughts himself, I feel he wants to remain a child and seems to be able to hold on to that childlike wonder and outlook despite everything that happens to him as a man/boy living in this adult world. All of the lights, all of the drugs, all of the sex, everything that his world of excess holds.

Despite all this, this really is a great album even if you are not a fan on rap or hip-hop. It will probably sweep the end of year awards and hold Kanye up as a true great. And before you judge Kanye or Hip-Hop as something you don't like and won't approach, give this a few listens and judge after that, it's a fine production and barely has a negative part to it.

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Why we must keep the dialogue open

I have more time on my hands lately than ever before, so it gives me the opportunity to read as many news stories as I can. The big international news story at the moment is the release of Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi after another seven years under house arrest. She really is a model politician, molded in the same fashion as Ghandi and MLK, she has shown a lot of compassion for her captors, pushing that they really need to work together to get the country back on track. I really respect this type of reaction, someone who is always trying to start a conversation and create a dialogue despite the disposition of the other side.

What really resonated with me this week is this global issue of the extreme versus the moderate. Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart had a wonderful conversation on this topic last week, the entire interview can be seen here and is well worth a watch. The important point I got from it was that statements that are essentially manufactured as conversation enders should always be avoided, there are no use for them and they just act to broaden the gap between parties, increasing the polarity of two schools of thought.

At the moment, my Dad is working with the Lord Mayor of Dublin to try to twin Dublin with Beijing. They've got the support of most parties, except for Sinn Féin, who are the perennial conversation enders of this country. Sinn Féin highlight the problem the North has got itself into, where two extreme parties were given a lot of exposure, thus increasing their profile, increasing the polarity in the government and reducing the level of conversation between the two ruling parties. But aside from Sinn Féin, three councillors from the Labour party remain opposed to the twinning. Luckily, there is still some dialogue here, they disagree with China in terms of some of the human rights issues, and that's fine. I don't agree with what China does in a lot of respects, but for something like this, I think it's incorrect to veto this sort of action. We need to look to open up avenues of conversation, rather than close them down, there is no way we will find a solution if we close that dialogue, and it will never help the cause.

New Adventures

Not one to stay still for too long, the next chapter of my life is now planned. Much to many people's confusion, myself and the girlfriend have decided to travel to Seoul to teach English. The more I think about it, the more I'm happy with the decision, although it does seem a bit crazy. My impression of people who went to Asia to teach was generally negative, basically unemployable people who had no other options. But here I am, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Since getting back to Dublin, I've had so many interesting conversations about the state of Ireland at the moment, it does get a bit depressing, I rarely hear a positive word about it, but there are some positives. The worst thing is seeing people having to constantly reassess their goals and ambitions. The best part of youth is that there is a belief that anything is possible, a belief that success will come with hard work, but an understanding that everything will work out and the perfect future lies ahead of us. The people who were supposed to be our future stars have been beaten down in the last year or two, Ireland should be known as the land of bastards and begrudgers sometimes. I was talking to a young Irish fashion designer last week who finally had that realisation that she was going to get off her ass and start to pursue the work she dreamed of doing. She handed in the letter of resignation to her job that morning, had a cover shoot in the pipeline for a major newspaper and wanted to open her own boutique. Most of all, she was finally happy and she felt free. Someone like that needs support from everyone, we need to get behind our young talented people and make sure they achieve greatness and are not stuck in dead end jobs.

There is the debate about young people holding out for a career they would be happy in. I had it last night with someone who knew he could get anyone a job in two weeks, and really disagreed with people on the dole. The Irish Times also had an article on this last week about lower end jobs that the Irish are not happy to do. I don't really worry about people holding out for the right job, it is their life and if they are happy with what they do, they will happily work harder, be promoted, earn more and contribute more in taxes to account for what they took from the economy while unemployed. And in the case of the fashion designer, she is theoretically creating more jobs and so she should have the utmost support from the government, the banks and her peers. If we are supposed to become a land of entrepreneurs, we'll have to at least start pretending soon enough, there are so many young people out there who want to know that it will be safe to embark on their own adventure and to know that we will all support them.

New Job Applications

One of the positions I've just applied for is an internship position with Public Affairs Ireland in the area of eLearning, with research into new platforms for distance learning and eLearning. For some reason I find this really interesting but I still think it doesn't work at the moment and i'm not sure why, for some reason people don't value online teaching even though there are some great free outlets available, such as PEOI or MIT's OpenCourseWare and their youtube channel for example. The correlation between perceived value and actual quality has always interested me, and the ability to alter the perceived value of a product will yield for success or profit. Warren Buffett championed the idea of buying stocks that were selling below their intrinsic value, and he showed enormous success with this idea. I think online products automatically carry some sort of burden based on public distrust, and therefore quality products have reduced value if they are in an online setting. This is why I believe that eLearning will only be successful at the moment if it is coupled to solid conventional educational processes such as written college exams. Elearning courses could be implemented to provide quality lectures for minority subjects in Ireland, where candidates from around the country could travel once or twice a year to do exams at a primary University to track their progress. I believe that it needs to show success in this before it can evolve any further but I'm sure it could become a huge growth sector in the near future.

