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 About.com 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.