Feeling Restless

Well I managed to have a busy enough week this week so I wouldn't go insane, I worked at the career fair in UCD and painted my gran's house. It was strange working at the careers fair, I've actually been there for a few years and by now I know all the regular faces and companies. Each year, they all set up in the same spot and the same lost undergraduates get told the same thing over and over. Although, the interesting thing this year was the number of past students who were coming back, probably just to satisfy to their parents that they are making an effort to find a job. Everyone should know by now that its just an event to advertise the biggest companies in Ireland regardless if they are actually hiring graduates. As I helped a few companies get set-up and sort out any problems, I was jokingly offered a job by a few of them but I felt I had no real interest in talking to anyone about actually getting a job. Maybe I'm feeling a little disinterested at the moment after being rejected and don't want to put myself in that situation again. I also felt that some of the employers were equally as unimpressed, Nadine Corbett is a classic example as the woman from McKinsey who never smiles and seems like she doesn't really want to hire anyone who actually wastes their time going to an event like that. She'll actually be in UCD tomorrow from 11am to 3pm for some one to one sessions with students so I might pop down out of boredom/interest. I'm feeling a bit negative, and I don't like it. I really need to find something that will keep me busy and that I really enjoy doing. This feeling of restlessness is getting really uncomfortable, I can't take it much longer....

Volunteering, Part 2

After my interest was piqued, I set up a meeting with someone at Irish Aid for today. I wanted to learn about volunteering both at home and abroad and how someone with little work experience can get involved. As I had found before, there are so many volunteering agencies out there but what Irish Aid recommend is to look into one of the 26 signatories to Comhlámh's Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Organisations. Comhlámh is a company set up in 1975 by returning Irish development workers and is basically a group that facilitates the discussion and promotion of overseas development issues. They have training and courses available for people who have returned from development work and for those who consider doing that work abroad. As great as these courses may be, I generally have no interest in them. I just consider it a chance to talk to someone about their experience in development, a brief introduction to the project management tools they use such as Logframe, and a few other boring power point slides about various related topics, and of course you pay them a lot for it. I'm not convinced it could prepare you for the real world. Its a bit like entrepreneur courses. I was able to do one for free during my post grad, but there were people in there paying a lot of money for the course. It had some interesting points but not so much that you couldn't get the same value online or from a friend over a pint quite quickly and easily. I bet that very few, if any, entrepreneurs did a course on it before they were successful. What's wrong with just sending interested people with a lot of energy in to do a job, there is too much value put on training nowadays, I really think its a load of crap. I think there would be much more benefit in just doing mental and physical fitness tests before joining any company. Obviously, I have to concede that we need to send trained individuals abroad so they know exactly what they are doing, but an effort has to go in to fostering the next wave of talent so that the standard of developmental help continues to improve.


Well I was up last night thinking that I should start my own volunteering company. Inspired by the people at We've Got Time To Help, I wanted to set up a site where people with free time could lend time and energy to ongoing projects. Before I lost the run of myself I did a bit of research...Not surprisingly, such things do exist, in the form of Volunteering Ireland and I think, these sites are great but we really need a forum so people can share their thoughts and offer help. The first thing I see on the website is a big banner that says "Check out our new forum ...and share the views, interests and questions from like minded people", then the banner changes and I find out for the first time that National Volunteer Day is on the 1st of October! Well that's a bit of a coincidence! Why had I never heard of this before? Was there any media exposure? How can I get involved? So I went through the site, found a google document with all the events on today and found myself painting and moving bails of hay all day today at a local farm. It sounds strange, I live in the city, but there is actually a farm near us, and its a great place to bring the whole family.

So these things are available and it was very easy for me to get involved and lend a hand for a day. But why had I not been aware of this before? What has happened to the community spirit in this city? I'm very disappointed with the effort made by the media, I think there was some mention of it this morning on the radio, but that's a bit late for most people who may have wanted to get involved. Well, we had a fun day today, luckily we were blessed with the weather and now that I'm more aware of the volunteer work that goes on in the country, I'll be more inclined to offer as much time as I can to it from now on. Ok, I'm tired from a day's labour and it's a Friday, so I think a trip to the local public house would be the best option for me right now...

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I created this blog at a time when I had no idea what I was going to do in my life. I felt it would be an interesting project to track how my life changed and evolved from this point. I'm excited to see what happens...

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